Monday Interview: Publisher Renee Ting, of SHEN’S BOOKS

Hi everyone!

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:

Shen’s Books Links
o http://www.shens.com/
o Shen’s Books Submission Guidelines
o Shen’s Blog
o Follow Renee Ting on Twitter

Additional links:
o Renee’s Book of the Day
o Interview of Renee Ting by author Mitali Perkins

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! 🙂

Monday Interview: Publisher Jason Low, of LEE & LOW BOOKS

Today I’m thrilled to interview Mr. Jason Low, of the independent award-winning publishing house LEE & LOW BOOKS.

LEE & LOW BOOKS was founded in 1991 by Chinese American Tom Low and Philip Lee. The company specializes in multicultural children’s books and its goal is “to meet the need for stories that children of color can identify with and that all children can enjoy.” LEE & LOW BOOKS has won numerous major awards and honors, including the Coretta Scott King Award, the Pura Belpré Honor Award and the Parents’ Choice Award, to quote a few.

Mr. Low, I thank you for joining us today. LEE & LOW BOOKS was founded in 1991 by Tom Low and Philip Lee. Tom Low stated that “there was a lot of interest in books focused on diversity,” when the company was founded.

Would you say that that statement still apply today? Has LEE & LOW BOOKS observed any significant variations in the multicultural book market?

JL: Thanks, Nathalie, for having me. I am sure your readers are aware of the statistics kept by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) that track the number of children’s books by and about people of color. Here is the link: http://www.education.wisc.edu/ccbc/books/pcstats.asp”.

According to the CCBC, 13% of children’s books published each year contain diversity. This number has not increased or decreased significantly since 1994, when the CCBC started tracking the number of “multicultural” books published. Even though the statistics do not show an increase in output by publishers, my impression is that a substantial demand for diverse books exists, but it will require greater effort on our part to make people aware of our mission and our books. I know this from the emails we receive and the people we meet at conferences. They confirm the need, but almost always say: “Where have you been all this time? I’ve never heard of you!” This response leads me to believe that even after 17 years of publishing, we still have an exposure problem. To gain more exposure will take patience and many more years, but we are determined to solve this problem over time. One thing we are grateful for is people like you who help spread the word about our books and our accomplishments.

LEE & LOW BOOKS works closely with educators. You provide a variety of educational titles for traditional, home schooled, and ESL students through your imprint Bebop Books, as well as free online resources. Is the submission process for Bebop Books different, meaning is there a call for submissions to address specific needs observed in the classroom?

JL: The submission process is different for Bebop Books since these books are designed as educational tools. We receive direct input from educators as to the kinds of subjects and topics they are looking for and we try to respond editorially through the books we publish for this imprint. We usually solicit submissions from teachers and writers who are familiar with the educational constructs these books need to address. The books are leveled, and also coordinate with national standards.

Do you publish authors who live abroad?

JL: We have  worked with a number of illustrators who reside outside the United States, but no authors yet. Not that we would be against working with authors from overseas, but we simply have not received any manuscripts quite right for us.

Congratulations to LEE & LOW BOOKS, to your writers and illustrators for the incredible list of awards earned since your creation. You work with established authors and illustrators like Ted and Betsy Lewin; however, you also actively seek to discover and showcase new talents through the LEE & LOW BOOKS annual New Voices Award.

Assuming that prospective writers follow scrupulously the submission guidelines, is there an ultimate advice you would give writers and illustrators honing their craft?

JL: I am extremely proud of our New Voices Award and the books we have published from this program. To learn more about our New Voices Award go here: http://www.leeandlow.com/p/new_voices_award.mhtml

My advice for new writers and illustrators honing their craft is to do your homework. If you are interested in submitting a manuscript to us, familiarize yourself with what we have published. Remember, the preferences of LEE & LOW’s editors are reflected in the books we’ve published, so you can figure out a lot about the kind of stories we are drawn to and the type of illustrations we like by the browsing our books on our Web site or in your local library. One also has to develop a sense of what sells. Read the books of all publishers, and take special notice of award winners. Personally, I make a point to read award-winning books from other houses so I can form my own opinions about why a certain book was deemed special enough to win a prestigious award. It is helpful habit to surround yourself with good books. Reading and studying them will help you see how successful writers and illustrators tell stories in both words and pictures, and that knowledge should have a positive influence on your own work. Last, try to be bold and surprise us. Editors love to discover original stories they have not seen before and are willing to work harder to help you realize your vision if it is unique.

Mr. Low, it has been an honor to interview you. I thank you for your time and for sharing your experience.

JL: Thanks again, Nathalie, for having me.

Note from Multiculturalism Rocks: Congratulations to John Parra for winning the 2010 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award for his work on the bilingual picture book Gracias/Thanks, written by Pat Mora! 🙂

Some publications of LEE & LOW BOOKS include
Picture Book: Balarama: a Royal Elephant, by Ted and Betsy Lewin. 2009.
Non-Fiction: Sacred Mountain: Everest, by Christine Taylor-Butler. 2009.
Middle Grade: Tofu Quilt, by Ching Yeung Russell. 2009.
Young Adult: Alicia Afterimage, Lulu Delacre. 2008.

For information on this year’s New Voices Award Honor Winner, click here!

For more information on LEE & LOW BOOKS, click on the following links:
Website
Blog: The Open Book
JacketFlap
YouTube
Facebook
Twitter

Thank you for reading, and have a wonderful week! 🙂