Welcome to our spring 2021 Children’s Announcements issue! In our first feature, we speak with the heads of several children’s publishing divisions to see how the industry is adapting to the new realities of the pandemic, and to discuss what lies ahead. Next, we take a look at innovative efforts by booksellers to maintain connections to their communities amid continuing restrictions on in-person gatherings. We also profile author Cynthia Leitich Smith, an ambassador for Native American literature whose fiction offers a rich #OwnVoices view of contemporary Native life. All this, plus our comprehensive A–Z listings of children’s and YA titles being released between Feb. 1 and July 31, 2021. Happy reading!
About Our Cover Artist
Author-illustrator K-Fai Steele’s cover for our spring issue depicts young readers with books in hand (and in other surprising configurations), each framed by the tiles of a video call. “In a way it’s a metaphor for the pandemic,” she says. “I’m communicating with the world via various-sized rectangles: my laptop, phone, books. There’s something about it that’s very sweet but also a little sad. This is how we’re managing to be together while being separate.”
The image likewise encapsulates Steele’s approach to visual storytelling. “There’s a lot going on in the characters’ expressions,” she says. “Each box contains its own little world, and through that detail you see the humor.”
During a time of isolation and disruption, the artist is starting from square one in a new country. Last September, Steele moved from San Francisco to Lausanne, Switzerland, where her husband has taken a job at a university. She recalls, “The week we left California, there were intense wildfires; the sky was orange. Between that and the upcoming election and Covid, it felt like we were fleeing. I was also seven months pregnant.”
With much of her new city shut down, Steele is busy settling into her workspace, a spare bedroom in her apartment. “I brought a suitcase with a bunch of paper and paint—I wasn’t sure if I could find the same kind here,” she says. “I also had to get a drafting table and figure out the lighting.” Having left her personal library behind, she misses having shelves full of books.
Steele is facing another challenge—that of learning a new language. “I look at a lot of picture books written in French,” she says, “but I can’t really tell what’s happening!”
Though Steele’s opportunities for socializing outside her family are limited, with many schools and libraries closed, she’s found a different form of community. As it turns out, picture book creator Richard Scarry also called Lausanne home, after he moved there from Connecticut. Steele muses, “I see the same buildings, the same details, the little cars and the pedestrian streets. I feel like I have a deeper understanding of him and his work.”
Creating books for young people offers another source of connection. The illustrator of books by Jacob Kramer and Emily Snape, Steele made her solo debut in 2019 with A Normal Pig (Balzer + Bray) and has another picture book with editor Donna Bray on the horizon. All Eyes on Ozzy! (Oct.) focuses on the idea of attention: “how good it feels when you have it, and how bad it feels when it’s taken away,” she says. The book is about a girl who decides to play the drums, thinking the instrument will make her stand out, and then learns “what it means to be part of something bigger, to contribute by keeping the beat.”
Steele looks forward to sharing the story with readers, saying, “That’s the fascinating and joyful thing about books. The story is going to become alive in a different way.” —E.K.
‘Remarkable Adaptability’: Children’s Publishing in the Time of Covid
With 2021 well underway, Publishers Weekly spoke with the heads of several children’s publishing divisions to see how the industry weathered the storm of last year, and to discuss what comes next in the midst of persistent uncertainty.
Keeping Connections with Young Readers: Bookselling in the Pandemic
Nearly one year into the pandemic, life has not returned to normal, and across the country booksellers are finding their own ways to forge, maintain, and strengthen their ties with the kids who turn to them for books.
A Storyworld for Future Authors: Bookselling in the Pandemic
This spring, indie bookstore Tree House Books in Ashland, Ore., will launch the beta version of the Secret Storyworld, an interactive website for kids to learn how to craft their own tales and engage more deeply in the physical world around them.
Cynthia Leitich Smith: Lifting Up Native American Voices
Known for her realistic and speculative fiction about contemporary Native life, Cynthia Leitich Smith holds an equally important role as an ambassador for other Native creators.