Interview with Maria-Elisabeth Niebius from Little Gestalten

With a catalogue of picture books sporting bold colours, fascinating topics and a high number of translated titles, I’m always interested to see what’s coming up on the Little Gestalten list. I asked Maria-Elisabeth Niebius, Senior Editor of the Children’s Book Programme at Little Gestalten to tell us a bit more about the press as well as sharing some of her favourite books.

Claire Storey: Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions for us here at the World Kid Lit Blog. Can you tell us a bit about how Little Gestalten came about?

Maria-Elisabeth Niebius: Quite naturally with children – all the illustrators and designers we worked together with on our adult gestalten books became parents themselves and started to develop and create kid’s books. Also, seeing the kid’s book market as it was a couple of years ago, we really felt the gap of well-designed books with contemporary illustrations.

CS: I’ve been following your catalogue for a few years now and translated titles always feature among your new books. Is this a conscious choice to include translated books on your lists? If so, what is it about translations that make them so important to include on your children’s list?

MN: It is definitely! While the majority on our lists nowadays are our own creations, there are so many beautiful and important books out there, which deserve a broader audience. Publishing books in English and German, and distributing worldwide, is a big pro for us and for these kinds of books. The book Life and I is a license from the Norwegian publisher Magikon, and the moment we saw the book, we knew that this one needs to be in as many kids’ hands (and adults’!) as possible. Translating books is almost like a responsibility a publisher can accept – to the industry, which is depending on this, and to the books themselves. Imagine Harry Potter only being available in English!

CS: Your parent company, gestalten, is based in Germany. Is there a lot of crossover between what appears on your German list and your English list?

MN: We always try to publish our books in both languages. If we think that a certain book wouldn’t work in one of our markets, we won’t do it. There are exceptions though: with a few books we just have the German or the English license, as the other one was the original.

CS: How do you go about finding your new titles for translation? 

MN: Browsing online through social media, blogs, magazine reviews, going to book shops whenever traveling somewhere, fairs and B2B platforms, which bring new releases together. Beyond that, personal recommendations by colleagues and other publishers – this is something special to the children’s book industry as most people working there are driven by joy and love for the books!

CS: Does it ever happen that you find a book you love but think, “Ahhh, but this won’t work in English”?         

MN: Alphabet books are a tough one! And everything to do with rhymes; it is not impossible but usually hard to create a text in another language which is as charming as the original.

CS: What are some of the hurdles to finding the right book to translate, that will succeed in a new market? 

MN: The major one is definitely the requirements of each market. This might be a price point, format, page number but also content, for example, we do need a certain diversity depicted as we do not just want to show how the world looks like around us. From the beginning, this was a must from the North American market.

CS: What new places would you like to look for titles in translation, that you haven’t yet?

MN: Nothing really. But what’s definitely missing this year are the fairs. All video calls and newsletters can’t substitute walking though shelves and shelves full of books and talking to publishers, editors, designers, and most of all: illustrators and authors.

CS: One of our family favourites on your list from last year is the incredible French pop-up book The Acrobat Family. Can you tell us about a few of your favourites?

Ohh, also one of my favourites! It especially fitted well with the Bauhaus anniversary last year. Into that list goes Life and I – A story about death, as mentioned, I think everyone should have this book, as it addresses the topic of death in a very poetic and touching way. Issun Boshi was the first book we released and set the path for illustration, design and production of our books. I love the books we did with Dawid Ryski, they all have a very strong simple idea which pairs perfectly with his illustrations. Out of our non-fiction titles, it’s definitely In Great Numbers came out recently and is a strong compendium overarching history, science, and culture, and Penguins & Polar Bears, which includes lots of fun facts about the ends of our world. Last but not least, You and Me and Everybody Else, which is an important book subtly addressing diversity while placing emotions and experiences in the focus, which are common to us, no matter where we are from, or what we believe in.

CS: Have you got anything exciting coming up in the next few months? 

Always! The challenges our world is facing, may it be climate change, waste or the fight for (Black) People of Colour are part of the world of the adults around them, and this way also be recognized by children. We always try to open up the world for kids and spark their curiosity. But not just with these big topics, also with our activity books, which are a lot of fun and engage kids to be outside, and to do something with their hands rather than playing with Ipads.

“Since the moment I could read, I was never without a book in my hands. After studying at Berlin University of the Arts, I started working on illustrated books and children’s books.” Maria-Elisabeth Niebius is the Senior Manager of the Children’s Book Programme at Little Gestalten.

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