Small Press Profile: Charlesbridge Offers a Diverse List for Lifelong Learning

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In a new, monthly feature, Bookselling This Week will profile independent publishing houses that produce engaging, quality titles for children and adults.

With a name honoring the company’s location on the Charles River, Charlesbridge was first established in eastern Massachusetts as a publisher for books and textbooks for schools. In 1989, the company created its trade books division and to this day seeks to encourage lifelong learning by producing high-quality, engaging books that promote discovery, wonder, and a positive world view. Charlesbridge is distributed by Penguin Random House.

Being an independently owned press “gives us a lot of freedom to explore what interests us and to find new voices,” said Charlesbridge Director of Marketing Donna Spurlock. “That’s in our mission statement: we are always looking for new voices, and we often have debut authors and illustrators that we’re working with.”

Over the years, Charlesbridge has placed a heavy focus on titles that are diverse and broaden people’s world views. “We originally did a lot of science and nature, and then there was an organic move into world cultures that’s been something we’ve really built on along the way,” said Spurlock. With the ability to share these new voices, Charlesbridge has found a niche in publishing titles that highlight non-majority characters, a variety of cultures, and other books that broaden the scope of titles available nationwide.

Through its children’s division, which publishes books for kids from birth to age 14, Charlesbridge has produced indie bookseller favorites such as Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins, which appeared on the Summer 2010 Kids’ Indie Next List.

Other notable titles include Anna McQuinn’s Lola at the Library and author Jerry Pallotta’s series of alphabet books, such as The Construction Alphabet Book and The Icky Bug Alphabet Book, among many others.

Booksellers attending next month’s ABC Children’s Institute, to be held April 19 – 21 in Pasadena, California, will hear about the many exciting titles Charlesbridge has coming up, including Mitali Perkins’ Tiger Boy (April), which takes place in the Sundarbans of West Bengal, India. “We’re really glad to be working with people like Mitali Perkins who can bring these stories that are inclusive and diverse and that are also fun, interesting, and adventurous,” said Spurlock. Booksellers will have the opportunity to meet Perkins at the Children’s Institute Author Reception on Monday, April 20, where she will be signing copies of Tiger Boy.

As a half-sponsor for the Children’s Institute, Charlesbridge will present several titles at the Tuesday morning Breakfast Plenary With Rep Presentations, including Global Baby Bedtimes from the Global Fund for Children (August), Alphabet Trucks by Samantha Vamos and illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke (August), and Currents by Jane Petrlik Smolik (September). Copies of The Boy & the Book, written by David Michael Slater and illustrated by Bob Kolar, and Currents will also be available in the galley room throughout the Children’s Institute.

Charlesbridge’s partnership since 1997 with the Global Fund for Children has substantially contributed to the publisher’s list of diverse titles for children. “It’s something that’s close to our hearts, to be able to explore the world and its people,” said Spurlock.

Books published with the Global Fund for Children include titles such as Children From Australia to Zimbabwe: A Photographic Journey Around the World by Maya Ajmera and Anna Rhesa Versola and What We Wear: Dressing Up Around the World by Maya Ajmera, Elise Hofer Derstine, and Cynthia Pon. Charlesbridge donates a portion of proceeds to Global Fund for Children to support community-based project grants that benefit children.

In 2009, Charlesbridge acquired Imagine Publishing, which brought a selection of adult titles to the company’s formerly children’s-only list. Through the Imagine imprint, Charlesbridge now publishes full-color books on photographic illusions and deceptions, cookbooks, puzzle and game books, and humor and novelty books.

Charlesbridge has also benefitted from its roots in the textbook and school market as the demand for Common Core and science, technology, engineering, arts, and math books continues to grow. “We were prepped and ready,” said Spurlock, who added that, “Booksellers in the past few years have been looking for these books that parents and teachers need. We’re nicely positioned to help.”

The publisher’s relationship with independent bookstores is one that Charlesbridge continues to look toward and value as it grows its markets, said Spurlock. “It’s always something that’s on the top of our priority list, that we are marketing to indies and talking to them and learning from them what fits best,” she said. “Oftentimes that’s where we learn how to market to the rest of the world.”