"In a way, Minnesota companies have become the center of independent children’s publishing on a national level,” says Lerner Publishing Group CEO Adam Lerner. “We have not been ‘conglomeratized.’ The publishing scene is still run by families. Being a family-run business is part of our strength: we are dynamic and entrepreneurial. We all started from a school and library base. And there’s also Mackin Educational Resources [a distributor to schools and libraries]. Owners Randy and Kitty Heise are the elder statesmen of the scene. They’ve done a lot to foster the industry here.”

LPG, founded by Lerner’s father in 1959, is headquartered in Minneapolis, as are a number of smaller children’s publishers, including Gryphon Press, Maren Green, Mighty Media, North Star Editions, and Oliver Press. ABDO and Capstone Publishing Group are both based in Mankato, with offices in suburban Minneapolis, while the Creative Company has operated out of Mankato for more than 90 years.

Minnesota publishers’ nimbleness in responding to current events and cultural shifts with topical releases will be on full display at ALA, with such offerings from LPG as Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults and Night and Dana, a graphic novel that the publisher says is a “coming-of-age story for the climate-change era about making art and growing up when it feels like the world is on fire.”

As for Creative Company, it will promote Banned Book, which uses redacted text to explore how and why books are targeted. It will also spotlight Simply Skye, about a nonbinary child who can’t identify as either male or female. “It has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with one child’s worry about disappointing their family,” says Anna Erickson, v-p, sales.

Capstone is spotlighting Lena and the Burning of Greenwood: A Tulsa Race Massacre Story. “The author introduced me to this quote from a Tulsa Race Massacre survivor,” says v-p of publishing Beth Brezenoff. “ ‘Maybe if we talk about it enough, it’ll never be again.’ I’m really proud to publish this book; it is a story worth reading—even when it’s hard to do so.”

Sweet home Chicagoland

Chicagoland’s children’s publishers are every bit as connected to their communities and responsive to the zeitgeist as their Minnesota counterparts.

“Our Midwest roots are deeply ingrained in who we are and the company we’ve built,” says Sourcebooks senior v-p/ editorial director Todd Stocke. “We have always been keenly aware that our readership is our neighbors, and our neighbors are regular folks.”

At ALA, Sourcebooks will promote This Book Is Banned, “a hilarious—and thoughtful—look,” senior marketing director Heather Moore says, “at what happens when ideas are outlawed instead of shared.” Moore is also excited about You Need to Chill!, a picture book with a protagonist whose brother Bill has become her sister Lily.

Albert Whitman & Co. sales and marketing director Tom MacDonald says he’ll focus on the company’s Abby in Orbit series, which he calls a “fabulous chapter book series about a fun-loving third grader’s adventures in space travel,” at ALA, as well as books that emphasize community, including Jack the Library Cat.

Our Midwest roots are deeply ingrained in who we are.

Phoenix International is spotlighting its Kids Ask About nonfiction series, which Chris Fey, publisher of PI’s Sequoia Kids Media school and library imprint, describes as “perfect for summer reading.” PI will also have on hand Black Swans, a picture book containing stories about six pioneering Black ballet dancers. Black Swans is, per PI v-p, publisher Susan Brooke, an example of a commitment to publishing books that explore “diversity within diversity,” with releases about BIPOC notables including civil rights activists and astronauts, as well as ballet dancers.

Cottage Door is also prioritizing diversity with its Brown Sugar Baby series of board books. It will be promoting two 2023 releases at ALA: Brown Sugar Baby Christmas Joy and Brown Sugar Baby Sweetest Love.

East of Lake Michigan, in the Detroit metro, Cardinal Rule Press will be a first-time ALA exhibitor, and publisher Maria Dismondy is eager to introduce librarians to her company and its list. One release that she anticipates will resonate is Hide and Shh!, which features a main character with Down syndrome. Dismondy notes, however, that this is not the point of the story. “We had plenty of feedback on the development of this character, Dinah, from parents and teachers in the DS community, and we think Dinah is an amazing representation,” she says.

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