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Talking with Our First "Rising Star" Winner

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This year at the Benjamin Franklin Awards, a wonderful new event occurred. Publishers Weekly joined with PMA to give the first Rising Star Award to a new publisher. PW presented a monetary stipend to the winner, and the magazine will feature the publishing company in an upcoming issue.

The company chosen? Thomas George Books of Rosemead, California. Since its story parallels the stories of so many other PMA startup publishers, I’m sharing a Q&A exchange between the publisher, Shirley Torres, and PMA’s publicist, Carol Fass. I think it will be uplifting to many of you who are starting out and a pleasant reminder to those of you who have grown over the years but can still remember when.

Q. Tell us about the history of your company. When was it founded and why?

A. Thomas George Books is a small, independent children’s book publisher located in Los Angeles, California. It was founded in 2002–by three individuals with little publishing experience, a small bank account, a genuine love for children’s literature, and an adventurous, entrepreneurial spirit–to produce the very best in children’s books. Our goals are simple, and our values are positive. We wish to enrich the lives of young people by creating books that will inform and inspire them, that will encourage them to think about the world around them, and that will open their hearts and minds to a lifelong love of reading and learning.

Since our launch in 2002, we have remained a small compao:
ut have grown to have a staff of six very dedicated individuals from varied backgrounds, including me and the other founders, Kimberly Komatsu and Kaleigh Komatsu.

Q. What is your vision for the company’s future?

A. We have many plans and goals for Thomas George Books, including building a legacy of outstanding children’s literature and bringing to life many more enduring titles that combine meaningful content, beautiful artwork, and quality design and production. We believe that what makes our company special is our hands-on approach, and it is our goal to stay true to our grassroots beginnings. The common thread that runs through everything we do is our desire to inspire children to love to read and learn, and we look forward to working with communities and libraries to promote and increase literacy, and to make sure that all children can gain access to our books.

Thomas George Books hopes to embody the spirit and ideals of independent publishing at its best. We are steadfast in our journey of finding stories that entertain and inform; that are timely yet timeless; that reflect a diversity of voices and experiences; and that have memorable characters and unforgettable adventures that children will love and learn and grow from.

Q. What is your role at Thomas George Books? What is your personal background? How did you get into publishing?

A. As with many independent publishers, the founders and staff at Thomas George Books are directly involved with all aspects of the publishing process–from the selection of manuscripts, to editing, to design and production. Because we all come from different professional backgrounds, we bring a variety of talents and perspectives to the table.

I am a retired elementary school teacher, and through my work I saw, on a daily basis, how important books are in the lives of children. I wanted to continue to contribute to the field, and publishing was an exciting and creative way to continue working with children and books.

Q. What does your list look like? What sorts of books do you like to publish? How many per year?

A.In America’s Shadow by Kimberly Komatsu and Kaleigh Komatsu–whichdocuments the forgotten history of Japanese Americans from turn-of-the-century immigration to the internment camps of World War II, as told through the eyes of a young girl and her grandfather–was the first book that we had the privilege of publishing, and we are currently working on two other titles. We plan to publish three to five books per year for the next four years, with the number growing annually thereafter.

Q. How do your authors come to you? How do you hold onto them as a small publisher?

A. As a growing independent publisher, we look forward both to discovering new authors and artists with remarkable storytelling voices, and to working with established authors and artists by providing them with new and creative ways to continue to reach their readerships.

Q. Have your books attracted particular attention or won awards?

A. We have had a tremendously exciting year and have been overwhelmed by the success of In America’s Shadow.

The book made its national debut on PBS when it was released on February 19, 2003–the 61st anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, the order that resulted in the World War II evacuation and incarceration of Japanese Americans.

Thomas George Books worked closely with PBS producers to come up with an original segment that featured the authors discussing the book and historical events to commemorate this significant anniversary. In America’s Shadow was featured because it exemplified and best represented the Japanese-American internment experience.

Since its release in February 2003, the book has received much critical acclaim and has been selected for numerous book awards and honors. It has been favorably reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Multicultural Review, and The Midwest Book Review, as well as in many other local and regional publications.

Recently, it was selected for a 2004 Skipping Stones Award for multicultural and international books that build bridges of communication, understanding, social justice, and peace. The book was named a 2004 Kiriyama Prize Notable Book for Fiction, and a 2004 International Reading Association Notable Book for Intermediate Fiction. In America’s Shadow was also a finalist for ForeWord magazine’s 2004 Book of the Year Awards in the juvenile category and has now won a 2004 Benjamin Franklin Award in the Best New Voice (Children’s) category.

Q. For you, what are the challenges of independent publishing? The joys?

A. When you are working on a grassroots level as many independent publishers do, you find the biggest challenge is that there are not nearly enough work hours in the day!

The greatest joy we have found in independent publishing is knowing that every day you are working toward making a positive and lasting contribution to the field of children’s literature, and that the books you have helped to create may one day change a child’s life.

We applaud Shirley Torres and look forward to working with many more publishers who embody the spirit, tenacity, and belief that there is still more room in the market for books from independent publishers.

Farewell and Hello

At this time of the year, we see a change in the PMA board. After four years of working on behalf of the entire PMA membership, Ilene Barth, chair of the Benjamin Franklin Awards, and Pat Bell, the consummate “Ma Bell” to all of the affiliate groups, are both leaving. Tim McCormick is also exiting the board, after two years, and so is Don Tubesing, who deserves a special fond farewell since he was the impetus behind so many new programs while he served as president of our group. We will miss all four of these people and want to thank them for their years of service on behalf of all the members of PMA. Volunteers like them have made PMA what it is today.

Welcome to the following people, who will be serving as PMA representatives on the board for the 2004/06 term: Rudy Shur of Square One Publishing in Garden City, NY; Rod Colvin of Addicus Books in Omaha, NE; David Cole of Bay Tree Publishing in Berkeley, CA; and Carlene Sippola of Whole Person Associates in Duluth, MN. They will be joining the reelected incumbents: Bill Russell of Entre Publications in Houston, TX; Florrie Binford Kichler of Patria Publications in Carmel, IN; and Elise Cannon of Publishers Group Worldwide in Berkeley, CA. Kent Sturgis of Epicenter Press in Kenmore, WA, has been named the new PMA president. Those of you who don’t already know him can make his acquaintance elsewhere in this issue. We look forward to the continuation of current programs and the implementation of many new programs under Kent’s leadership.

The first meeting of this new board will take place toward the end of August, when we will be discussing many new issues facing our industry. If there are specific industry issues that you would like the board to address, please contact me by e-mail (jan@pma-online.org) or by phone (310/372-2732) with suggestions. I will take them to the new board for consideration.


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