The World in Multicolour

Bring in the Year of the Dog

in: Children's books

A colourful and exuberant festival, Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year) has thousands of years of history and is celebrated by countless cultures around the world. There is something about the swirling colours and happy pandemonium of its festivities that make this festival irresistible to all, young and old. The bright red lanterns lining the streets, the smell of delicious savoury dumplings, and the flash of firecrackers all serve as the backdrop to the most magical sight of all – the dragon dance!

In Dragon Dancer, Singaporean author Joyce Chng and illustrator Jérémy Pailler highlight the rich and ancient traditions of the Lunar New Year. In the story, Yao has inherited the role of dragon dancer from his grandfather. By stepping into the ritual and continuing the dance that ‘chases away the bad luck,’ we see how old magics are made new and continue to be meaningful for future generations. Here’s an exciting video that Joyce sent us showing exactly this – young people learning about and performing the ritual dance, bringing their own Shen Long, or ‘luck dragon’, to life:

Year of the Dog

Today, we are celebrating the Year of the Dog! The Chinese zodiac wheel has twelve animals and each year is characterized by the animal that is reigning over it. Chinese New Year marks the time when the previous animal is replaced by the one next in line. Each year is also defined by one of five Chinese elements. This year is Earth, and the last time we celebrated the Earth Dog was in 1958.

Many believe that people take on the characteristics of the animal that presides over their birth year. And if you were born in the Year of the Dog, you have a lot to dance about! Those born under the Dog banner are said to be loyal, loving, kind, eager for adventure and exuding warmth and optimism. Earth Dogs are also said to be responsible, hardworking and disciplined. With so much positivity being brought in by the Earth Dog, we can’t help but be excited for what the year will bring. So bring out the bells and drums, chase away the bad luck, and give the new year a warm and loud welcome!

Happy Chinese New Year!

The Lantana Team

Valentine’s Day: Family love in diverse children’s books

in: Children's books

This Valentine’s Day, we thought it would be great to shine a spotlight on one of the most important themes in children’s books: the love of and for family. Tutu Dutta, the author of Phoenix Song, shares some of her favourites. Her list of diverse books shows us that love truly makes the world go round!

Phoenix Song Cover Tutu Dutta Martina PelusoIt’s February 14, Valentine’s Day! A day associated with Romantic Love mostly, but we should bear in mind that love begins with family. So instead of giving out heart-shaped chocolates (although chocolates are always welcome), why not celebrate with books about family love?

I decided to explore the family theme further by looking at diverse children’s books about the love of family. Most of the titles were crowdsourced from two Facebook groups – Malaysian Writers Community and the Kuala Lumpur Book Appreciation Club.

Upon re-visiting Phoenix Song (illustrated by Martina Peluso), I realise that love of family lies at its core. Arohan, an eight-year-old boy, is incredibly lucky to have caring parents and two older brothers; even when they forget about him to rush off on their next adventure. But Arohan could always fall back on his extended family – his cousin, Mei Mei, who is also his best friend, and his doting grandmother. Perhaps, he did not fully appreciate his blessings until he almost lost his two brothers in a haunted bamboo forest and had to rely on his own courage as well as his mother’s knowledge and his grandmother’s wisdom to save them.


We move on to, Just Enough, a magical book about the love of family and the notion that ‘just enough’ is all you need. Written and illustrated by Allie Hill, the story is about a young child called Amelia, whose grandmother makes her a beautiful quilt blanket. As she gets older and the blanket gets worn and threadbare, her grandmother cuts away the frayed edges and always has enough cloth to make something new…


However, it seems that Arohan’s and Amelia’s strong traditional family is not always the universal norm. In the picture book, You are not my mother, by Noraminah Omar and illustrated by Sherliza Tajul Arripin, a young girl called Safiah, tragically lost her mother. She struggled to accept her new stepmother, Auntie Su, whom she saw as an interloper attempting to take her mother’s place. The Malaysian author confronts this difficult subject head-on and is able to resolve it with sensitivity.


And sometimes, there are children who are without a family. The Adventures of Squirky the Alien, a picture book series by Singaporean author, Melanie Lee, and illustrator, David Liew, addresses the plight of adopted children. Being blue in colour, Squirky realises that he looks very different from the rest of his earthly family. He embarks on an inter-stellar quest in search of his family and discovers that family is where you are loved and protected. A similar theme occurs in A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza.


