Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Shirin Bridges: How I Got into Publishing

Guest post by Ezra Jack Keats award-winning author and now Publisher of Goosebottom Books

Shirin Bridges
Head Goose
I come from a family of storytellers. When I was growing up in Asia, the stories that my great-grandfather, my grandparents, and my parents told wove to form a matrix, a context for my life. Through stories I understood who I was and where I’d come from, and also where I could go.

One of those stories became my first picture book, Ruby’s Wish. It’s the tale of a girl in Old China who wants to go to university, even though girls weren’t taught how to read or write. The Umbrella Queen followed, about a girl from a Thai village where everyone paints umbrellas the same way. Of course, our heroine wants to paint hers differently.

So you see, my stories were about girls who found ways to do and be more than expected. Imagine my reaction, then, when I watched my niece disappear into a pink princess haze.

“Do you know there were real princesses who didn’t sit around waiting for a prince?” I asked her. There were princesses who changed their own worlds; ones too busy and too empowered to worry about being pretty or popular.

Well, I got her interested. But then I couldn’t find the books. Being a history buff, I knew these women existed—but apparently not on children’s bookshelves. So I decided I’d have to write the books myself.

The problem was, I didn’t want to just write the books. My vision and passion for them became so fierce, they became my own private cause. I wanted them to appear in series, so that it would be clear that we were looking not at isolated incidents but at a pattern: around the world, across cultures, and throughout history, princesses—girls—have found a way to assert themselves and do the unexpected. I wanted the books to be peppered with interesting little facts, with details that would bring these long-lost girls to life—fun tidbits like what she ate and what she wore.

Spread from The Thinking Girl's Treasury
of Real Princesses
At that time, I had been a creative director in advertising for more than a decade. I knew about writing, editing, illustration, design, production, project management, and how to orchestrate a creative team. I knew about marketing and product development, and something about running a business. And I knew a little bit about the children’s book industry, as an author of children’s books. What I didn’t know, I thought, would be a nice stretch.

That “nice stretch” has at times been something more akin to the rack. But I have never enjoyed myself so immensely, nor felt so rewarded in my work. Goosebottom Books launched The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses in 2010, and followed it with The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames in 2011. Both series garnered IPPY medals, and The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames was named a Top 10 Nonfiction Series for Youth by ALA’s Booklist. Some of the princesses are among the Amelia Bloomer Project’s Recommended Feminist Books for Youth.

Spread from The Thinking Girl's Treasury
of Dastardly Dames
One of the greatest joys of the job has been becoming part of the children’s books community. Our authors and editors, booksellers, and even competitors, have become personal friends. I attended a meeting once where representatives of local bookstores sat in a circle and shared ideas on how to make it through the present tough times. I tried to imagine something similar happening on Madison Avenue. Now, in the same spirit, I share what I can in similar meetings with small and independent publishers, and in workshops with children’s authors and illustrators.

Another great joy—indeed, a great stroke of luck—has been being in the right place at the right time to make publishing history. My brother, executive creative director of the mobile and new media company Trigger, came to me with his iPad and a printed illustration. “Take a look at this,” he said, pointing the iPad at the page. I looked: where there was a drawing of a ship, there was now, magically floating above it, a ship in 3-D; one that fired shots when I tapped its canons.

Horrible Hauntings in 3-D
“Wouldn’t that make an awesome ghost book?” he said. And that’s how we partnered to create Horrible Hauntings, the first book + app that lets you see ghosts come to life out of the printed page, in interactive 3D. It’s called augmented reality.

So, that’s the story so far. The great thing about this narrative is it’s still developing.

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