Today we’re finding out more about Tra Publishing. World Kid Lit contributor Dina Leifer speaks to founder and Creative Director Ilona Oppenheim.
WKL: Hello and welcome to the Project WorldKidLit blog! Could you tell us a bit about Tra Publishing and the kind of books you publish?
Ilona Oppenheim: Hello and thank you, it’s great to be here! I founded Tra Publishing in Miami in 2016, building on fifteen years of design excellence through Ilona Creative Studio, my creative consultancy firm. The goal was simple: to produce books that are works of art in and of themselves. That’s why we chose our name: Tra is arT spelled backwards. Because we place particular emphasis on the physical components of the bookmaking process, the title seemed fitting.
We started out producing art and architecture titles for adults. We published our first children’s book, And the People Stayed Home, in 2020. It was a spur of the moment decision—I came across Kitty O’Meara’s viral pandemic poem and was deeply inspired by its messaging. We found the entire process extremely rewarding and collaborative, and it wasn’t long before we started acquiring more children’s titles. Within the next two years, we’re projected to have more than thirty-eight children’s titles.
WKL: Could you explain a bit more about Tra’s aim to create “beautiful, substantial and special books that readers experience physically as opposed to digitally.” Was it a reaction against the ever-increasing amount of time people spend on digital media?
IO: In today’s world of excess and technology, the tactile process of holding and reading a book is a mindful experience. We include interactive components like stickers, flaps, and vellum pages in our children’s books to keep kids engaged and inspire an appreciation of the bookmaking process.
WKL: Does the focus on craft and meticulous design mean you publish fewer, but higher-quality books?
IO: Every year our title list grows bigger and bigger, and every title is a unique experience. Yet, even with a growing catalogue, we craft every book with the utmost care and quality.
WKL: What proportion of your books are aimed at children? Is there a particular ethos to the children’s books you publish? Do you aim at particular age groups? Why?
IO: Tra Publishing aims to inspire creativity, awareness, and wonder in children of all ages through visually stunning books. Our books are meant to raise children’s awareness of the world around them, encourage creative thinking, and awaken curiosity. More than half of Tra’s catalogue is made up of children’s books for various ages––3-5, 4-8, 8-12– and we’re on track to debut our first board books next season.
WKL: How much does translated literature feature in your Kids’ list? Do you tend to focus on particular languages/cultures?
IO: We love to work with artists from all over the world and bring new perspectives to the U.S.
Of our 18 children’s titles, 13 are translated works from countries like Japan, Spain, France, Mexico, and Italy. All 18 of them are illustrated by artists from all over the world. We’re incredibly excited to debut a series of picture books by Dutch author and illustrator Mark Janssen and the revolutionary Japanese graphic designer Katsumi Komogata in 2023.
WKL: Could you explain your approach to translated texts? For example: in what ways and how much do you adapt them for a U.S readership?
IO: I would say we often redesign the cover, add back matter, adjust fonts and layout of text, and sometimes adapt the storyline due to cultural differences.
WKL: How do you discover new books? Do writers and translators approach you, or do you go out looking for them, or both?
It’s usually a mix of word of mouth, chance, and submissions. We also receive direct submissions from agents, authors, and illustrators. Sometimes we stumble across a poem—like Alice Walker’s “Sweet People Are Everywhere,” which is how we came to publish the eponymous picture book—or even an image (The Penguin Who Was Cold). Other times, we look to children’s book award festivals (Planet Life) or some of our favourite foreign publishers (The Unfortunate Life of Worms). We also welcome submissions (Octopuses Have Zero Bones).
WKL: Of all the books you’ve published for children, which are your favourites and why?
IO: We are huge fans of all of Kitty O’Meara’s books. She was our first children’s author, and it’s been a pleasure to grow with her as a publisher. She has a real talent for crafting these stories and messages that are both timely and positive. Her follow up to the pandemic poem And the People Stayed Home, The Rare, Tiny Flower, speaks to the war in Ukraine.
WKL: What children’s books have you got coming out in the near future? Tell us about how you found them and what made you choose them.
IO: We got a chance to work with a lot of new illustrators for our Spring releases, so we’re excited about them all! Everyone brings a different story, and we can’t wait to share them with the US market. Italian author/illustrator Daniela Berti delivers both humour and fun in Pit the Giant Chick. This book was published originally as a bilingual edition in Italy in English and Italian. We have published the book in the US with just the English translation, although unfortunately we do not have the details about the translator. You can watch a really cute book trailer about Pit the Giant Chick on the Tra Publishing website. French duo, Cécile Elma Roger and Ève Gentilhomme bring an energetic and imaginative approach to water pollution in I Want To Be a River, translated by Éve Gentilhomme.
We’re also eager to continue our relationship with Spanish illustrator Aina Bestard and will release the follow-up to Planet Life, Landscapes of the Solar System, on March 7. Aina Bestard is such a talented artist, and in Landscapes of the Solar System, we see more of her signature illustrations. The content is also solid— Planet Life was created in conjunction with the Museum of Science Barcelona, and we were lucky to have ALMA, the largest astronomical project in the world, on board for Landscapes of the Solar System (by Aina Bestard, Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array, and Dr. Antonio Hales, illustrated by Aina Bestard, translated from Catalan by Matthew Clarke).
In the Fall, we’ll be launching Kitty O’Meara’s third book, Oliver and the Night Giants. It’s our first book with Milan-based illustrator Anna Pirolli, and we can’t imagine anyone better for the project. She illustrates these immersive scenes that pair beautifully with the storyline.
WKL: Will you be holding any online or in-person events in the near future, where people can find out more about Tra publishing?
IO: Right now, we’re focusing on our debut as a local publisher in Miami. We wrapped up our first Miami Book Fair in November and are looking forward to participating in the Tropic Bound Book Fair in February. In 2023, we’re looking to explore pop-ups and organize community-building events around the city.
WKL: Sounds exciting! Thanks so much for talking to us today.
IO: Thank you for having me.
Ilona Oppenheim is a graphic designer and author with over two decades of sophisticated graphic design and high-end branding experience. She grew up in Switzerland, where she began her graphic design career. Tra Publishing builds on her experience as the founder and principal of Ilona Creative Studio (ICS), a branding and graphic design studio that works extensively with clients in art, fashion, real estate, and hospitality. She is also the author of Savor, a cookbook of rustic recipes inspired by forest, field, and farm, published by Artisan. Her love of books and belief in the value of experiencing books as physical objects inspired her to found Tra and to commit to the highest level of quality.
Dina Leifer is a writer and translator from French and Italian. Her story And Eddie Had An Egg won the Story prize in the 2022/23 Jewish Children’s Book Awards. Her translation of Sandrine Kao’s short story Journey at Dusk was published in the anthology Odyssey by Alma Books. Dina translates texts about the arts, social sciences and health. She hopes to translate and write more stories for children. In her spare time Dina loves being outdoors in nature and reading. She lives in London. www.dinaleifertranslations.com