Transit Books, the Bay Area nonprofit publisher focused on international titles and work in translation, has launched Transit Children’s Editions. The new imprint spotlights noteworthy picture books from around the world and anticipates publishing four titles annually.
Transit’s debut children’s catalog touts three forthcoming picture books: a story of bedtime fears titled Monster-Scared by Betina Birkjaer and illustrator Zarah Juul, translated from the Danish by Katrine Øgaard Jensen and Orien Longo (Sept.); a multigenerational story called The Tailor Shop at the Intersection by Ahn Jaesun, translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell (Oct.); and Claire Lebourg’s humorous tale of a portrait artist, How Dreadful!—originally titled Quelle horreur!—translated from the French by Sophie Lewis (Feb. 2024).
Transit publishers Adam Levy and Ashley Nelson Levy got into picture books the same way many people do, by raising a junior product tester with passionate opinions about read-alouds. “To be totally honest, we owe so much of this to our son Samuel, who was born in 2019,” said Adam Levy. “We were always hunting down new books by presses like Enchanted Lion or Archipelago’s Elsewhere Editions.” Before long, the family realized picture books were “a natural extension of what we were doing on our adult list.”
The Levys founded Transit Books in 2015, and the press has met with success in the six years since their summer 2017 premiere catalog. They publish novelist Jon Fosse’s acclaimed three-volume Septology, translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls, a finalist for the 2022 National Book Award, International Booker Prize, and National Book Critics Circle Award. Their Undelivered Lectures series of narrative nonfiction includes Mexican essayist Mariana Oliver’s Migratory Birds, translated from the Spanish by Julia Sanches and the winner of the 2022 PEN Translation Prize.
“This has been a big growth year for us,” Levy said, and the recognition and strong sales enabled Transit to hire sales and marketing manager Jarrod Annis, formerly of Brooklyn’s Greenlight Bookstore and the nonprofit Ugly Duckling Presse. “In the past it's just been me and Ashley, but now Jarrod's come on to handle our marketing and publicity and we have a publicity assistant who's working with us as well,” said Levy.When they branched out into Transit Children’s Editions, their translators expressed enthusiasm for children’s titles too. “We're thinking about playfulness for this audience, and it’s led to some interesting editorial choices,” Nelson Levy said. Jaesun’s Tailor Shop, for instance, spans the early 20th century to the present day, following the fortunes of a family of tailor-dogs who create bespoke suits; the Transit editors chose to maintain the Chinese and Hangul shop signs and cultural details throughout the illustrations. “These nuances are similar to things we pay attention to when editing translations for the adult list, like preserving certain kind of expressions or turns of phrase rather than transforming them into something that might feel more American,” Nelson Levy explained.
“It's not necessarily the kind of thing that your three-year-old is going to notice, but it's something that an adult reader will be able to appreciate,” Adam Levy added. Where children will take note of the personalities and streetwear of Jaesun’s animal characters, their parents will observe the historical allusions and technologies in the pictures.
Tailor Shop, originally published by Woongjin Think Big of South Korea, received a 2020 Bologna Ragazzi special mention in the Opera Prima category for first-time authors. Jaesun thus arrives at Transit on a wave of positive international attention, and Birkjaer—the author of Monster-Scared—is known for Coffee, Rabbit, Snowdrop, Lost (Enchanted Lion), which garnered a Batchelder Honor. But Transit looks beyond the critical attention. “Awards are always nice to see and will spark an acquiring editor’s interest, but are not a core part of our acquisitions strategy,” Nelson Levy said.
Adam Levy agreed: “We’re looking for books that have an enduring appeal and a high level of artistry and quality. Is this the kind of book we want to read 30 times? Can we see people keeping this on the shelf, so it’s not a flash in the pan?” Their initial selections hint at their tastes. Monster-Scared addresses a commonplace fear of the dark in a contemporary style, with roughly inked page borders, spots of cheerful color, and inventive monsters in the end pages. How Dreadful! introduces an oddball cast of creatures (a puffball spider, a green millipede, a languorous shrimp) who complain that their artist friend, a sweet-natured, goggle-eyed bug, fails to capture their true likenesses on the canvas.
Transit Children’s Books has added variety to Transit’s days. “Agents are reading me picture books over a Zoom call,” said Levy. “Or my son comes into the room and asks what books I’m working on, and we’ll read them together.” Although Samuel doesn’t always get his way (“We definitely have passed on books he’s been really into”), he will have plenty to read as he grows. Levy expresses only one regret: “It's too bad that he's going to age out of the job.”