While Jennifer Baumgardner describes her newly launched publishing house, Dottir Press, as a feminist company, this is not your typical feminist press. Dottir—the Icelandic word for “daughter” (in homage to Baumgardner’s ancestry on her mother’s side)—is doing more than simply publishing books on women’s issues: it is also publishing books that, in Baumgardner’s words are “talking to and not at” young readers, both male and female, about topical subjects.
“I want to create books that make a child feel seen, understood, and validated,” Baumgardner explained. “There are so many stories that are common, but are never depicted in children’s books. I want to be able to do that.” This fall, Dottir’s debut list of four releases includes three books for children: two picture books and a book for YA readers. Baumgardner says that a primary motivation for publishing picture books is that she is personally acquainted with many visual artists, and wants to “bring doses of these important artists’ work into [the] homes” of young readers. Initial print runs for the fall books will be 10,000 copies for each title.
Baumgardner, who is an author of six books about feminism and a former editor at Ms. Magazine, is best known in the industry for being the publisher of Feminist Press for four years, from 2013 to 2017. During her tenure there, Baumgardner re-launched the publisher’s children’s book line, which had been dormant for roughly 20 years. “It worked,” Baumgardner said of the initiative. There currently are 15 Feminist Press children’s titles still in print, most of them published in the past five years.
Dottir’s debut release, Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness (Sept.), written and illustrated by Anastasia Higginbotham, tells the story of a white child who sees television coverage of a police shooting of a person of color and starts asking questions about race and racism. Baumgardner praised Higginbotham’s work and recalled how helpful the author’s picture book, Divorce Is the Worst (Feminist Press, 2015), was when she herself went through a family breakup. “Divorce Is the Worst helped me become a better parent to my older child,” Baumgardner said. “Validation can come from a really honest book.”
The Nightlife of Jacuzzi Gasket (Jan.), written by Brontez Purnell and illustrated by Elise R. Peterson, is another story that Baumgardner said reflects the experience of many children: it features an 11-year-old boy who takes care of his baby brother while his mother works outside the home. Baumgardner noted that it’sbased on the author’s own childhood, when he was raised by a single mother and entrusted with looking after a younger sibling while his mother worked. “I loved it immediately and recognized, too, that it needed to be told,” Baumgardner said.
For older readers, Now That We’re Men: A Play and True Life Accounts of Boys, Sex, & Power (Mar. 2019), edited by Katie Cappiello, is a collection of essays written by teenagers of all genders exploring issues of masculinity and sexuality. Baumgardner, who has two sons, added, “It’s entertaining, but there’s also useful information. It speaks to resources I need as a parent.”
Dottir’s spring 2019 line also includes two picture books: Astro Baby (Apr.) by Michelle Tea and illustrated by Michael Perry, and IntersectionAllies (July 2019) by Carolyn Choi, LaToya Council, and Chelsea Johnson, illustrated by Ashley Seil Smith.
Disclosing that her goal is to publish 10 books each year, and that she estimates gross sales revenues of $750,000 if she does publish 10 books each year, Baumgardner, who has three part-time employees, pointed out, “You have to have your vision, and have the gumption to make sure that others see it. It doesn’t happen accidentally.”