It’s not often that books are published in other countries and in other languages before being released in the author’s own homeland, in his or her native language, but A Funny Little Bird, a picture book by Minnesota native Jennifer Yerkes, is not your average children’s book. Originally published in French as Drôle d’oiseau by Editions MeMo in 2011, A Funny Little Bird was named an Opera Prima finalist for the Raggazi Award at the 2012 Bologna Children’s Book Fair, which honors a debut work of distinction by a young artist. Raggazi judges weren’t the only ones noticing A Funny Little Bird at Bologna: Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah, a native of France, also noticed it and read it aloud (in English) to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky acquisitions editor Steve Geck, who describes A Funny Little Bird as “Leo Lionni-like” in reference to the four-time Caldecott Honor artist, who was renowned for the simple shapes and splashes of color in his illustrations.
“Drôle d’oiseau was more of a little pamphlet,” Geck recalled, noting that the French edition was smaller than a typical American picture book and saddle-stitched with a “sturdy cloth” cover. “It’s a different kind of publishing in France,” he said. Editions MeMo, a children’s book publisher headquartered in Nantes was founded in 1993. The small press is committed to publishing books for children that are works of art, printed on high-quality paper.
It was only after Sourcebooks acquired A Funny Little Bird that they discovered that Yerkes, who lives in Strasbourg and works as a graphic designer there, was born in Minneapolis and grew up in Iowa City. Coincidentally, Geck, who works in Sourcebooks’ New York City office, grew up near St. Cloud, Minn. Yerkes worked with Sourcebooks in translating the book from French to English, a process that Geck described as “much easier to translate than some books” previously acquired by the press.
“It’s not uncommon to find a picture book and translate it,” Geck said, adding that Sourcebooks typically acquires the rights to eight to 10 children’s books (both picture books and novels) at international conferences. “But to find out that the author is American-born and bred – that’s the first time I’ve encountered that.”
Not only is Sourcebooks negotiating directly with Yerkes to write and illustrate another picture book, but this fall the Chicago-based company is publishing another picture book featuring a winged creature written and illustrated by a Minnesota native. It’s About a Little Bird by actress Jessica Lange, who grew up in a small town near Duluth, will be released by the Jabberwocky imprint in October.
A Funny Little Bird by Jennifer Yerkes. Sourcebooks, $15.99 May ISBN 978-1-4022-8013-0