In recent years, a proliferation of books in translation for children and young adults has brought imaginative stories from around the world to new readers. We’re speaking with some of the extraordinary publishers who make these books possible about their experience working in this vital field.
For the ninth installment in the series, we spoke with Isabel Malzoni, founder of Editora Caixote, a publisher of both print and digital children's books.
WWB: How did Caixote come into being?
Isabel Malzoni (IM): I started Caixote in 2014 with the intention of publishing children’s books in an app format. I thought it was going to be a good challenge to create reading experiences using digital tools. The use of digital media with children’s literature and picture books was all just starting, so I had a lot of room to try different approaches and possibilities. Also, it was a good opportunity to publish to broad audiences (virtually the whole world!) in several languages, despite being a small publisher. Of course it’s all been more difficult than expected—the distribution, the production, and also the promotion—but we’ve succeeded in publishing four apps so far, and all of them have received important recognition, like the Kidscreen Award nomination for Gunilla Wolde’s This is Betsy, two prestigious Jabuti Awards for So Many Butts and Tiny Great True Stories, and the institutional support of UNHCR Brazil (ACNUR) for Amal and the Most Important Journey of Her Life, a book that just came out in English and is free of charge in the App Store and on Google Play.
In 2019, we also started to publish in print, with Amal, but in Portuguese only.
WWB: Is there a particular theme, focus, or aesthetic that the children's books published by Caixote share?
IM: We publish in both digital and print, but this is not what defines us. We believe each story has the format that suits it best. Caixote’s motto is making “livros que (se) importam,” which is a way of saying “books that matter and care” at the same time. What we mean by that is that we choose books that are relevant to the childhood universe, as well as to the society in which they exist.
At the same time, most of our books are new (not previously published), and we focus on proposing new and challenging partnerships between authors and illustrators. Like our last release, O menino que virou chuva, which was written by a new author, Yuri de Francco, but illustrated by a renowned and experienced Brazilian artist, Renato Moriconi.
WWB: What are you looking for in a children’s story as a publisher and as a reader? What do you think draws a child into a story? Do you think that a good children’s book will always have some appeal for adults as well?
IM: I’m looking for bold stories that value children and don’t underestimate them. That seems simple, but it’s not. It’s very easy to find stories that are written to satisfy adults and the idea they have of childhood and how children must be, act, and think. It’s an intrinsic problem that children’s literature carries in its center, because it’s written by adults. But, from time to time, a writer/artist seems to connect with the childhood universe in some way and creates a story that really resonates with the children (everybody, actually). I think a key point is that successful children’s books respect and value the children, of course, but mostly they dare to be amazed by the world in the way children are. When it happens, it’s magic. And when it happens, it will move people in general, including adults (we were children too!).
It’s expected and it’s important that good children’s books are also meaningful for adults. That is the beautiful thing about literature. It proposes conversations, and it’s crucial that children and their loved ones have a lot of conversations.
“We’ve created products completely different from what we imagined in the beginning.”
WWB: What have been some of the most exciting aspects of the undertaking so far? What (if any) have you found to be the most challenging aspects of publishing children’s literature (and particularly bringing children's literature from Brazil into English)?
IM: In five years, we’ve learned a lot about making interactive digital books. Very few people or companies know much about it, and I believe that no one knows “everything.” It’s all so very new. But because we are independent, we’ve managed to explore a lot (and make a lot of mistakes, of course), and now all of our apps have received awards and other recognitions. They feature in academic works. We’ve created products completely different from what we imagined in the beginning, including print books, something we didn’t consider five years ago. It’s been very exciting to learn so much every day.
Publishing in Brazil is hard (there are few incentives and a small market), and publishing children’s books can be even more challenging. People call them “little books,” even though they can be so big and complex. But nothing compares to publishing digital children’s books. I wouldn’t know where to start: the costs, technical difficulties, the taboo…
We focus on the incredible potential we find in the digital format for children’s literature, and on the fact that children are spending more time with screens, no matter how much parents love the smell of paper books. So we’d better give them good content for that, right? It’s a path, but I believe it’s going to take a while for it to become smoother.
The challenges of publishing in English and Spanish from Brazil are related to that. How can we make people aware of our apps? Promotion is very difficult. It’s rare to find media that are willing to talk about our books, even though they have received so much recognition. So we have to rely on the app stores and on the influencers we can reach. And we are talking about promoting our work in different countries, which is a multi-faceted challenge. But sometimes we succeed in “piercing the bubble.” It happened, for example, with the app So Many Butts, which is selling satisfactorily in the US, though we are not sure exactly why. Now we are starting to work on presenting Amal and the Most Important Journey of her Life to English-speaking countries. It has UNHCR Brazil support and is a very important book for us. Now we hope that it will reach new horizons.
WWB: Are there any underrepresented languages or countries that you’re particularly drawn to, and are there literary traditions in children’s literature from other countries that you’re keen for Caixote to share with English readers?
IM: Brazilian picture books and children’s literature are very potent and fruitful. We have many important writers and artists, like Odilon Morais, Renato Moriconi, Roger Mello, Mariana Massarani, Eva Furnari, Ricardo Azevedo, and so many others, and they are underpublished, if that is a word, in English. I’m very interested in publishing them in English to fill this gap.
WWB: What is a new or forthcoming title that you are looking forward to sharing with readers?
IM: In English, we published Amal and the Most Important Journey of Her Life in app format this year, and we are looking for a “native” publisher for the print edition. It’s a book we worked on for three years, and it’s very important for us. It’s a story about children who travel alone around the world in search of refuge, and that is an important subject to talk about with other children. In Brazil, the story was also adapted for the stage.
WWB: What's next for Caixote?
IM: We just created a new imprint for picture books (and other non-obvious genres) for young adults and adults. It’s challenging to do so in Brazil, because there is not much room in the bookstores for this kind of book. But I believe there is more space for independent publishers and experimental books now, with the internet and virtual book events, and we are excited about our forthcoming titles. Our new imprint is named o.Tal, which means something like “the one.”
The first book from o.Tal is called Milágrimas (roughly “athousandtears” in English, all together like that). It’s a beautifully illustrated version of a poem written thirty years ago that contains a lot of very wise advice on how to deal with heartache. It was the song of my youth days, written by the poet Alice Ruiz and turned into music by Itamar Assumpção. And it has now been transformed into an illustrated book. It turned out beautiful and very touching, and I’m very excited about it.
Editora Caixote is an independent and multilingual publisher for children's books located in São Paulo, Brazil. It publishes both print and digital books that address the childhood universe as well as society's big questions.