Award-winning journalist, bestselling author, and founder of the My Brown Baby blog Denene Millner is moving her eponymous children’s imprint, Denene Millner Books, to Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. Launching in spring 2020 under the Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers imprint, Millner Books will publish titles by African-American authors and illustrators, for readers of all ages.
Denene Millner Books debuted in 2017 under Agate Publishing’s Bolden Books imprint. At the time, Millner told PW, “This [line] is a love letter to children of color who deserve to see their beauty and humanity in the most remarkable form of entertainment on the planet: books.” Over the past two years, Millner has published acclaimed titles including Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James, which received a 2018 Newbery Honor, a Caldecott Honor, and Coretta Scott King Honors, among other accolades.
Millner told PW of the new move, “I still have a great relationship with the folks at Agate. Publisher Doug Seibold and I are friends and I count him as a mentor. I’ve learned a great deal at Agate, because I was charged with doing a lot. But it was a lot to handle, and budgets were small. I wanted to see if there were any opportunities at a larger company that could give me the support I need.”
Millner said she is looking forward “to bringing in larger projects from folks who are established in the industry. Previously, it was challenging to find and compete for projects with authors who have a name, a track record, and who deserve to be paid a certain amount.” Working for a major publisher, she said, “I’m super excited about being at a company that has resources, not just financial, but also folks who can help spearhead what it is I’m trying to do.”
Denene Millner Books will launch at S&S with five titles. The debut list features If Dominican Were a Color by Afro-Latina blogger and advocate Sili Recio, on issues surrounding colorism; Just Like a Mama by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by debut artist Charnelle Pinkney Barlow, who (unbeknownst to Millner at the time of acquisition) is Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney’s granddaughter; Me and Mama by author-illustrator Cozbi Cabrera, focusing on “the everyday life of a girl and the love of a mom”; My Rainy Day Rocket Ship by Washington, D.C., television host Markette Sheppard, illustrated by fine artist Charly Palmer, winner of the 2018 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent; and Ya Ya and the Sea by journalist and essayist Karen Good-Marable, which Millner described as “reminiscent of Last Stop on Market Street.”
Millner explained that Cabrera’s Me and Mama first crossed her desk when she was at Agate, but she wasn’t able to make a competitive offer at the time. After her move to Simon & Schuster, she said, “I knocked back on the door, and luckily it was still available. It’s an example of what couldn’t happen at Agate but could at S&S.”
A large part of Millner’s mission, she said, is “giving more people bigger opportunities. We’re still in a moment where African-American storytellers, be they writers or illustrators, are not given the opportunities in any grand way to practice their art, to tell their stories, and to shine a light on the everyday lives of black children and families. When I’m at S&S, I can open a door, which perhaps wasn’t so easily opened.”
She recalled the experience of signing Gordon C. James, who had never illustrated a book before Crown. “Derrick Barnes introduced him to me; they had worked together at Hallmark. I loved his style, and I thought he could do a great job with Derrick’s text. I was looking and am now looking for folks who aren’t necessarily the go-tos.” Millner added, “I’m also hoping I can work again with Derrick and Gordon. They’re my dream team.”
Justin Chanda, v-p and publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, said in a statement, “Denene’s instinct, tenacity, and genuine love of books are on display in every project she works on. Having Denene Millner Books join the Simon & Schuster family is a thrill and I am beyond eager to see the array of books that she will help bring into the world.”