Today we’re finding out more about the Elsewhere Editions imprint of Archipelago Books. WKL co-editor Claire Storey speaks to Sarah Gale, Editor and Publicist, and Emma Raddatz, Editor and Development Associate at Archipelago….
World Kid Lit: Welcome to World Kid Lit. It’s great to have you with us. I wonder if you could tell us a little about Elsewhere Editions. How do you see your place in the children’s market and do you specialise in anything in particular?
Emma: Hello! Thank you so much. Sarah and I are really happy to be speaking with you. Elsewhere Editions is a non-profit publisher devoted to translating luminous works of children’s literature from around the world. Our imprint grew out of Archipelago Books, which publishes international fiction and poetry in translation. Elsewhere was founded in 2017, and since then, we’ve published fifteen books from ten different languages, including Chinese, Estonian, Persian, Portuguese, and more. Our goal is to enrich children’s imaginations and cultivate curiosity about other cultures and ways of being in the world.
When I think about how best to describe our list, my mind often jumps to a quote from Betsy Bird and an image from our artist, Roger Mello. When we published I Wish (a Dutch picture book by Toon Tellegen, illustrator Ingrid Godon, and translator David Colmer), Betsy wrote a beautiful review describing how the book is not “going to sit quietly in a category. It’s the kind of book that would rather wander off and make up its own categories, expecting you to follow dutifully behind.” And this year, we are publishing our fourth book with Roger Mello, João by a Thread, translated by Daniel Hahn. It’s a stunning book, inspired by Brazilian textile arts and rippling with white thread across cherry red pages. In the book, João constructs a blanket made of words, sewing it all together with the hook of question mark. This detail – the question mark being the thing that pulls João’s world together – is this perfect expression of what Elsewhere is trying to do, and what translated picture books can unlock for a reader. Our books leave you with questions, wonderings, and they don’t sit quietly. We want to publish translations that take young readers seriously, that might perplex or bring on serious questions – books that enchant and mystify along the way.
WKL: Can you tell us about some of the books you’ve published so far under this imprint?
Sarah: We just published Blaze and the Castle Cake for Bertha Daye, our third picture book by the beloved French author Claude Ponti which tells the story of a gutsy party-planning endeavor by a tremendous flock of teeny “chicklets” over the course of many days. Ponti’s translators, Alyson Waters and Margot Kerlidou, have pulled off a challenging task with wit and gusto, bringing Ponti’s many playful puns and made-up words into English.
We have two other books coming out before the end of the year. First, this summer, an adorable, insightful book about the off-duty lives of our emotions called What Feelings Do When No One’s Looking, by Tina Oziewicz and Aleksandra Zajac and translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft. And then in the fall, we’re publishing our third book with the brilliant Brazilian author and illustrator Roger Mello, João by a Thread, which follows a young boy as he tosses and turns beneath his blanket, pondering the universe and sliding in and out of a dream world. Daniel Hahn translated João from Portuguese, and in some cases, Mello re-illustrated the book to incorporate Hahn’s translations into his intricate spreads.
WKL: Do you know what you are looking for when acquiring new books or do you let yourself be surprised? If you have a certain idea in mind, how do you go about finding these books?
Emma: We let ourselves be surprised and we try to stay open to the whims of each book we encounter. When acquiring projects for Elsewhere, our focus often starts with the art. An indescribable pull that takes over when you become lost in an illustrator’s world. When we first encountered In the Meadow of Fantasies, we were mesmerized by the illustration of the young girl nudging a horse, her companion in the story, into a pool of swirling colors, or when we first saw What Feelings Do, there’s this beaming spread of a furry creature holding a lightbulb, paired with the line “love is an electrician.” I wanted to follow these scenes – of being coaxed into waters, or of being haloed with warmth – into the rest of that artist’s world.
