With nearly 60 million Americans identifying as Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there is a fast-growing, untapped market for children’s stories from Latin America. Tapioca Stories is a new children’s book publisher that aims to fill that demand. The house launched earlier this year and released its first two titles this December. The first is from Argentina, The Elevator by Yael Frankel, translated from the Spanish by Kit Maude. The second title is The Invisible, a book of Brazilian poetry by Alcides Villaça and Andrés Sandoval, translated from the Portuguese by Flávia Rocha, with Endi Bogue Hartigan.
Yael Berstein, founder of the press, told PW that she was inspired to launch the publishing house when she went searching for books for her children to read from Latin America, but couldn’t find them. “I was born in Chile, grew up in Brazil, and have lived in Israel, so I know several languages and am familiar with the literatures of those countries, which are so rich. I wanted my children and other children to share in that.”
Berstein, who now lives on Long Island, is a research scientist at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and has a background in applied mathematics. She had no experience in publishing prior to launching her company, but got advice from her friend Uriel Kon, publisher of Nine Lives Press in Tel Aviv. “I was at a conference in Israel when I brought up the idea of launching my own publishing house. He encouraged me and was a big motivation to make it happen.”
She also researched publishing by attending BookExpo’s New York Rights Fair in 2019, where she met representatives from Limonero from Buenos Aires, which won the 2019 Bologna Prize for best Latin American publisher. “I signed the rights for The Elevator there,” she said.
Berstein said the bigger challenge was publishing The Invisible, which was originally released in 2011, and required technical know-how. The book includes transparencies that, when folded over or pulled away from an image, reveal different aspects of the picture that can then disappear. “It took a lot of prototypes to make this work properly, including finding the right color of ink and transparencies, so it will have the desired effect. But I’m a scientist, so I know how to experiment and be persistent until I get a result.”
The publishing house does not yet have distribution and the books are currently only sold directly on its website. Berstein is also working with some local bookstores, including The Book Revue in Huntington, N.Y., which is close to where she lives, to get the books on shelves. “I am not currently selling on Amazon because I want to support independent bookstores first,” Berstein said.
As for what’s next, she said she is looking for more books to publish. “I know there are many great children’s books from Latin America that should be published here,” she said. “I don’t think things are as foreign as they sometimes seem. For example, The Elevator is funny in an Argentine way; adults might not get the humor, but children will. Latin America is especially underrepresented and my ambition is to get those narratives into the hands of children and for it to feel as if it is a normal story for them.”