As its motto states, the aim of McSweeney’s McMullens, a new imprint from the company founded by writer and publisher Dave Eggers, is to “find and publish great books new and old for individuals and families of all kinds.” The imprint will launch in May with four picture books.
Brian McMullen, art director and editor at McSweeney’s, after whom the imprint is named, became a father for the first time in 2008, and cites this experience as having put children’s books on his “personal radar.” He’s worked for Eggers for nine years, and says the inspiration for the children’s book line was likely fostered in with the opening of 826 Writing and Tutoring Centers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching creative writing to students that was founded by Eggers in 2002 and now boasts eight centers nationwide. “McSweeney’s McMullens was a long time in coming,” McMullen says.
McMullen’s editorial philosophy has less to do with the format or tone of a book than the nature of the story it contains. “The only real rule is that the book needs to be compelling,” says McMullen. “It needs to tell a compelling story, and how the book manages to do that is not so important.” But McSweeney’s is also known for its well-designed books, and the children’s line will reflect that. “We always try to use the highest-quality materials we can find, and to make the physical object [of a book] as good as we can,” McMullen says. “We think of design flourishes like fold-out poster jackets as the cherry on top. Anything that gets a child excited to sit down and read a book is a good thing. ”
He’ll be working with a variety of writers and artists for the children’s imprint, some of whom have done adult titles with the publisher. Of the first four titles, one is a reissue: Here Comes the Cat by Frank Asch, illustrated by Vladimir Vagin, a parable about the Cold War, which was published by Scholastic in 1989. In Symphony City by Amy Martin, a little girl gets lost in a big city and follows the music of the streets back home. We Need a Horse, which encourages self-discovery, is by Canadian short story writer Sheila Heti, illustrated by San Francisco artist Clare Rojas. And Dave Eggers has written and illustrated When Marlana Pulled a Thread, his first book for children, in which a girl is surprised by what happens when she pulls on a thread she finds in the grass. The four hardcover books all have dust jackets that unfold into double-sided posters; McSweeney’s is distributed by Publishers Group West.
McMullen says that he won’t be competing for established names in children’s book publishing, but will continue to “focus on doing our thing, collaborating on new ideas with authors and artists we like—and who like us. We’ll work with people to create books that we personally would be proud to give to a child or read along with a child.” He hopes to publish a total of 10 children’s books this year in the new imprint, saying, “We’re very enthusiastic about the books, and hope readers enjoy them as much as we do.”