Developing an imprint that represents a diverse range of backgrounds was the impetus for Reycraft Books. Launching this fall, the children’s book line is the brainchild of publisher Sera Reycraft, whose roots in educational book publishing inspired her and her husband, Tom, co-founders of Benchmark Education Company, to harness their editorial experience for a new publishing venture. “Sera wanted to start Reycraft for years,” says editorial director Wiley Blevins. “She has a real passion for the children’s book market.”
Blevins, Eileen Robinson, and Sunita Apte make up Reycraft’s editorial team—each of whom comes from what Blevins characterizes as “underrepresented groups. We understand the reality of not seeing yourself in books.” Because Reycraft’s mission is to create compelling books for all children, the company is focused on publishing authentic titles—something that Blevins feels the publishing world has struggled with.
“The quantity and quality just weren’t there; we didn’t see [books for] kids that are refugees, kids whose parents were incarcerated, kids that are Native American,” he explains. “There’s a trend of being too singular in representation, and we want to find those authors and illustrators that haven’t had the opportunity to tell their stories yet.”
Although other smaller children’s book imprints, such as Tiny Owl, have been helping to pave the way for more collective diversity, and diverse imprints at major publishing houses are launching, Blevins thinks that the larger publishing houses haven’t delivered this same level of representation. “We’ve noticed that over the years, writers send their books to these editors and the feedback they get is, ‘It’s great, but we don’t think there’s a wide enough audience and they won’t be able to connect to the book enough,’ ” he says. “That’s why it’s so important that we [as editors] understand how to connect. We believe that if we create these beautiful books, kids will want to read them.”
Debuting in mid-October, Reycraft’s fall line will largely focus on younger readers, with the bulk of the list devoted to picture books. Blevins admits it has taken the team longer than expected to find middle grade and chapter books that fit the Reycraft model. “We are looking for more contemporary stories and stories for older readers,” he adds.
Among the imprint’s flagship releases are titles whose main characters hail from different walks of life, but share universal childhood experiences. In The Powwow Mystery chapter book series, the story highlights a set of twins working together to solve a puzzle and, as Blevins points out, happens to be Native American. In the Max and Friends series, the first book, Call Me Max, addresses what it’s like to be transgender, while the rest of the series is adventure-based. “We don’t want to be an issues-oriented imprint; we just want to show kids living their lives,” Blevins says.
To help promote the 23 initial fall releases, Reycraft is planning for a big launch at next year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair. The company is planning to reach out to previous Bologna award-winning picture book authors and illustrators on its list, such as Hsu-Kung Liu (The Orange Horse) and Hsin-yu Sun (A Tour of Hong Kong), for possible appearances at the show. Looking ahead, Reycraft expects to produce 50 books per year and is currently searching for both original titles and books to acquire from international publishers. “We believe it will take a couple of years to get the right balance,” Blevins says.
To bolster its reputation in the global marketplace, Reycraft has partnered with the China Children’s Press & Publication Group for potential licensing deals and is connecting to authors/illustrators via CCPG to develop original titles. While this business relationship has helped open the door to new forms of storytelling, Reycraft also had to contend with a lengthy editing process. “To correctly interpret the text, we had to bring in our own translator and team of writers to adapt the stories and then send those versions back to CCPPG for approval,” says Blevins.
The result of these efforts is a collection that Blevins and the Reycraft team are proud to call their own. “We can’t wait to show people the look, feel, and the quality of our books,” he says.