This June, Astra Books for Young Readers’ mineditionUS imprint will receive a new name: Minerva. The company will mark this rebranding with the June 6 publication of Papá’s Magical Water-Jug Clock, the first children’s book from Mexican American comedian and actor Jesús Trejo, illustrated by Eliza Kinkz, as the renamed imprint’s inaugural offering. Trejo’s humorous tale springs from his recollections of accompanying his landscaper father to work on Saturdays when he was a kid, and the bonding and life lessons that came from the experience. A Spanish edition will be published simultaneously (El barrilito mágico de Papá) and Trejo will support the project with a national tour.
The name shift from mineditionUS to Minerva is one that is steeped in all kinds of history—both professional and personal—according to the imprint’s editorial director Maria Russo. “The name minedition causes some confusion,” she explained. “People aren’t sure how to pronounce it, and from a marketing standpoint that’s a challenge. And we realized the name itself was very much associated with [its founder, international picture book publisher] Michael Neugebauer; in fact, it’s derived from his initials, the ‘mi’ and the ‘ne’ are the first two letters of Michael and Neugebauer.” In 2020, Astra Publishing House officially launched mineditionUS with Russo at the helm, acquiring books for the U.S. market. “As Astra Books for Young Readers was becoming more established,” she said, “it seemed like the right moment to start with a fresh name that was really born from within Astra but was still nodding to the history.”
Books already published under the mineditionUS imprint will remain minedition titles, including any reprints. Neugebauer, who remains director of Hong Kong-based Michael Neugebauer Publishing, will continue the European minedition program. Additionally, select imported minedition frontlist board books and picture books will continue to be published in the U.S. alongside the Minerva list under the Astra BFYR umbrella.
Russo’s more personal connection to the Minerva name comes from researching her own family history in Italy, working with the town record keeper in the village where her paternal grandparents were from, digging up birth certificates and other documents. “It turns out that my great grandparents had a thing for the name Hercules,” she said with a laugh. She learned that the Greek Hercules myth held significance in that region of Italy. “So I went down the Hercules rabbit hole for a bit and there was Minerva herself, who was also popular in that area, because they saw her as Hercules’s protector,” she added. “One day it just hit me that the first four letters of Minerva are M I N E, and it all just kind of clicked.” She noted that Minerva is the goddess of wisdom and is also recognized as a protector of artists and artisans. “She represents everything you want in picture books.”
“We really want to tie the Minerva launch to Papá’s Magical Water-Jug Clock on June 6 because that book is so big for us,” Russo said. She won the book at auction last year in a two-book deal, noting, “I still thank my lucky stars.” And she has nothing but praise for her new author. “He’s funny, he’s a good storyteller, obviously, because he’s a professional comedian. But he’s also just a profoundly caring human being with this authentic charisma.” Trejo has shared stories with Russo about spending time at the library when his parents were working as they could not afford childcare. “He has a really deep connection to children’s books and libraries, and we can’t wait to share the story with kids,” she said.
The book “hits so many of my sweet spots,” Russo added. “It’s a Mexican American working-class family, it’s visibly set in the L.A. area— Jesús grew up in Long Beach and still lives there, and I lived there for 10 years; two of my kids were born there.” All of this gives the book a distinct point of view that Russo is excited about. “L.A. is now a majority minority region, so this story is not about being an outsider,” she said. “It’s not really concerned with the Anglo culture majority white culture at all. It’s just a story about Jesús and his dad and their loving bond and their family landscaping business.”
Russo also had praise for Tejana illustrator Kinkz. “She brought so much visual humor to go with Jesús’s storytelling humor. We’re just getting started on book number two, which focuses on Jesús and his mom,” she said. Papá’s Magical Water-Jug Clock has Russo enthusiastic for another reason as well. “I’m excited to be publishing in English and Spanish,” she said. “We’re reaching more kids, celebrating Mexican American families and promoting bilingualism. The demand is out there for Spanish-language picture books and I’m so happy to be part of that.”
Going forward, plans are to produce 10–12 new books per year under the Minerva name, and the imprint will sport a new logo by author-illustrator Dan Yaccarino who has published two titles with mineditionUS. In addition to Trejo’s book, June will also see Minerva’s publication of Luna Ranchera by Mexican author Rodrigo Morlesin, illustrated by Argentine artist Mariana Ruiz Johnson, spotlighting a canine mother-daughter singing act in the Nuevo Wild West. And further down the line, readers can expect to see Minerva titles from bestselling authors Emily Jenkins and Gideon Sterer; The Book from Far Away by Bruce Handy, illustrated by Julie Benbassat, a wordless picture book about a human child and an alien child who meet and exchange books; and Simone by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen, illustrated by Vietnamese American illustrator Minnie Phan, featuring a child who has to evacuate her home in the path of a wildfire.