As spotlighted last week, This month’s multicultural publisher is SHEN’S BOOKS, a publishing house whose mission is to introduce the cultures of Asia to young readers. I’m honored that its president, Renee Ting, graciously accepted to be interviewed.
Renee, thank you so much for joining us today. What inspired Shen’s Books to focus exclusively multicultural books?
Renee Ting: The founder of Shen’s Books was a Chinese-American teacher who wanted to get Asian-themed books and supplies into the hands of other teachers and children. She began with a mail-order catalog selling these products, and in 1997 also began to publish books. Because it had always been her vision to sell Asian-themed books, publishing became an extension of this idea.
Shen’s Books has a strong focus on picture books. What motivated that choice?
Multicultural picture books have two great advantages over longer-form books. The first is, obviously, that they are illustrated. Being illustrated means that readers can see what another country or culture looks like, what another culture’s art might look like, and what an experience feels like. Readers can also see different skin colors, races, and ethnicities in their books—something that kids both relate to and learn from. Secondly, picture books speak to a younger audience, and I believe that the sooner kids get to see and read about other cultures, the better. Their perception of race and culture is shaped early, and hopefully these picture books can influence that.
Renee, all the books Shen’s has published are like a window to the world, with stories set in various countries. Shen’s Cinderalla line is particularly remarkable, introducing the reader to the paradox of similarities (the fact that a child reading about another child can still recognize himself in the story) yet diversity that characterizes the world we live in. Does that mean that Shen’s Books works with writers and illustrators who live abroad?
We have worked with artists abroad in the past, but I’m sorry to say that it is probably not preferred. It’s not that there aren’t excellent talents out there, but it does make the logistics of creating a book a little more difficult. International shipping of artwork is both expensive and risky, and it’s definitely harder to market a book when its author or illustrator is out of the country. I wouldn’t be able arrange for signings and appearances.
For the non-initiate, could you briefly describe how Shen’s Books work with illustrators?
We normally write up a contract with an author based solely on a text manuscript. After the contract is signed, we then find an illustrator that works for that project. The author generally is not involved with this process at all. In many cases, the author and illustrator never meet, and never even talk. The illustrator always works directly with us, the publisher, and depending on the situation, the author may or may not be involved with the development of the illustrations. More often than not, the author never sees any artwork until the book design is finished.
Shen’s Books has this amazing resource called the MultiCultural Minute Video, which is the trademark of the company’s blog! How did that come to life, and how in the world do you manage to pack so much information into one single minute? 🙂
The Multicultural Minute video was one of those crazy ideas I get on a regular basis, that I jump into without knowing entirely what I’m getting myself into. I wanted to do something fun and different to set myself apart as a resource for multicultural book information without boring anyone. It’s sad, but even I don’t have the patience to watch a three-minute video anymore. I thought, no one wants to watch a long video– and I don’t want to make a long video. Everyone wins! It is usually pretty hard to fit everything I want to say into a single minute. It requires some heartless editing to distill the information down to its essence. I also try to make an effort to vary the content of the video from week to week to keep it fresh.
What do you find the most fulfilling about your work as publisher?
There’s nothing like holding a beautiful book in your hands and knowing that you brought it into the world. Even better are the rare moments when I get positive feedback from teachers or parents who tell me that they and their kids love the books.
And the most challenging?
Raising awareness of our wonderful books, definitely. We don’t have huge marketing budgets, so our constant struggle is getting the word out that there are these amazing multicultural books available.
Last but not least, in your opinion, what are some of the factors that make a multicultural book stand out?
To me, a great story not only moves me emotionally, but also teaches me something about a culture or experience that I wasn’t familiar with before. This may seem simple, but there are so many factors that go into creating this perfect balance: good writing, of course, without feeling preachy or didactic, is key, but so is a balance between foreground and background details. Illustrations go a long way to creating the emotional atmosphere, and are great for teaching readers what places and things look like and feel like. Overall, I want to be enthralled by a story and then realize afterward that I learned a lot.
Dear Renee, thank you so very much for your time and for sharing your passion and experience. I look forward to Shen’s Books upcoming titles! 🙂
For more information:
Wishing you could put your hands on one of Shen’s Books? Your wish has been granted! Shen’s currently has several discounts available on its website, including on the whole Cinderella set. In addition and thanks to our guest generosity, Multiculturalism Rocks! is giving away one of Shen’s publications, and there will be a few more giveaways during the year. The lucky winner will be selected randomly. Leaving a comment will automatically enter you in the drawing. The winner will be announced next Wednesday, on March 17!
The title for this giveaway is Cora Cooks Pancit, written by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore (note: the link is an interview of the author by Tarie @ Into the Wardrobe) and illustrated by Kristi Valiant. The book highlights aspects of the Filipino heritage.
Cora is a little girl who loves being in the kitchen. One day, thanks to her older siblings going out, she gets to be Mama’s assistant chef. The book includes the recipe of a yummy Filipino dish!
Additional Book Drawing @ Shen’s Books Website
Shen’s Books holds a monthly drawing, through which the winner receives three free books of his or her choice. Click on the logo below to participate, and spread the word! Have a wonderful week! 🙂