Sunday, September 18, 2016

Publisher Interview: CEO Nancy Traversy of Barefoot Books

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

"Barefoot Books was founded in 1992 by two young moms working from home with the dream of creating beautiful books that celebrate diversity, spark curiosity and capture children’s imaginations."

There's been an ongoing conversation about diversity in children's literature. What are your thoughts on the subject?

Children's publishers, and the media industry as a whole, have a huge responsibility to create diverse, inclusive content for kids. Barefoot Books has always been committed to celebrating diversity and inclusion; but our mission, and the task of nurturing empathy in our children, has never felt more urgent than it does today.

As our culture faces what President Obama has called an "empathy deficit," it's important for us to work hard to do better by our children. All children deserve to see themselves, their families and their experiences represented in the books they read. They also need to see and understand others, in order to develop empathy, and grow into compassionate, responsible global citizens, prepared to thrive and contribute in their communities and in professional and academic spheres in the 21st century.

Our children look up to us; they're listening to our conversations, soaking in and internalizing our attitudes and beliefs about ourselves and others. It is now more important than ever for parents, educators and caregivers to share diverse and inclusive books with the children in their lives and to start conversations about empathy and compassion.

How is Barefoot Books responding in terms of diverse representation on your list?

This month, we are particularly excited to be introducing what is perhaps our most meaningful, and certainly most timely, publication to date, The Barefoot Book of Children, which empowers caregivers and educators to start important conversations with children about diversity, inclusivity and acceptance.

We worked with a team of both U.K.- and U.S.-based diversity and inclusion experts to represent a wide range of children as accurately as possible; and the result, with meticulously researched hand-painted art by award-winning illustrator David Dean, is a playful, powerful and thought-provoking celebration of both the big ideas and everyday moments that reveal our common humanity and tie us all together.

At Barefoot, we've always been passionate about celebrating diversity of all kinds in our books: it's one of our core values and central to our mission as a company.

We began nearly 25 years ago by publishing myths, legends, folk and fairy tales from all over the world.

We started to introduce children to other cultures more overtly with our "Travel the World" series by author Laurie Krebs, which includes titles like We All Went on Safari, We're Sailing to Galapagos and Up and Down the Andes, all with fascinating additional information about people, cultures, history and more.

However, we aim to celebrate more than just cultural diversity. Many of our picture books - such as Mama Panya's Pancakes and The Girl with a Brave Heart - immerse readers in the experiences of children from around the world and also foster compassion for others.

From The Animal Boogie, which has sold well over two million copies, and our other other best-selling singalongs, to The Boy Who Grew Flowers, which was written by the author for her brother who has autism, our books strive to offer positive, strong, relatable characters to children who may feel different from others.

We also strive to introduce children to other faiths and religions with books like The Wise Fool, a light-hearted introduction to Islamic culture; and The Mountains of Tibet, a gentle story from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

A couple of years' ago, we published My Big Barefoot Book of Wonderful Words, which depicts a multi-racial family in a contemporary urban setting - "Richard Scarry for the 21st century". We worked with Beth Cox, founder of Inclusive Minds, to ensure that we accurately represented people of all races, cultures, abilities and lifestyles.

This book is now available in bilingual Spanish/English and French/English versions.

How about diverse voices (AKA authors) and visions (illustrators)? Do you have a message for those children's book creators?

Being inclusive means relating to each other in ways that give a voice to everyone - and that means publishing books not only for all children, but by a wide range of creators!

When introducing children to cultures from around the globe, it's vitally important to ensure that they're getting an accurate perspective from the authentic voice of a local creator.

From the very beginning, we've commissioned authors and illustrators from all over the world, including Tehran-born Israeli pop star Rita Jahanforuz, author of The Girl with a Brave Heart; Lebanon-born Wafa' Tarnowska, author of The Arabian Nights; and Mexico-born Caldecott Honor-winner Yuyi Morales, illustrator of Sand Sister.

We continually strive to find contributors who can provide that authentic voice and vision; it's a core part of our editorial conversation.

How are you doing outreach to Native children and children of color?

Barefoot is unique in the publishing industry because of our emphasis, not only on creating beautiful books, but also on growing a vibrant community of people who share our core values. We sell our books to schools, libraries and independent retailers as well as through our passionate network of home-based sellers called "Ambassadors" who are united by our mission to share diverse, inclusive and inspiring books.

Many of our Ambassadors use their businesses to give back and raise funds to promote causes that are important to them. Some are involved in promoting literacy in various underserved communities whose children have historically been underrepresented in children's books, including children of color. We are so proud of the incredible work our Ambassadors are doing to advance our mission to share stories, connect families and inspire children.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

For nearly a quarter of a century, Barefoot has been creating beautiful books for children that nurture creativity and compassion, and that celebrate diversity in all its forms. Discussions about race, diversity and inclusion are happening everywhere - in homes, in our children's schools, even in their playgrounds.

Books offer an essential and accessible resource for parents and educators to kickstart crucial conversations about these important topics with our children.

Since our founding in 1992, Barefoot has put nearly 20 million books into the hands of children and we would love to make that 100 million!

We believe the time is ripe to build some real momentum and create a movement of people who want to change the conversation and start to create a more accepting, inclusive world for our children.

Find more diverse and inclusive books. Explore our free tools to help start conversations with children about diversity and inclusivity.

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