While the mother or grandmother often plays a central role in many children’s books, the middle-grade reader, The Girl Who Made It Snow in Singapore, by Masturah Alatas, gives the father an important voice. An eight-year-old girl called Ariana discovered that her voice could magically change the weather. I love this theme, which has something in common with Phoenix Song – of music and song having the power to influence nature. However, Ariana’s gift became public knowledge and she is told by the authorities not to change the weather. She could, however, continue singing (as long as it doesn’t cause the climate to change.) When she is poised to embark on an international singing career, as the world’s youngest and most unusual soprano, she fell victim to the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome.’ Ariana faced intense public scrutiny and criticism, and it is her father who defended her.


While every child should have a parent to champion her cause, what happens when the parent is incapacitated? In Mama’s Maze, a Young Adult novel by Malaysian author Agnes Ong, fifteen-year-old Lin is subject to bullying due to her mother’s illness. The mother, a children’s book writer, is crippled by depression. In a reversal of roles, Lin has to take care of her. While illustrating one of her mother’s stories, she magically enters a maze inhabited by sinister creatures. In order to help her mother, she finds the courage to navigate this maze with the help of a friend.


We leave the dark maze of mama’s mind and turn our thoughts instead to Saint Valentine’s Feast because the love of family often translates into family gatherings with plenty of good food. Jama Kim Ratinggan’s book, Dumpling Soup, illustrated by Lillian Hsu-Flanders is about seven-year-old Marisa, who is allowed to help her mother make some dumplings for the huge annual family gathering for the first time. Marisa’s extended family represents the diversity of Hawaii itself, with members who are Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian and Haole. The book is about keeping her Asian tradition alive.


In Plenty Saimin by Feng Feng Hutchins, a Malaysian residing in Hawaii, and illustrated by Adriano F. Abatayo, a young boy called Ah Kee invites all his friends to celebrate his birthday. His mother brews a pot of saimin, noodles in broth, but worries that there will not be enough for all the guests. However, each of Ah Kee’s friends – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Filipino – brings an ingredient unique to their community to put in the pot and the result is delicious and plentiful saimin for everyone! This story reminds us that sometimes family also includes our close friends.

Ah Kee’s birthday feast, brings us back to Phoenix Song, where the story begins with Arohan’s birthday party and his grandmother’s gift of an old flute.


Thank you, Tutu! To buy your copy of Phoenix Song, please click here.





Kaya’s Heart Song is “mesmerisingly beautiful”

in: Children's books

We are delighted to announce that Kaya’s Heart Song is now available for pre-order on our website! Just click this link.

Created by Diwa Tharan Sanders and Nerina Canzi, this is a joyful story about a young girl’s search for her heart song – the song that happy hearts sing. Her journey takes her deep into the Malaysian jungle, where she finds a broken down carousel waiting for a special song to make it turn again…

“Mesmerisingly beautiful.” – Phil May, Read It Daddy


“This is an intriguing, mesmerising, and truly unique picture book, grounded in the values of mindfulness, and one that will leave young readers wide-eyed with surprise and wonder.” – Books for Topics

Order your copy here!

Presenting Lantana’s Spring books

in: Children's books

January flew by in a flash! But we’re not complaining because we’ve been dreaming of spring. Our Spring books, that is! Read on to find out what our early reviewers have to say about our titles.


“A triple-whammy of amazing titles! Dazzling…glorious…mesmerisingly beautiful.” – Phil May, Read It Daddy

“Absolutely stunning text and illustrations!” – Scott Evans, The Reader Teacher

“Amazing!” – Books for Topics

“Stunningly beautiful!” – Alexis Filby, Book Monsters


We can’t wait to share our new books with you! Keep an eye on our social media accounts to find out when you can pre-order our beautiful Spring titles. Follow us here:

Twitter: @lantanapub

Facebook: @lantanapublishing

Instagram: @lantana_publishing

Check out the rest of our titles here!

When strange is good: The Tigon and the Liger Q&A with Cosei Kawa

in: Children's books

Cosei KawaThe Tigon and the Liger is shortlisted for the Sheffield Children’s Book Awards!  To mark the occasion, I talk with illustrator Cosei Kawa about his work on this beloved book. Read on to find out what an “omphant” is (it’s cute!) and to watch the delightful message he prepared for the children of Sheffield.

Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a few of your favourite things about living in Shizuoka, Japan?

I am an illustrator of picture books and I teach illustration at the Shizuoka University of Art and Culture. Recently, I moved to the seaside in search of good sushi. I often walk on the beach – goofing off on the job!

You completed an MA in illustration at Falmouth University. Has living in the UK influenced your style? Do you think you have a particularly Japanese illustration style?

Living in the UK has significantly changed my illustration style. It was in the UK that I started my career as a professional illustrator. It is nice to hear British people say that Cosei’s illustration smells oriental, while Japanese people say it smells occidental.

The Tigon and the Liger by Keilly Swift and Cosei KawaCan you tell us how you go about creating your illustrations? What materials do you use?

I use pencil, watercolor, acrylic, collage, and CG to draw. Making rough sketches takes longer than colouring.

Did you enjoy illustrating The Tigon and the Liger? What did you like about the story?

I like the way the cats got over their difference. The lions and tigers rejected the tigon at first. I imagine they felt strange looking at this different animal. However, a great discovery, a unique creation, or a revolutionary design may look strange. The feeling of strangeness is evidence that it is good! Don’t you think this book looks slightly strange?

How did you approach illustrating a story set in the Gir Forest in India? What inspired the fantastical drawings and little collages – like stories within the story – in some of your pages?

The Gir Forest has many teak trees, so while drawing the book, I burned incense of teak and surrounded myself with the scent of that forest. As for the small side stories, I enjoy drawing these and prefer to have them in my work. I drew a lot of caricatures and comics on my school textbooks.

If you could create your own hybrid creature, what would it look like and what would you call it?Illustration the Tigon and the Liger

I would create an “Omphant”. This is an elephant who lives in your belly button. Omphant likes sesame seeds.

Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?

The importance to know different cultures is increasing. Too many societies are becoming closed-minded and too nationalistic these days. Some kingdom is going out of a circle and some eastern tiny empire hates a missile man.

What countries or cultures would you like to see represented more often in children’s books?The Tigon and the Liger Keilly Swift Cosei Kawa

After drawing this book, I became more interested in the intersection of civilizations and in places like Istanbul, Shanghai, or Karelia.

When you are not illustrating picture books, what other types of artwork do you create?

If I am not illustrating, I would make visual narratives anyway, like graphic novels, animation films, or board games.

Do you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?

Please enjoy drawing. To do so, you can survive and continue growing.

Thanks Cosei! You can find more of Cosei’s wonderful artwork here, and to buy your copy of The Tigon and the Liger,  please click here.





2 Lantana titles nominated for the *Kate Greenaway Medal 2018!*

in: Children's books

We are absolutely thrilled to announce that Sleep Well, Siba and Saba and The Wooden Camel are nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2018, the oldest and most prestigious award for children’s book illustration in the UK! Congratulations to illustrators Manuela Adreani and Sandra van Doorn for this fantastic achievement!

What is the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal?

The Kate Greenaway Medal is awarded to “an outstanding book in terms of illustration for children and young people.” This means that the book must “provide pleasure from a stimulating and satisfying visual experience which leaves a lasting impression.” Past winners of the Kate Greenaway medal are Raymond Briggs, Lauren Child, Quentin Blake, Anthony Browne and Chris Riddell. Last year’s winner was Lane Smith for his work on There Is a Tribe of Kids.

See the complete list of nominated titles here.

Meet our nominated illustrators!

Manuela Adreani

Manuela Adreani is the Italian illustrator of The Wooden Camel, written by Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu. Manuela has an acclaimed illustration history and was among the winners of the illustration contest commemorating the 130th anniversary of the creation of Pinocchio.

The Wooden Camel is a gentle story about a young Kenyan boy who dreams about being a camel racer. It was included in the Read for Empathy Guide 2017 curated by EmpathyLab and Children’s Book Editor of the Sunday Times, Nicolette Jones, and has received high praise from critics, including a starred review from the School Library Journal. Here are some of the great things people have said about Manuela’s work on this book:

“Adreani’s expressive illustrations, with her striking use of colour, are alluring.” – Outside In World

“Adreani’s scenes are truly beautiful and perfectly complement the soft, sympathetic humour of Kahiu’s text. A book to cherish, to share, ponder upon and discuss widely.’ – Jill Bennett, Red Reading Hub 

Sandra van Doorn (right) with Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl 

Sandra van Doorn is the illustrator of Sleep Well, Siba and Saba by Ugandan writer Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl. Born in France, she attended art classes at Emily Carr University and now lives in Australia. This is her first nomination for a major award!

