Founded by Alice Curry in 2014 to publish children’s books by authors and illustrators from diverse cultural backgrounds, London-based Lantana Publishing has garnered impressive accolades during its first three years. The publisher was shortlisted for the Bologna Prize for Best Children’s Publisher of the Year (Europe Category) at the 2017 Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and earlier this year Curry received Britain’s Kim Scott Walwyn Prize, celebrating exceptional women in publishing.
Now Lantana is entering the American market with the release of four picture books this fall, which clearly reflect its core mission. Distributed by Lerner Publisher Services, Lantana’s debut U.S. list features the work of authors and illustrators whose backgrounds are rooted in an array of countries.
Lantana’s story began in the early 2000s, when Curry and Caroline Godfrey were literature-loving friends at the University of Oxford. A decade later, when Curry decided to make her vision for a new publishing house a reality, Godfrey took a year off from her teaching career to help Lantana in its start-up phase. When she returned to teaching (remaining associated with the company), another university friend, Katrina Gutierrez, came on board to help Curry with the day-to-day running of the business.
“Lantana was born from a need to level the playing field for children’s authors and illustrators of all backgrounds,” explained Curry of the company’s genesis, which reaches back to her childhood. “Being of the white majority culture and privileged to travel extensively with my family while I was growing up, I noticed a lack of books about children from other parts of the world,” she said. “This was an observation that was hammered home during my doctorate in children’s literature and my subsequent freelance work for an education outreach charity. I became increasingly aware of the inequalities in children’s publishing, that certain voices are rarely heard.”
As this observation came into clearer focus, Curry opted to launch Lantana to “open up a space” for these rarely heard voices. “I was working from a deeply held belief that all children deserve to see themselves in the books they read, and that everyone is poorer if we fail to give our children the chance to develop empathy, compassion, and wonder through stories that cross borders,” she noted.
An Open Call
In just three years’ time Lantana has published authors and illustrators from nearly 20 countries, a number that Curry hopes will continue to increase. “We have an open call of submissions on our website, which encourages authors and illustrators to submit their work, whether or not they are represented by agents,” she said. “Many children’s book creators of diverse backgrounds have reported difficulties in finding representation for subject matter considered ‘niche.’ We actively look for ‘niche’ and then work with authors to make their ideas and experiences accessible to a wider general readership.”
Lantana’s debut U.S. titles, which were previously released in the U.K., demonstrate the extent to which the company, in Curry’s words, “has gone some way to filling a gap in the children’s book market.” The winner of last year’s Children’s Africana Best Book award, Chicken in the Kitchen, tells of a Nigerian girl who awakens to find a giant chicken causing mischief in her home. This book by Nnedi Okorafor (born in the U.S. to Nigerian parents) features art by Iranian-British illustrator Mehrdokht Amini. The Tigon and the Liger, by British author Keilly Swift and Japanese illustrator Cosei Kawa, is set in the jungles of India and delivers a message of inclusivity and embracing differences. In The Wooden Camel, written by Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu and illustrated by Italian artist Manuela Adreani, a boy learns the importance of keeping one’s dreams alive. And rounding out the first American list is Sleep Well, Siba and Saba, a bedtime tale centering on sisters in Uganda. This debut picture book by Ugandan-American writer Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl is illustrated by French artist Sandra van Doorn.
Curry anticipates that Lantana will release “at least” eight picture books annually in the U.S.—a combination of new titles released simultaneously in the U.K. and Americanized editions of books previously released there.
“We are very excited to be introducing our first books in the U.S.,” Curry said. “It is a much larger market than the U.K., but has a similar aesthetic and a similar desire to diversify its children’s literature, as can be seen from the fantastic successes of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. We are deeply grateful to Lerner for enabling us to reach new readers in this exciting market.” And future Lantana releases will transport American readers to additional shores, she added. “Look out for titles set in Syria, India, China, Malaysia, and more next year.”
Chicken in the Kitchen by Nnedi Okorafor, illus. by Mehrdokht Amini. Lantana Publishing, $17.99 Sept. ISBN 978-1-911373-15-5
The Tigon and the Liger by Keilly Swift, illus. by Cosei Kawa. Lantana Publishing, $17.99 Sept. ISBN 978-1-911373-16-2
Sleep Well, Siba and Saba by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl, illus. by Sandra van Doorn. Lantana Publishing, $17.99 Oct. ISBN 978-1-911373-09-4
The Wooden Camel by Wanuri Kahiu, illus. by Manuela Adreani. Lantana Publishing, $17.99 Oct. ISBN 978-1-911373-12-4