Adam Lerner has been leading Minneapolis-based Lerner Publishing Group for roughly 20 years, and this year the independent children’s press’s reach has extended far beyond the traditional community of young readers, the book trade, and the school and library market.
In May, an adaptation of cartoonist Chris Monroe’s Chico Bon Bon series of picture books about the adventures of a monkey who uses the items in his tool belt to get out of sticky situations premiered as a Netflix animated series. The Netflix series, which emphasizes STEM concepts, quickly found an audience among parents delegated with educating and entertaining their children during school shutdowns this spring. “It’s too bad that this is why it’s going to be so widely seen,” Monroe told PW at the time. “But then we all need a break amidst the darkness.”
But it’s LPG’s collaboration with Avivo, a Minneapolis nonprofit organization, that sets it apart from other publishers this year and encapsulates what Lerner says is the company’s mantra: “Independent publishing, independent thought, and local action.”
After outgrowing its 55,000-square-foot warehouse in Minneapolis’s North Loop neighborhood, LPG transferred distribution services for its own list and Lerner Distribution Services’ 17 client publishers to a larger space in Mankato, Minn. Rather than leaving a huge building vacant when there has been a surge this year in the Twin Cities’ homeless population, LPG leased it at below-market rates to Avivo. Avivo Village, a cluster of tiny homes inside the former book warehouse, will provide transitional housing for 300–400 people each year, with priority going to local tribal members. The village hopes to welcome its first occupants before Christmas.
Of course, LPG being a children’s publisher, the building renovations are being documented in photos for a possible children’s picture book that would be similar to LPG’s 2006 release, A Library Story, which chronicled the development and construction of the Central Library in downtown Minneapolis, a few blocks from LPG’s offices.
“With Minneapolis being the epicenter of the Black Lives Movement protests following the death of George Floyd here, it was important to us, as a family-owned company, to support underserved communities,” Lerner explained. “It’s been rewarding to step up and give back to this city in which we’ve done business since my father, Harry, launched the company more than 60 years ago.”