Sleep Well, Siba and Saba is a heartwarming story about two forgetful sisters who dream of bright futures. It has received a coveted starred review from Kirkus Reviews and Sandra’s illustrations have earned special praise:

“Sandra van Doorn brings the whimsical story vibrantly to life” – Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“The expressive and elegant artwork, with references to Ugandan tales, makes the journey to the world of Siba and Saba more delightful. ” – School Library Journal

What happens next

The judging panel consisting of 12 children’s librarians who are members of CILIP will assess the nominations. The longlist will be announced on 15th February 2018 and the shortlist on the 15th March 2018. The Medal will be awarded to the winner on the 18th June.

How can I get copies of these books?

To buy a copy of Sleep Well, Siba and Saba and The Wooden Camel, click here. Free shipping in the UK!

If you are in the US, you can get your copies from our US distributor, Lerner Books.

Well done, Sandra and Manuela! A huge THANK YOU to all the wonderful librarians who voted for our books!

The Lantana Team



“Love, not fear” : Nadine Kaadan on needing joyful stories about Syria

in: Children's books

Nadine Kaadan knows the power of stories to open up our world. Her first English-language picture book The Jasmine Sneeze does exactly this and more. Through her joyful, fun-filled tale about cheeky, karaoke-singing cat Haroun and his misadventures in Damascus, Nadine challenges the “single story” many of us have of Syria by focussing on its vibrant culture and rich heritage. Imagine our delight when we learnt that The Jasmine Sneeze was recently translated into Arabic-Slovenian, Arabic-Croatian, and Arabic-German bilingual editions! These were produced by a project called Story time: Connecting people with the power of artFunded by the European Union and with partners from Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Germany, Story time aims to facilitate the acceptance and integration of refugee children into local European communities. I asked Nadine to tell us about her work with Story time and the impact of translated versions of her book on Croatian, Slovenian and Austrian readers.*

Can you tell us more about how The Jasmine Sneeze became involved with Story time?

The organisers wanted to find a book that touched on Syrian culture that they could make bilingual and that could facilitate a true integration. I went on a trip to Slovenia, Croatia and Austria to do storytime workshops and readings and also to show the local community more about the Syrian culture away from the news, away from the fear that everyone is having or that the media is spreading. They wanted, basically, to show locals more about these people who are coming. Where do they come from? What is their culture? And the organiser found that The Jasmine Sneeze was an ideal book for this project.

Nadine with Slovenian artist Vesna Bukovec

Story time also invited you to participate in their art residency programme. What was this about?

The Story time project has two sides. The story-reading project is one side. The other side of it is a one-week art residency. Artists from different countries collaborated to create artwork where traditional motifs were seen through the topic of refugees or immigration. I worked with a Slovenian artist, Vesna Bukovec. I designed a tile that looks like the Islamic tiles that you can find all over Syria. The designs on these tiles usually represent herbs or plants, but instead we used the traditional flower bouquet of Slovenia as inspiration, where each flower represents a Christian value. So what I am trying to challenge is the idea of a monoculture. I am trying to challenge the idea of separation. Through art, you can celebrate diversity truly. When you look at the tile, you see that it is coming from Syria – from Islam – and it is also representing something that is traditional and Slovenian. These tiles were spread all over public spaces in Slovenia.

Photos from KGLU – Koroška galerija likovnih umetnosti

How did it feel to hear The Jasmine Sneeze being read in another language? What did you observe from the children listening?

The kids were very excited. We read the book in Arabic and then we read the translation, and I found that all the kids – Slovenian, Croatian and Austrian – were excited to look at the Arabic letters and to learn Arabic. They would ask me to write their names in Arabic. There was a true cultural exchange happening, and I felt it left them feeling less afraid of Syria and Syrians. Kids are so excited to learn about things they don’t know anything about. This is something adults are not so good at – they are mostly afraid of the things they don’t know. And it was really fun for me to hear these languages that I also don’t speak. It was really nice to hear the tonality and learn how they express the story and it was a true cultural exchange.

