Publisher spotlight: global picture book champion Patricia Aldana

An imprint of Greystone Kids, Aldana Libros publishes picture books in translation from around the world––stories shaped by all the different realities that make up the human experience. 

Aldana Libros is led by renowned children’s publisher, Patricia Aldana who tells us about her interests as a publisher and what drives her to explore the world looking for the best picture books to publish in English translation.

World Kid Lit Blog: You were recognised this year by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art as a Carle Honors Honoree for your distinguished career in bringing new voices to picture books, including as founder of Groundwood Books, Past President of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), President of the IBBY Trust, and now as the Publisher of Aldana Libros. What brought you to picture books originally and what continues to excite you about this medium?

Aldana Libros publisher Patricia Aldana

PatriciaAldana: I have always been drawn to art as a way of telling stories. Brought up in Guatemala with a grandfather as an archeologist, I was aware from an early age that the Maya used art—and beautiful, sophisticated hieroglyphics–their written language– to convey information.  But as that language had not then been deciphered there was such frustration at not knowing what the actual story being told was.

Another aspect of my Guatemalan childhood was the use of Christian iconography in painting, sculptures of saints and especially the Good Friday processions and the beautiful sawdust carpets laid out for the processions to walk over.  Even though I was not brought up in a religious family all of this art made a huge impression on me.  I just loved it.

I majored in art history in university.  For most of human history back to the very earliest days art has been used to convey meaning, even when we don’t know what that meaning was as in the case of the cave paintings.   And in Western, Christian culture art was a main form of biblical storytelling.

Art was also used as a primary tool for political propaganda for many centuries. In earliest days the words were conveyed orally then eventually through writing—at least for elites. 

The marriage of words and pictures are deeply embedded in the picture book tradition. And with the new interest in wordless books—known in IBBY as Silent Books—there is now an increased understanding and appreciation for images to be used to tell stories, once again.  

WKL Blog: You won’t be surprised that we’re keen to know more about your imprint at Greystone Books, Aldana Libros, which connects kids with books from around the world. Why is it important to look beyond North America and beyond English for stories for young readers?

PA: At Groundwood; in the World Library that I published for the major Chinese children’s publishing house—CCPPG– from 2013-2018; and now at Aldana Libros under Greystone Books, I have tried to show kids and their adult reading promotors that:

  1. people around the world are making fantastic books and telling stories in new and different ways from the highly commercialized story telling that children in dominant cultures are seeing;
  2. children around the world are both the same and also very different from you;
  3. their stories are as wonderful, exciting and enriching as yours;
  4. and perhaps most important, if we don’t get to know other people who live elsewhere we are in deep trouble.

I have had the enormous privilege of being associated with IBBY for the past twenty years and been able to really see and get to know what is happening in children’s books around the world.  And to be able to meet the publishers, authors and illustrators from so many countries.  What great luck I have had.

WKL blog: Can you tell us about some of the books you’ve published so far under this imprint? How did you come across them and what made you think “I have to publish this in English”?

PA: I’d rather not talk about individual books.  Just look at the list.  There is a broad range of styles and ways of storytelling.  Some are pure fun, others more informative.  I just pick books that I really like and that I think say or show something that is important for children to see. And that aren’t copies of the books created in the English speaking world. I’m lucky enough to have the support of a fabulous publisher and team who understand why these books matter even when the subject matter might be “difficult,” or on first looking at them “not commercial.”  This is another great privilege that I have.

WKL blog: Did you have any favourite books in translation as a child? Were you aware of books coming from other places? 

PA: There were no picture books in Spanish in my childhood.  My mother read me wonderful books in English, some of them translated—among my favourites, Wanda Gag, the D’Aulaires and some Swedish novels– Midsummer and Midwinter.

WKL blog: What impact has Covid-19 had on the children’s book industry in your experience? Have you had to change plans because of the pandemic?

The worst thing for me is not to be able to go to Bologna and Guadalajara.  I need to just wander through publishers’ stands and pick up and look through books I think I might like.  And, of course, not being able to meet with authors and illustrators and IBBY people all over the globe that I admire and love is very sad. It’s just not the same to look through catalogues.

WKL blog: What are your plans for the Aldana Libros imprint in the next year or two, all being well?

PA: Some new great books.  Some are likely to be instantly beloved, others are more controversial, maybe even polemical in a way.  But to me they seem important and worthwhile.  And they are different.  I can’t wait for the reaction.  I hope for interest in and openness to the incredibly rich and diverse production from around the world.  It is very exciting to be part of a new wave of “internationalist” imprints that are now growing and being well received and joining me in bringing what each of us thinks are the very best books from around the world.


A few of the picture books published by Aldana Libros, an imprint of Greystone Books. See their website for more!


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