Artistic expression is the driving force behind all books at Tra Publishing—a children’s press based in Miami, Fla. Named after the word “art” spelled in reverse, Tra was founded in 2016 by Swiss-born graphic designer Ilona Oppenheim, who is passionate about producing compelling artwork and bringing positive messages to children.
“Tra Publishing aims to inspire creativity, awareness, and wonder through visually stunning books,” Oppenheim says. “All Tra children’s books are meant to raise awareness of the world around them, encourage creative thinking, and awaken curiosity.”
In addition to seeking talented writers and illustrators from all over the world, Tra has a razor-sharp focus on graphic design and invests heavily in production values. “We place a particular emphasis on the physical components of the bookmaking process,” Oppenheim says. This includes everything from layout, font, format, and paper choices to spine and cover designs. Illustrations and graphics work in tandem to go beyond what the words in each book say. Innovative and interactive elements within Tra’s titles—such as transparent pages, foldouts, flaps, stickers, and craft supplies—demonstrate the company’s commitment to different modes of artistic expression. Through this collaborative approach to publishing, Tra is able to create unique and dynamic titles.
When it comes to the kind of content Tra publishes, Oppenheim believes that introducing social and environmental issues to children is the key to not only enriching young readers’ lives but also building a better world. “Making children aware of the world around them is the first step in awakening an appreciation of things and inspiring agency,” she says.
Tra’s debut children’s book, And the People Stayed Home by Kitty O’Meara, is based on a viral poem written during the Covid-19 pandemic. Released in fall 2020, the book encourages hope and positivity, despite the devastating events of the pandemic. And the People Stayed Home went on to be named a 2021 FAPA President's Book Awards Silver Medalist and Smithsonian magazine chose the book as one of 2020’s Top Ten Children’s Books. O’Meara has since written a response to the war in Ukraine with The Rare, Tiny Flower, published in spring 2022. And in fall 2023, Tra will publish O’Meara’s Oliver and the Night Giants, which follows a budding young artist who faces bullying.
“Think Where the Wild Things Are meets The BFG,” Oppenheim says of Oliver and the Night Giants. “An homage to the power of the imagination and the significance of valuing one’s dreams, Oliver and the Night Giants goes back to Tra’s core mission of raising children’s awareness [and] encouraging creative thinking.”
Just released earlier this fall, Octopuses Have Zero Bones by Anne Richardson is a counting book that “encourages young readers to fall in love with numbers and the world around them,” Oppenheim says. “The way Anne looks at the world is what got us most excited about the project—she instills and awakens curiosity and inspires an imaginative view of the world. With all the little wonders you learn throughout the book, it’s difficult not to get excited.”
Snow Is Not White, Richardson’s follow-up to Octopuses Have Zero Bones, is slated for publication in fall 2023. It will incorporate physical elements for interactive read-alongs like eclipse glasses, diffraction gratings, and colored overlays. “Like numbers, we come across colors every single day,” Oppenheim says. “But while Octopuses Have Zero Bones asks us to perceive numbers all around us, Snow Is Not White asks us to rethink our perceptions of the world.”
Tra is also planning the releases of I Want to Be a River by Cécile Elma Roger, which centers on water conservation and pollution, in spring 2023, as well as a fall 2024 title by National Geographic filmmaker Pete McBride that addresses noise pollution.
“We will continue spotlighting topical issues,” Oppenheim says. “When children understand what is happening in the world, they start to ask questions and become curious, gaining the confidence to contribute their thoughts.”