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Ripple Grove Press Interview – Fantasy in Children’s Picture Books

Ripple Grove Press (logo)When I was at Portland State University going for a master’s in book publishing (Yes, that’s a real thing!), I had the amazing opportunity to work one-on-one with some local publishers. One such opportunity was my internship with a family-owned, children’s picture book publishing company called Ripple Grove Press. The owners, Rob and Amanda, were so much fun to work with, and I really enjoyed the fantastical elements of their stories. Because of that, I thought it would be fun to reconnect and ask them some questions on why fantasy was so important to the press. Enjoy!

Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Can you tell me a little bit about your company, how you started, any background info our Fantasy-Faction readers might find interesting?

We started Ripple Grove Press because we had a passion for children’s picture books and wanted to start a business with something we loved. We didn’t have any experience in publishing or making books, but just a love for a good story that’s complemented by beautiful art.

Why did you decide to go into children’s picture book publishing and what first drew you into that world?

Paul and His Ukulele (cover)The picture book A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip and Erin Stead started the wheels turning. I came home one day with that book for our daughter and said, “We should make books like this.”

What is the most important thing when publishing picture books for kids?

For us it’s a well-told story. Something that captures a moment, more than an in-your-face moral. And finding extremely talented illustrators.

Okay, enough with the real-life stuff, time to go into the fantasy! Why do some of your books—Paul and His Ukulele, Mr. Tanner, The Full House and The Empty House, The Gentleman Bat—include fantastical elements?

It’s the imagination . . . the what if. Pushing the writer to come up with something different, something a child may not have thought of before. Or the I didn’t see that coming. We want that element of surprise and imagination, but with a sweet and fun story. Wonderful characters and settings.

Do you seek out books that have fantasy elements in them?

Seb and the Sun (cover)Yes! Especially now that we’ve been doing this for a while. We are looking for something unique. Read Seb and the Sun by Jami Gigot and you’ll see what I mean.

What do you most like about fantasy or those fantastical elements?

I think foremost is the writing. Seeing that the writer has done their homework. That they read picture books, that they love picture books, and in turn are pushing their imagination to come up with something different, but keeping true to the fantasy and themselves.

Do you think it’s important to incorporate fantasy in children’s picture books and why?

Absolutely! It’s what keeps a child’s mind going. The what’s behind the door if I open it? The that’s funny, that door wasn’t wedged into that tree the last time I was in these woods. The frog on the log actually talks. The cow can fly. The abandon house has its front porch light on . . . keeping the story fun and stimulating and imaginative is very important for a child’s development.

We hope the story is well-written, of course, but the illustrations tell the other half of the story, too. Never using words, only showing the story through art as the pages turn, like what is that mouse doing on every page? He’s not mentioned in the text, but the mouse is certainly up to something . . . can’t wait to find out!

Do you think kids connect better to fantastical elements?

The Gentleman Bat (cover)Well, I wouldn’t say better. But when I was a preschool teacher, I also became a storyteller . . . and it certainly held their attention more when I was emotional about telling them something make-believe. Like, this did really happen, or is it pretend? I love the fine line between real and pretend. A child thinking . . . I know it’s pretend, but if it was real, that’d be pretty cool.

A lot of your books feature anthropomorphic characters (animals or houses with human tendencies), why do you like this fantasy element?

Because it’s fun. Is that a good answer? 🙂 Children love a good bear and a duck getting into an argument over a toy much more than two humans. Makes it visually stimulating and entertaining. Kids can argue over a toy every day, but if a bear and a duck are doing it . . . it feels sillier. I also like mythological creatures.

What is your favorite type of fantasy to incorporate—anthropomorphic like in Paul and his Ukulele or magic-like as in Cat Eyes (which author Laura Lee called her character’s “superpower”)?

Cat Eyes (cover)Well, for Paul and His Ukulele, it was always a boy named Paul. But when I saw Jenn Kocsmiersky’s foxes in her portfolio, it just fit, and in the end made a more compelling story and book. Mr. Tanner by Harry Chapin, illustrated by Bryan Langdo, was also an idea I pitched when trying to make the song into a picture book. What if Mr. Tanner was a bear? Would it mean more to children and look better to have him as a big friendly bear, then a man? And visually it works better in a picture book format. I love that book!

What is the most challenging aspect of fantasy in children’s picture book publishing?

Writing really really well!

Is it hard to find illustrators that can reflect the fantasy vision of your authors and your press?

Yes, it can be. But that’s part of the fun. Visualizing what style art complements the story. And having the artist (unless they’re the writer too) love the story, and can bring their talent, their passion, and their love for the story to life.

Is it harder or easier to find an audience for the more fantasy-based books?

Mr. Tanner (cover)It can be difficult at times. But for the most part, the audience is there. But the harder aspect is finding something fantasy and unique. We receive a lot of “I love you” submissions. Or a rhyming story about a chicken on the farm. I like those stories, but there are so many of those out there. I’m in search of something fantasy and interesting. I feel there’s room for all types of stories for the children’s picture books, not just a mama bear snuggling their cub. But we do have to be aware of our audience, because even though children are reading them, retailers, adults, librarians are the ones buying the book.

What is your advice for children’s picture book writers who want to include fantasy?

You can do it! You can write for children! Read picture books over and over again. Read old ones and new ones. And (this may sound silly) push your brain to come up with something different. What haven’t you seen? Take what you know and give it a twist. Go for “thinking” walks, and just think and think and think about your story. About your character(s). Get rid of the duck if it’s not working. Add the duck in another story that will come to you months from now. Keep at it. Keep rewriting and rewriting. Mold and shape your story—your fantasy, into something wonderful, something you are proud of.

Knowing kids are going to be reading these books, what would you shy away from in the fantasy realm?

The Full House and the Empty House (cover)Good question. It’s hard to say. I guess I wouldn’t know it until I see it. Nothing extremely scary or negative.

Let’s end with a fun one! Aside from your own books, what is your favorite fantasy children’s picture book?

I like Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. I like Black Dog by Levi Pinfold. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg, and Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip Stead.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Check out The Full House and the Empty House by L. K. James, available February 5, 2019, and A Girl Named October by Zakieh Mohammed, illustrated by Andrea Tripke, available April 2, 2019. Info can be found here. Please follow us on social media (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Tumblr/Pinterest) and sign up for our newsletter!

Thanks, Rob and Amanda, for allowing me to peer into your company once again! I always enjoy hearing about Ripple Grove Press’ adventures, and I hope you, my fellow fantasy fans, liked this Q&A. Now go check out some of their books—Mr. Tanner is a personal favorite.

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One Comment

  1. Thank you Kellie for sharing your experience with Ripple Grove Press, some ins-outs of publishing and the interview. If I were to ever have kids someday I will definitely be purchasing the publications from RGP for their development and enjoyment. Also, next time I’m at the library I’m going to hunt down ‘Seb and the Sun’, it has definitely piqued my interest.

    As readers of fantasy we often times stick to YA or adult fantasy, but growing-up I can recall some children’s books that are dear to my heart and have influenced me in both subtle and large ways: ‘Stellaluna’ or ‘Where the Wild Things Are’. Though simple, the stories in Children’s Books are powerful in the development of a young mind and should be held to the same standards as any other book in the industry.

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