I have three children, and they all love reading and being read to. As my eldest daughter, now 10, began to read more and more, tearing through the classics of my childhood (mostly American) and British books, I began to look further afield.
I was surprised to discover just how few children's books (beyond picture books, which aren't really about the words anyway) were not British or American. Here we are living in one of the most international cities in the world—some say nearly 50% of Londoners were born outside the UK—and yet the bookshelves are dominated by British and American children's books. Many of them are wonderful, and there is of course a long, distinguished tradition of writing for children in English. But there are wonderful books for children from all over the world, and yet so few of them ever make it into English.
Pushkin Children's Books seeks to rectify this gaping hole, introducing classic and contemporary children's books from all over the world to today's children. We pay as much attention to their translation, editing, illustration, design and production as we do with our adult list. As we say in the story about our list "[these are] the very best stories from around the world, for our most discerning readers of all: children."
Not just Pippi
I hope that we'll be able to convince parents, children, anyone interested in children's books that it's not just about Pippi Longstocking, the Moomins, Emil and the Detectives and The Neverending Story. Wonderful as these classics are, they stand out on our shelves in part because they are among the few children's books from around the world to have made it into English successfully.
We hope to change that with Pushkin Children's Books, and our launch list for this year includes arguable the classic Dutch children's book of the last 50-odd years—Tonke Dragt's remarkable, page-turning The Letter for the King from 1962—as well as one of France's most beloved modern classics in Pierre Gripari's The Good Little Devil and Other Tales, also from the 1960s. Both books have sold well over a million copies and been translated into over a dozen languages.
These are just two examples from the launch list which show what wonderful books are out there if you can be bothered to look for them, translate and publish them with care and attention.
It's all about presentation and perception. I don't think most readers are interested in what language a book was originally written in or where it's set. A good book is a good book.
Publishers need to be more polyglot (at Pushkin we have French, German and Italian between us and many more reliable, regular readers and translators working with us from many other languages) and to venture outside their comfort zone now and then.
Booksellers are already great at championing books they love, no matter where they come from, so I hope that booksellers will embrace Pushkin Children's Books and help promote these books to their customers. Certainly, the feedback we've had so far is very encouraging, and we're keen to work with booksellers across the country to promote all Pushkin titles.
Adam Freudenheim is publisher and m.d. of Pushkin Press.Stephanie Seegmuller is associate publisher and chief operating officer.