It’s no surprise to find distinguished names like Ariel Dorfman, Etgar Keret, and the late Aharon Applefeld on a fall 2019 list. The surprise is that the works by these authors appear on a children’s book list: Triangle Square Books for Young Readers. Founded in 2012 as an imprint of Seven Stories Press, TSBFYR publishes children’s books by a wide range of writers. The company’s eighth season, however, is unusual in that five out of its six books are by authors primarily known for their adult work.
“It’s an ambitious list,” admits Seven Stories publisher Dan Simon, who acquired all of Triangle Square’s 2019 titles. “It happened serendipitously, and I feel very lucky.”
The six books are firmly in line with the mission statements of both Triangle Square and Seven Stories. Since its inception in 1995, Seven Stories Press has been publishing “works of the imagination and political titles by voices of conscience.” Triangle Square identifies itself as a publisher of “books for the next generation: a new breed of skeptical readers.”
This season’s offerings from TSBFYR include Long Summer Nights, the second children’s book by the late Israeli writer Aharon Applefeld, 16 of whose novels for adults were published in English. In 2015, the company published his middle-grade novel Adam and Thomas, which won the Sydney Taylor Book Award, among other honors. “Long Summer Nights is much more complicated,” Simon says. “It’s parable-like.” He describes it as “very profound and mysterious. It’s about a Jewish child entrusted to a blind Ukrainian non-Jew during the war but, really, it’s about Applefeld exploring a non-Jewish God.”
Portuguese author José Saramago’s The Lizard, a fable about a Portuguese neighborhood’s response to the sudden appearance of a lizard, originally appeared in a short story collection in 1973; TSBFYR is issuing it with woodcut illustrations by Brazil’s J. Borges in a translation by the father-daughter team of Nick and Lucia Caistor. Simon had been a personal friend of the late Saramago and his wife, so when he was approached about publishing the Nobel Prize winner’s only children’s book in English, his answer was an immediate, “Of course.”
Another first-time children’s book in English is by Israeli writer Etgar Keret: Long-Haired Cat-Boy Club, a picture-book fantasy illustrated by Aviel Basil and translated by Sondra Silverston. Simon says the editors “were charmed by Keret’s way of giving a child’s-eye view of the world, including a funny and ironic take on all things adult.”
The Latin-American writer Ariel Dorfman has published 11 books with Seven Stories, including fiction and nonfiction. During the 2018 tour for his novel Darwin’s Ghosts, he mentioned to associate publisher Ruth Weiner that his children’s book The Rabbits’ Rebellion, originally released in 1986, had appeared in more than a dozen languages, but never in the United States. Dorfman had written it while in exile from “a Chile tyrannized by General Pinochet,” he told PW. “These were somber times filled with executions, repression, disappearances, and I wanted to create a story where a narcissistic ruler was defeated by the imagination of a child, using humor as a weapon to conquer fear.
“The first edition circulated clandestinely in Chile,” he adds, “and I hope it made some child smile and gave him or her courage and joy.” When the publishers looked at the earlier editions, Weiner says they found “Dorfman’s humanism, his celebrated voice against oppression transformed into a funny, mischievous, wonderful tale for children about standing up to intolerance. We knew we had to publish it.”
“What was written about a Strong Man many decades ago has become alarming and unfortunately relevant for parents and children in Trump’s dystopian America,” Dorfman says. Triangle Square contracted with British illustrator Chris Riddell to reprint his art from the original U.K. edition.
Probably few admirers of the late poets Maxine Kumin and Anne Sexton realize that in the 1960s and 1970s the friends collaborated on four children’s books. Triangle Square will be reissuing all four in the coming years. The first one, originally published in 1975 by McGraw-Hill, The Wizard’s Tears, a quirky cautionary tale with new illustrations by Keren Katz, will be out this October. The new edition includes part of an essay by Kumin about working with Sexton. “There is something magical about the Kumin-Sexton friendship,” Simon muses, “but mainly the magic is in the story of A Wizard’s Tears itself.”
The only book on the 2019 list from an author-illustrator dedicated solely to creating children’s books comes from Indonesian-born Innosanto Nagara, whose fictionalized memoir M Is for Movement marks his fifth title with Triangle Square. Nagara self-published his first book, A Is for Activist, in 2012 for family and friends. When his short run sold out, he was introduced to Triangle Square by his friend Cory Silverberg, whose first self-published book, What Makes a Baby, had been picked up by the publisher in 2013. (Triangle Square published Silverberg’s second book, Sex Is a Funny Word, in 2015, and a third is due soon.)
Nagara’s books have been praised by Noam Chomsky and author Julia Alvarez, among other notables. “I fell in love with Nagara’s activism, his sassiness, his capacious heart and art,” says Alvarez, whose book Where Do They Go? was published by the company in 2016. Weiner notes that more than 300,000 of Nagara’s books are in print. “I love it when we do something that isn’t obvious and it works commercially, like the Silverberg and Nagara titles,” Simon says. Another 2019 title from Triangle Square, Hal Schrieve’s YA novel Out of Salem, was recently longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
Books Can Change the World
Before founding Triangle Square, Seven Stories had always included titles for young readers among its offerings. One of its most successful, A Young People’s History of the United States by historian and social activist Howard Zinn, published in 2007, was its bestselling backlist title (and continues to be—consistently selling more than 30,000 copies yearly). Another big success for the company was the 2008 picture book 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Rex Ray, about a girl who, despite her parents’ insistence that she is a boy, dreams about magical dresses.
Simon credits Skip Dye, v-p of library marketing, digital sales and sales operations at Penguin Random House, which has long handled sales and distribution for Seven Stories, for suggesting that the company start a children’s imprint following the success of those two titles. He values the partnership with PRH highly: “They’re smart, they’re all book people,” he says. “When they make suggestions regarding pricing, titles or covers, we take their requests seriously.” What’s more, he adds, “they have high sales expectations, and I like that pressure.”
Success, Simon holds, comes from the steadfastness of TSBFYR’s purpose. “We believe books change the world,” he asserts. “That may sound a little naïve during this cynical moment in history, when people are tired. But for Triangle Square, that mission is just right. Kids are not tired yet. They may be indignant or angry, but they still believe in books. So it’s a really satisfying mission when it comes to kids’ books.”
Simon is quick to acknowledge that librarians, educators, and independent booksellers are key to Triangle Square’s success. “While the bulk of our annual sales are adult books, seven out of 10 of our top-selling books are consistently kids’ books,” he reports. “We’re not the only ones publishing on topical subjects, but we go a little deeper than some of the other publishers.”
Looking at the imprint’s first eight years, it’s clear that the publisher keeps an open mind when it comes to signing on authors, regardless of genre. “My hope is to discover more new voices that fit our mission,” Simon says. “I want to be an inspiration to writers; I want them to know that when they really knock themselves out and do their absolute best, there’s a publisher waiting for them.”