Nestled inside a Brooklyn industrial building that once housed the Old American Can Factory are the offices of Archipelago Books, where the press has been humming away, publishing a catalogue of classic and contemporary international titles for adults since 2003. A new venture is in the works for Archipelago – Elsewhere Editions, a children’s imprint – with its first titles to be released in spring 2017. PW recently paid a visit to the home of Archipelago and Elsewhere Editions to learn about the publisher’s decision to break into children’s books, and what’s in store for the imprint.
Entering through the doors of the stately building located in the Gowanus neighborhood, one steps through narrow iron corridors that call to mind those of a medieval fortress. En route to the Archipelago office, visitors enter a large, open courtyard, where it wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary to cross over a drawbridge. But whether here there be dragons, once inside the cozy, busy offices of Archipelago and Elsewhere Editions, it’s evident that this is a world of books, which line the many shelves and are stacked on desks for easy perusing.
At the helm of Archipelago and Elsewhere Editions is Jill Schoolman, who established the publishing enterprise in 2003. Originally from Kansas City, Schoolman has lived in New York City since 1997. International books and travel are centerpieces of her life: “I love exploring other cultures through their literature,” Schoolman says. She began her career working in film and went on to spend three years with Seven Stories Press, where she dreamed up the idea of launching a press that would focus exclusively on international titles. Archipelago Press is a nonprofit, which Schoolman believes has “allowed us to take a chance on books” that other publishing houses may not have. Her team is small: she works closely alongside Kendall Storey, co-director of Elsewhere; one other employee, Alexander Brock; and interns. The modest employee count works just fine for Schoolman, who has always marveled at what can be accomplished when small groups of passionate people work toward a common vision.
The decision to create a children’s imprint came about organically as Schoolman began to see an opportunity within the thriving children’s literary landscape. Though she doesn’t have a background in children’s books per se, she’s not one to shy from taking a chance and “to branch out into a world new for us.” Schoolman believes that her past work in film – a highlight was getting to work on two Robert Altman films, Prêt-à-Porter and Kansas City – likely contributed to her strong sense for visual art. Also, the types of children’s books that she is most drawn toward are those that she feels have appeal to both children and adults. As a child, Schoolman reported that she was definitely a reader. Some of her favorites include perennials like Where the Wild Things Are, the Pippi Longstocking books, A Wrinkle in Time, The Little Prince, and books by William Steig.
Schoolman sees the new children’s imprint as “a natural extension of the mission” at Archipelago, namely to publish “creative, innovative books from around the world” and to introduce American audiences to those “wonderful children’s books that are very important within their own countries.”
Schoolman already has a network of writers, translators, and other industry-wide professionals that she works with for Archipelago’s adult catalogue, but admitted that there has been a learning curve when it comes to understanding the nitty-gritty of print runs and marketing strategies within the children’s book realm. Attending the Bologna Book Fair for the last two years with Kendall has helped her to learn “the lay of the land” and she has also reached out to independent publishers of children’s books in New York City and elsewhere to gather as much information as she can about the specifics of publishing for children.
She is also looking to forge new connections specific to children’s books by creating an “advisory board” to be comprised of booksellers, librarians, and other professionals from around the country and Canada. The relationships that Elsewhere Editions forms with new writers and artists, Schoolman hopes to be enduring: “We want to give a home to certain authors and illustrators,” she said.
The Birth of an Imprint
While Elsewhere Editions is its own entity apart from Archipelago, the two halves of the press share a common vantage point and purpose. Both focus on titles that offer elements of “play, while grappling with essential questions” and feature the presence of “distinctive voices and visions... authors who create a universe of their own that we can enter, and that might alter ours,” Schoolman said. Archipelago and Elsewhere also share a focus on appreciating the beauty of a physical book, which Schoolman sees parents fostering among their children: “Parents want beautiful objects for their kids,” she added.
Seeking out international children’s books for Elsewhere has already taught Schoolman more about the books she hopes to publish going forward. Works by author-illustrators hold strong appeal for her because of the cohesiveness of “one vision” that carries over across illustrations and text. More broadly, Schoolman said she is steering clear of books with “didactic” qualities, instead seeking out books that are “questioning, innovative, and intelligent.” She sees such titles being created in many countries, but she noted that “Scandinavia, Poland, and Estonia are publishing some very exciting children's books right now.”
Though she believes that international titles can and do appeal broadly to American readers, including to children, translation is a tricky art that is made even trickier when translating wordplay – something that has become especially clear when working with picture books.
Any new publishing venture faces the task of drawing an audience and building recognition – something that Elsewhere may have a head start on, as parents who are Archipelago fans may naturally seek out the children’s titles. Schoolman and her colleagues are planning multiple local events for both the launch of the imprint as well as for the individual spring books.
And they are: My Valley, a fantastical, far-flung journey by author-illustrator Claude Ponti, translated from the French by Alyson Waters; You Can’t Be Too Careful, which explores the spectacular consequences resulting from a small action, Brazilian author-illustrator Roger Mello, translated by Daniel Hahn; and Questions Asked, by Jostein Gaarder, illustrated by Akin Düzakin and translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. Questions Asked follows an inquisitive boy as he ponders open-ended questions relating to identity, existence, and the meaning of life, including: “What is time? When something is past, is it gone forever?” and “Why do I dream? What goes on in my head when I’m asleep?” Schoolman said she was drawn to Gaarder’s “beautiful and subtle” book because of the way it credits the inquiring intelligence of children: “We shouldn’t underestimate kids. They want to be asked big questions, and I feel many of them are naturally drawn to them,” she said. In fact, to celebrate that title’s release next spring, Schoolman is planning to create a forum for kids to post their own responses to the questions in the book and perhaps pose some of their own. The format will likely begin as a video and then continue to evolve with an online presence.
Going forward, Schoolman’s aspirations for Elsewhere Editions are not unlike the goals for Archipelago: to seek out and publish books with “entire universes” contained within their pages, the publisher said. There may be unchartered territory ahead, but with the wealth of international children’s literature that has not yet been made available in the U.S., the opportunities are indeed boundless.