Children's Book Press director Lorraine Garcia-Nakata, here is a conversation with Executive Editor Dana Goldberg and Sales and Marketing Manager Janet del Mundo. Here's a 2008 interview with Dana at Cynsations.
[Uma] Congratulations! Thirty-five years seems like a telescoped history of modern-day children's publishing. Can you talk about the history of the press and its founding by legendary writer, activist, visionary Harriet Rohmer? What does that beginning mean to you all today?
[Dana] Children's Book Press (CBP) was founded by Harriet in 1975 with a government grant. Her original project was to use the grant money to produce 12 paperback bilingual books (all stories taken from the oral folk traditions of various Latin American cultures) which were to be given away to Head Start programs. It was a beautiful concept, and after the grant was over Harriet knew that the need for those kinds of books like that was still there, so she decided to continue the work she had begun that initial grant. When I think about CBP’s earliest beginnings, I’m amazed at both how far the publishing industry has come, in some ways, and how far it has to go to ensure that all children regularly see themselves reflected in the pages of the books they read. Only a very small percentage of children’s books published every year feature protagonists of color, and only a very small percentage of those books are written or illustrated by people of color, so there is still a lot of work to be done. The industry’s output still does not (not by a long shot!), represent or reflect the real demographics of our nation, and that has to change.
[Janet] I am so proud to be part of the important work of Children’s Book Press. CBP was the first nonprofit press in the country established to focus solely on multicultural and bilingual literature. Harriet Rohmer, our founder, was really a pioneer in that regard. She recognized the shifting demographics in our country and saw the need to represent children of color in literature. Many other presses have come along since with a similar mission, but I think Harriet and CBP deserve credit for being the first, for paving the way. I think CBP and our work continues to be significant, 35 years later. We’re still publishing books that push boundaries, books that fill an important need. The country has changed a lot since 1975. How people talk about race has changed, and certainly how children of color see themselves has changed. I think our books have always been and will continue to be part of that conversation.
[Uma] CBP books have won awards, been turned into plays, and found their way into many classrooms and homes. Talk about projects, past or current, that were particularly delightful to work on.
[Dana] Every book is a challenge, every book is a learning experience, and every book is a delight. A few projects in recent years that come to mind, though: On My Block, an anthology that brought together a wonderfully diverse group of 15 artists, all writing about and illustrating different places that hold particular meaning for them; My Papa Diego and Me, which allowed us very special access to Diego Rivera’s work and legacy via his daughter (the author), Guadalupe Rivera Marín, and her stories about her remarkable childhood; and From North to South, about a boy whose mother is deported back to Mexico because she doesn’t have the proper papers – it’s an issue that is so very topical right now, and the author, René Colato Laínez, has done an amazing job gently and tenderly expressing a child’s perspective on the trauma of family separation due to a parent’s immigration status.
[Uma] Lovely, and special congratulations to René Colato Laínez (one of VCFA's talented alums, and a wonderful picture book writer, capable of both droll wit and touching humanity!) Here's the trailer for From North to South:
Janet, how about you?
[Janet] There are so many things I find rewarding about working here, but I think one thing I’ve really enjoyed is seeing how our books can achieve another life beyond the page. For example, Uma, when your book, Chachaji’s Cup was turned into a musical and I actually got to see the production, I was blown away! (I’m not just saying this because I’m writing for your blog!) To see one of our own books brought to life on stage, with actors, musicians, dancers, it was really breathtaking, and I almost cried. Or when a number of our books were produced into bilingual audio books by Audible.com. It was great to be able to listen to our stories in multiple languages and to know that children all over the world could enjoy the stories in this way.
[Uma] Thank you. Now you're making me sniffly. Tea With Chachaji was an incredibly moving experience for me as well, on so many levels. Is there anything else either of you would like to add?
[Dana] Thirty-five years is a significant milestone for any nonprofit, and I’m so humbled and thrilled to participate in the work we do. I have to express my deepest gratitude to the authors, artists, designers, librarians, teachers, parents and kids who have been part of the CBP family for the past 35 years. Their talents, energy, passion, creativity, and commitment to children are boundless and amazing, and make what we do possible!
[Janet] Children’s Book Press would not be where it is today without its community of supporters. If you are moved by our mission, if you think underrepresented stories need to be heard, we ask you to please get involved. Donations in any amount and book purchases are always welcome, but there are many other ways you can show your support. You can volunteer, or tell a friend about us, blog about us, or even follow us on Facebook or Twitter. It all helps!
Thanks to Dana and Janet and congratulations all over again to Children's Book Press. For those in San Francisco and the Bay Area, tickets are still on sale for the October 7 fundraiser.