We also really care about an artist’s or writer’s entire body of work. We want to publish from particular universes that change over time. In Roger Mello’s Charcoal Boys, a tender and haunting book about child labor in Brazil, we see smoke gray and papered hues, cut through with highlighter pink and orange flames, igniting the center of the book, and in João we see intricate, tightly woven textiles of white thread against red. Roger’s style constantly shifts, reinvents itself. I also think all the time of a project Diego Bianki created called Papeles Fútiles. He has created small notebooks of drawings, paintings, and collages – this one is 4,000 pages long. His illustrations are animated by tickets, maps, wrappers, leaves, and the bursting seams of the notebook. Over the course of one tiny notebook, the world of his illustrations summersaults so many times.
WKL: At WKL we’re keen to promote books that originate beyond Western Europe, and I notice that your list includes books translated from Iran, China, Scandinavia and South America. Is this a conscious decision to pursue books from a variety of countries or is it just coincidence?
Sarah: I think for Emma, Jill, and me, finding picture books from every corner of the world is inherent to the project. It allows us to work on picture books in a huge range of registers, produced by cultures with different artistic and narrative traditions, senses of humor, ideas about death, political ideologies, and so on. A few years ago we published a story from the Brazilian author Roger Mello about a young boy navigating life as a child laborer, which feels like it plays to an entirely different – deeply feeling, intellectually open – part of being a kid than the slapstick, madcap Goodnight Mr. Clutterbuck by Mauri Kunnas, for example, or the dreamy, sweetly immersive creations in Diego Biaki and Mario Levrero’s Sleepy Stories. Working with authors, illustrators, and translators based only in one region would be a loss for the press and for the readers.
WKL: Did you have any favourite books in translation as a child? Were you aware of books coming from other places?
Sarah: I adored a book of Russian folktales that I had growing up. Every chapter started with these incredibly beautiful, spooky art nouveau illustrations by Ivan Bilibin. I remember reading all the stories for the first time one day when I was home sick from school and wondering why they were so much stranger and scarier than other books that I had by American authors. I don’t think I understood that I could access other books from outside the States that might surprise me like the folktales did. I just read the folktales over and over instead, not knowing what I was missing out on.
WKL: I’d like to talk for a moment specifically about the books by Claude Ponti. These are wonderfully quirky picture books – my daughter absolutely loves Hīznobyūtī, translated by Alyson Waters. You’re just releasing a new book by Ponti – Blaze and the Castle Cake for Bertha Daye, translated by Alyson Waters and Margot Kerlidou. How did you first come across these books and what made you think, I have to publish these in English?
Emma: Jill, our publisher, discovered Claude Ponti’s work in French while speaking with his publisher, L’école des loisirs, at the Bologna Book Fair. I’ve always felt that Ponti’s world is irresistible. His fictional universes are otherworldly, full of small miracles, nimble wordplay, and hidden moments of magic. He’s said that his books are situated in the marvelous, speaking to the interior lives and emotions of children. He’s also mentioned that he envisions his characters and dreams belong to each child reading the book. My Valley, Hīznobyūtī, and Blaze take on a life of their own as you hold them. With their surprising size and never-ending detail, you can really step into them, find something new each time, and make them your own. Blaze, in particular, is riddled, layered, and after reading it many times, I still re-read it and find myself cracking a smile on every page, at Ponti’s loveable wit and punning. Perhaps my favorite line, across all of our Pontis, is: “Blaze is reading a book about Blaze to see if what it says about him is true and if by any chance he might find a recipe for candied apples in it – they would make very lovely centerpieces for the party.”
WKL: Ponti creates new words and imagery in his texts. With Blaze, I’ve challenged my children to try and sneak “irresistiblisciously incredibliscious” into their writing at school. How involved are you with coming up with these English word creations or do you leave it all to your translators?
