Filsinger & Company, founded by president Cheryl Filsinger in 1974 to publish Locus,a directory of New York City art galleries and artists, recently entered the young readers' market with its release of Neighbors: The Yard Critters, Book 1 by George Held. Illustrated with collages by Joung Un Kim, this poetry collection is the first children’s book written by Held, who has previously published 15 books of poetry for adults. A serendipitous encounter with Filsinger led to the book’s creation.
Author and publisher were acquaintances and neighbors in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village when Filsinger attended a 2009 poetry reading there in which Held participated. "George usually writes rather serious poetry, but he read a whimsical animal poem at the reading,” Filsinger recalls. "I said to him, 'Why don’t you write a book of animals poems, and I’ll publish it?' "
Held was happy to oblige. "I’ve always liked to do playful little lyrics, often ones that have to do with animals," he says. "When Cheryl asked if I could write enough for a book, I said I could—and I ended up writing 25 of them." I know that it’s a potential risk for a publisher to publish poems, so I made them as playful and appealing to children as I could."
Did the poet find creating poetry for children a very different challenge than writing for adults? "I didn’t feel it was so challenging," he says. "I am sort of a boy at heart, and I was appealing to my inner child. I felt I could play around a lot with language, but I didn’t let big words stop me. I figured a few might be useful for parents to teach their children vocabulary. I had a lot of fun writing these poems. I felt that a poem was finished when it made me laugh—or at least smile."
Filsinger, who had put her publishing venture on hold when she became involved in other pursuits after releasing two editions of Locus, spent a good deal of time online researching potential illustrators for Held’s collection, which was whittled down to 13 poems to better accommodate a picture-book format. "When I saw Joung’s work, which is whimsical and charming and has a bit of an edge to it, I thought it was a very good match for George’s poems," she says. "And they both went to college in Providence—she at RISD and he at Brown, though at different times—which I thought was a nice link."
Kim, whose earlier books include Hen Hears Gossip by Megan McDonald and Elizabeth Alexander’s The Grasshopper Hopped!, also designed Neighbors. Filsinger credits Matteo Bologna of Mucca Design and Bryan Canniff of Bryan Caniff Designs as design consultants.
Next fall, Filsinger & Company will publish the remaining animal poems Held created for his collection in a second volume of Neighbors: The Yard Critters. The poet will focus on aquatic animals in a third book, whose working title is Neighbors: The Water Creatures, which the company will likely release in fall 2013.
Filsinger, who is currently finalizing distribution for her company’s books, says that the firm may branch out in the future. "On the adult side, I might do something in the art area," she says. "I am also very interested in film, and I may try something in that medium based on Neighbors, or based on another poem of George’s that has a Grimms fairy tale quality. I’d also like to explore doing e-books, and I may do more picture books if people start coming to me with ideas. I just have to figure out which directions I want to move in."
Neighbors: The Yard Critters, Book 1 by George Held, illus. by Joung Un Kim. Filsinger & Company, (www.filsingerco.com), $20 ISBN 978-0-916754-25-9