American publisher Arthur A Levine has launched the first titles fro his new independent children’s publisher Levine Querido in the UK. Levine founded Levine Querido last April after 23 years as the publisher of Scholastic Inc imprint Arthur A Levine Books. One of the driving forces that led him to branch out on his own was “a desire to set my own priorities”. He explains: “I think over the years, corporate publishing has become more and more sales and marketing and finance- led, so that everybody is literally sitting around the table at the same time and making group decisions. I didn’t want to make group decisions. I feel there’s a strength to be had in individual decisions, so I wanted to try that out.”
The name for the company is partly inspired by the late Dutch publisher Emanuel Querido, who published political exiles from Nazi Germany in the 1930s before his death in the Sobibor extermination camp in 1943. Levine says: “He was very brave to do that. Back then, books were even more important as a way of disseminating information. I wanted to have the honour of spreading his name and keeping it alive.” He adds that “querido” also means “beloved” in Portuguese, and “that’s what I want my books to become, the beloved books of childhood”.
Levine is partnering with the Dutch Querido publishing house on one of the two lists his new company is publishing under, Em Querido, which aims to find and translate authors and artists from around the world into English. Meanwhile, the publisher’s Arthur A Levine list seeks out artwork and writing that originates in the English language, with a distinct focus on building a platform for previously underrepresented voices. Both lists will consist of picture books, poetry, novels, non-fiction and graphic novels. Levine Querido’s distribution partner is fellow independent Chronicle Books, which is distributed in the UK and Europe by Abrams & Chronicle Books.
A broad church
Levine’s ambition with Levine Querido is to “give the world a collection of extraordinary books that stand the test of time”. In addition, he wants those books to “come from a broad diversity of voices and talents”. He says: “I have a very deep belief that there is amazing untapped talent in underserved communities, and I want to help find it and make beautiful books.” His initial plan for attracting inclusive talent is through word of mouth. He continues: “It’s not that hard. Just saying that that’s what you want is a great first step to draw people to your company. Today, you have an almost bewildering variety of talent presenting their work online. That’s on top of all the traditional routes. If you’re trying, you have way more to choose from than you could possibly begin to use.”
In addition to Levine, who is president and editor-in- chief, the team consists of four full-time staff members: marketing director Antonia Gonzalez Cerna; publicity manager Alexandra Hernandez; assistant editor Meghan McCullough; and senior editor Nick Thomas. Their work is supported by freelance designers and production professionals, as well as “terrific” interns. According to Levine, the team is passionate about not only working with diverse authors and illustrators, but also a diverse group of publishing professionals. He says: “We’re always looking for people who can expand our minds and our horizons, and also to train people to help diversify the whole industry.”
Levine Querido published its first books in August. One of the launch titles was Elatsoe by début author Darcie Little Badger (published on 25th August), a young adult murder mystery in which the protagonist is visited by the ghost of her cousin. She then has to go about proving his murder, using her power to speak to ghosts; a power which has been passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family. Another early release is Daniel Nayeri’s book Everything Sad is Untrue (published on 1st September). The autobiographical novel sees the narrator’s family forced to flee their home in Iran in the middle of the night, and eventually ending up in Oklahoma. With the other children in his classroom, the narrator also shares tales of his family that reach back into ancient times—but his fellow pupils refuse to believe him. Levine calls it “beautifully written” and proof that “great books can be very accessible and exciting and fun and funny, as well as touching”. He is delighted that both books have made the Indiebound Indie Bestsellers list in the US.
Other recent releases include: picture book This Old Dog, written by Martha Brockenbrough and illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo (published on 1st September), which centres on the bond between an old dog and a little girl; The Blue Wings, a book in translation from Belgian author Jef Aerts (published on 8th September), about two brothers who run away when it seems they might be separated; and Apple: Skin to the Core, an autobiographical book in verse by Eric Gansworth (published on 6th October), which relates the author’s experience of growing up feeling “other” in many different ways—it also contains his photographs and artwork.
Levine Querido will publish between 25 and 30 books a year, and Levine states that while the titles he is publishing have “a diversity of styles and feeling”, they are “all of uniformly exceptional quality”. He expands: “Whatever genre the book happens to be in, it should be exceptionally well written and gorgeously illustrated. Those are some of the qualities that I hope will come through, along with wonderful attention to design and book production.”
The new normal
In terms of how the publisher has been affected by the pandemic, staff have been working from home and conducting sales conferences via videoconferencing site Zoom. One of the advantages of it being “small and nimble” was that the business was able to pivot to use the money it had earmarked for conferences to promote its work through other channels. Another thing that Levine feels “put us in a better position than some companies” is that, as a start-up, it raised money to get up and running and now has funding set aside for a few years, which has not been impacted by the coronavirus.
Considering the wider US publishing industry, he is “rooting for all kinds of booksellers” to survive the pandemic. He continues: “We really need our independent booksellers, we really need Barnes & Noble, and we need everybody else, because without them you can’t introduce new talent. If all you’re going on is an algorithm, it won’t pick up your exceptional jewel of a picture book unless it’s written by a person who is already famous.”
Levine Querido is preparing to launch its spring 2021 list, and Levine is looking forward to sharing “a shockingly good list of books that we’re so excited about”. He adds: “We’re constantly taking delight in the books coming in and expanding the parts of the world we touch and the parts of our own country that we explore.”