Emma: I love the thought of your children slipping “incredibliscious,” “communophone,” or other Pontian word creations into everyday class assignments! (I wonder if they could also encourage their fellow classmates to do Hīznobyūtī’s Great-Chubby-Cheeked-Dance-of-Joy every now and then?). Alyson Waters is at the helm of these creations, and for Blaze, Alyson co-translated the book with her daughter, Margot Kerlidou. I think a very special alchemy occurred in this co-creation. Together they formed brilliant words in English like “flizzatten” – a jubilant dancing and stomping technique the chicklets employ to splatter the batter – or “egg ceteras,” a perfect play on etcetera. They also assigned hilariously apt names to so many of the chicklets. We meet Snoozfesta, Belle Jamine Frankleen (inventing the umbrella), or the guest of honor, Bertha Daye. I recently asked Alyson what translating Ponti has been like, and she described the pleasure and challenge: “There’s so much pleasure in translating Ponti because of the inventive wordplay: puns, neologisms, and completely made-up words that will never be used elsewhere besides in the world of Claude Ponti. One specific challenge in all of his books I’ve translated to date (two with my daughter) is names. For example, the main character in the latest of his books published by Elsewhere is “Anne Hiversaire.” Obvious to a French speaker when said aloud, it is a phonetic spelling of “anniversaire,” birthday. Well, what to do with her name in English? After several attempts, my daughter Margot and I came up with “Bertha Daye.” It’s not the perfect homonym that Anne Hiversaire is, but it is pretty close, and Bertha, like Anne, is a real name.”
WKL: Your book In the Meadow of Fantasies by Hadi Mohammadi, illustrated by Nooshin Safakhoo and translated from Persian by Sara Khalili received a Mildred L. Batchelder Honour recently. How important are these awards?
These honors and more broadly, the ALA’s transformative and far-reaching work, are hugely important to us. (From a sales perspective, we sold out of our remaining Meadow stock in just a couple of days after the award was announced!) Meadow is an evocative, poetic book. With its lulling cadences, moments of profound questioning, themes of physical disability, and layers of Iranian folklore, I felt that it would be a quieter book, or trickier to sell in some ways. We knew the book embodied so much of what we set out to accomplish with Elsewhere – it shares the wonders of a different culture and asks honest questions about identity and belonging. To have the ALA honor this book, in all of its facets, meant a great deal to us and really helped the book to reach a wider audience.
WKL: Elsewhere Editions is a non-profit children’s press. What impact does that have and what can we as readers do to support you?
Emma: Thanks for asking about this! Our Archipelago and Elsewhere titles work to bring people together across borders and languages, sparking vital conversations about literature and difference. Our compassionate and visionary children’s books have allowed young readers to better understand the cultures of Norway, Estonia, France, Brazil, and beyond. Being a non-profit allows us a certain liberty to publish international books that are still less warmly accepted and greeted by US readers. This is changing though. We feel there’s huge momentum and energy around international illustration and writing. We feel so much support from our community of librarians, independent booksellers, young readers (and their adult companions), bloggers, reviewers, and all of the wonderful people who share our books with others. (I recently participated in an event at the International School of Brooklyn in which elementary and middle-school students were asking these smart and sharp questions about literary translation, and I was heartened to know that they were talking about books and translation at such a young age!).
We have a small staff of three full-time employees across both imprints, and it can be difficult to bring out 17 books a year. People can support us in many ways: by asking about our books at local bookstores, organizing story times online or at libraries, donating to the press, sharing our educator’s guides with teachers, and purchasing our discounted book bundles. We also have a fledgling section of our site in which young readers can send in their own art. Right now, we’re featuring works by the wonderful Yona.
WKL: Thank you so much for talking to us today!
Sarah Gale is an Editor and Publicist at Archipelago, where she greatly enjoys working on books translated from a large range of languages, including Kurdish, Portuguese, French, Slovenian, and Danish. She lives in Brooklyn.
Emma Raddatz is an Editor and Development Associate at Archipelago Books, and the Director of the press’ international children’s imprint, Elsewhere Editions. She’s honored to be working on books by authors from Iceland, Turkey, Rwanda, and Argentina right now. She lives in Brooklyn, around the corner from Greenlight Bookstore.