Many on social media have noted the multicultural roster of authors and titles receiving American Library Association awards for 2014 at Monday’s ceremony in Chicago, including the most prestigious awards in children’s book publishing. Not only did an African-American author, Kwame Alexander, receive the Newbery Medal for The Crossover, an Asian-American author-illustrator, Dan Santat, won the Caldecott Medal for The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend.
Small presses were also more prominent than ever before at the awards ceremony. Eerdmans Publishing, best known for its religion titles for adults, received several awards for two of its 2015 children’s releases: The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, received the Robert F. Sibert Award for the most distinguished informational book for children as well as a Caldecott Honor, andthe Mildred L. Batchelder Award for best work of translation went to Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak, illustrated by Philip Hopman, translated by Laura Watkinson.
Publisher Anita Eerdmans, whose company is based in Grand Rapids, Mich., and publishes 16-18 books for children each year, said that with all the buzz The Right Word received this past year, including a story in PW and other trade publications, she had been “hopeful” that it would also receive a nod from the ALA. The book has already sold 18,000 copies, with another 14,000 on back order. Eerdmans ordered a third print run going into ALA, so there will be 60,000 copies in print.
Mikis and the Donkey was “more of a surprise,” Eerdmans noted. “A lot of the reviews called it a ‘quiet’ book and so it was more on the quiet end of our expectations too.” Mikis and the Donkey had a 9000-copy first print run, and is in a second, 5000-copy print run with more than 6000 copies sold.
Not only did the Stonewall Book Award, given to children’s and YA books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience, go to a book from Magination Press, the small children’s publishing imprint of the American Psychological Association – This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten – but one of the three Stonewall Honor Books went to an offering from another small press: Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchio, illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant, was one of Toronto publisher Groundwood/House of Anansi’s 30 annual releases.
The two books have something else in common that makes them stand out for an award usually dominated by YA fiction: both are picture books.
Magination Press, which has never won a major award before, has not sold through its first print run of 1,200 copies. But, director Kristine Enderle said, “I hope every librarian in the country picks up a copy now.”
Cinco Puntos, the El Paso, Tex., small press known for its list of Hispanic titles for both adults and children, received the William C. Morris Award for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens, for its novel Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. While Lee Byrd, Cinco Puntos president and co-publisher, expressed gratitude that Gabi, a Girl in Pieces received recognition from the ALA, she also voiced frustration, explaining that Cinco Puntos was “expecting more” with Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, as “it’s an amazing book.” Emphasizing that it’s “not sour grapes, that’s the way it is,” Lee Byrd explained that the press had hoped that Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, a novel about a Mexican-American girl’s coming-of-age, would receive some recognition from the Pura Belpré award committee, noting that it “is a perfect example of a book that should be honored by that committee.” Cinco Puntos’s mission is to publish books by Hispanic authors and illustrators, Byrd points out; as such, she and her colleagues “feel that we should always be looked at by the Belpré committee. “Those awards sell books,” she said. “To get missed is an economic issue.”
The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, honors a Latino/a writer and illustrator whose work best portrays and celebrates the Latino/a cultural experience in a book for children or YA readers. I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin (S&S/Atheneum) received this year’s Belpré author award and Viva Frida, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook/Porter) received the Belpré illustrator award (as well as a Caldecott Honor). Cinco Puntos has been recognized once before by the Belpré committee, when Xavier Garza’s Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel was named an Honor book in 2012.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces had a 5,000-copy initial print run in both paper and hardcover. It has gone into a 4,000-copy hardcover second printing and is about to go into an additional 5,000 print run in paper, for a grand total of 14,000 copies in hardcover and in paper. Cinco Puntos publishes 15–20 titles each year; about two-thirds of its titles are for the children’s market.
Despite its 12-year history of publishing children’s books in translation, Enchanted Lion, a Brooklyn press that publishes 10–16 books each year was surprised, publisher Claudia Bedrick said, to receive a Mildred F. Batchelder Honor for outstanding books in translation for Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf, illustrated by Dasha Tolstikova, translated by John Nieuwenhuizen. Last year, Enchanted Lion practically swept the 2013 Batchelder awards, with Mister Orange by Truus Matti receiving the Batchelder Award, and The Bathing Costume and My Father’s Arms Are a Boat named two of the three Honors books..
“Last year was a lucky run,” Bedrick said, noting that last year marked the first time since 2010 that Enchanted Lion had been recognized by the Batchelder committee. “This year had to do with the fact that we had published a large, sprawling, excellent novel that has done well all over the world, in every country where it’s been published.”
Nine Open Arms hasn’t sold out of its 5,000-copy intitial print run yet, and Bedrick says she is still deciding on whether or not to go into another print run. She noted that Mr. Orange has sold 7,000 copies to date and My Father’s Arms Are a Boat has sold approximately 10,000 copies. “We’ll have to see what interest there is [in Nine Open Arms],” she said.
While Lee & Low, one of the country’s best-known multicultural publishers, has received many ALA awards and honors over the years, publicity manager Hannah Ehrlich says that the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor selection for Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, illustrated by Frank Morrison, written by Katheryn Russell-Brown, was still a surprise.
“There are so many great books out this year and so many different factors involved,” she noted, although Little Melba and Her Big Trombone has been “steadily” building up a buzz since its release. There are 10,000 copies in print of Little Melba in print now and the press says it has upped its recent order for the second print run; it expects to sell another 10,000–15,000 copies over the next 12–18 months.
Both Cinco Puntos marketing director John Byrd and Ehrlich note that with independent presses responsible for about half of the multicultural children’s books being published in this country, it makes sense that small presses would be especially prominent in a year in which there has been a renewed emphasis on the importance of multicultural books for young readers.
“Serving on award committees is tough work, and I really admire the librarians who volunteer to do it,” John Byrd told PW. “The year’s crop of award honorees was much more diverse than any of its predecessors, and many more of the honorees came from indie presses than in years past. These are both wonderful things and worthy of attention and praise.”
But, he added, “Even then, the demographics of the awarded authors don’t match up with the demographics of the U.S. And it still doesn’t reflect where change is happening in the publishing industry.”
“I think the success of small presses at this year's ALA awards is tied in with the activism work of groups like We Need Diverse Books,” Ehrlich said. “Small presses have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to diversity. They take more risks and excel at the kind of thoughtful, nuanced diversity that people are clamoring for right now.”
The Carnival at Bray by debut novelist Jessie Ann Foley, published by Elephant Rock Books, was one of four Printz Honor books this year and the only one from a small press; Elephant Rock, founded in Chicago in 2010 and now headquartered in Ashford, Ct., has only six titles in print. Publisher Jotham Burrello is impressed by the YA community’s collegiality toward his company, which published The Carnival at Bray, its first-ever YA novel, in October. The book, which was also a William C. Morris YA Debut Award finalist, was initially released with a 3,000-copy print run. It is now going into its third printing, for a total of 10,000 copies in print.
Elephant Rock publishes only one or two titles annually, as Burrello explained: “I have no desire to publish a large number of books I won’t be able to support. We threw everything we had behind this book, so I’m not surprised it was well received. We worked hard to make it happen.”
Burrello acquired The Carnival at Bray in 2013 after receiving 50 submissions for the Elephant Rock’s inaugural Sheehan Book Prize contest. Burrello decided this week to issue a call in May for YA submissions for a second Sheehan Book Prize. When asked if he’s considering moving away from adult books into YA after The Carnival at Bray’s reception, he responded, “Call me in three months.”
This article has been updated with new information.