Photos from KGLU – Koroška galerija likovnih umetnosti – KGLU

Can you share a standout event or a favourite moment?

In Zagreb, one of the mums told me that after reading the book her daughter said she can’t wait until she has a Syrian friend. That was really beautiful to hear. This is a time when Syrians need friends. And then in Slovenia, a journalist from the local television network that came to cover the event at the KGLU – Koroška galerija likovnih umetnosti asked one little boy, “What did you learn about Syria after reading the book?” And he said, “Well, they have karaoke parties and cats.” So, reading this book immediately created an image of Syria that was positive. It reminds people of the culture, the art. And when these kids meet a child who is a refugee from Syria, then their interaction will be different just from this one story reading.

Photo from Booksa. Arabic-Croatian edition of The Jasmine Sneeze

Why do you think we should publish and read children’s books in translation? What will we gain from reading these types of books?

I’ve learned recently that in the UK less than 3% of books have been translated from other languages. That tells us how much English kids are missing, how much they don’t know about the world and other cultures. It’s very, very important for kids to be exposed to the world, to know what’s going on around them. It creates love, it creates empathy, it creates understanding. You know, at the end of one of these events someone told me that when she gets a cat, she will name it Haroun. I think that’s beautiful, that a Syrian name now has a positive meaning for this European child – that it inspires love and not fear.

Thank you, Nadine! You can buy your copy of The Jasmine Sneeze here. And if you live in the USA, watch out for our hardcover edition – coming to US bookstores in March 2018!

*This interview has been edited.


Books that build bridges: a librarian’s story by Alison Brumwell

in: Children's books

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Alison Brumwell took some of our books to Eastern Uganda, where they were used in an Africa Educational Trust (AET) reading and creative writing project for primary schools. She offers this insight about The Wooden Camel, saying that like the shared reading groups, the book succeeds in “bridging two very different cultures and bridging the divide between those who can read and those who struggle.” We are pleased to have Alison share her experiences on our blog today.

My work as a volunteer with Africa Educational Trust has been a steep learning curve. I started out in 2010 helping source book stock to support primary school library setups at rural schools in Eastern Uganda. When I was invited to work ‘in the field’ to help develop and deliver staff training I didn’t know what to expect. I first visited the country in February 2012 and in August 2017 returned from a fifth amazing trip, in which I witnessed the pilot of a shared reading project.

The project was set up at Buyaka Primary School in March by Jenny Lewis and Elizabeth Boardman, two ex-Head Teachers and fellow AET volunteers, and runs along lines which are like schemes run by charities such as Reading Matters and Beanstalk. My own involvement as a librarian was in drawing up the framework for how the pilot could work at Buyaka and for monitoring its success (or otherwise) over the first few months; also, in helping to set up two further shared reading groups in July at Mpogo and Bumbobi Primary Schools. On 25 July, I had the opportunity to visit Buyaka Primary School to speak to Mwasa Joshua, the school librarian, about their project, and about the potential for setting up a writing group for upper school pupils. While creative writing isn’t taught in Uganda until secondary school Joshua is keen to explore other ways of supporting pupils with learning English. Parents have been very supportive of the shared reading project and see proficiency in English as key to exam success. A key barrier is finding suitable material in English to use as a stimulus, for both shared reading and developing written and oral storytelling skills.

Shared reading group at Mpogo Primary School

This is where Lantana’s representative African books played a key role. Joshua and his pupils were keen to see The Wooden Camel and Chicken in the Kitchen as these represent landscape, traditions and local issues with which children and their families are familiar. The Wooden Camel, which is set in neighbouring Kenya, sparked interest because of its simple narrative and unique use of perspective. A younger pupil pointed out that you can see between the camel’s legs in one spread and the boys all appreciated Etabo’s passion for sport. Not only does he want to become a camel racer, he wears his football jersey throughout the story. Football is played everywhere in Ugandan schools, but rarely with a football. Children use their imaginations just as Etabo must use his when the family camels are sold. This was a powerful message I took away from Buyaka after my own shared reading experience with Joshua and his pupils.

Alison Brumwell

About the author: Alison has a keen interest in children’s literature and promoting reading for pleasure. She is a past CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal judge and the current Chair Elect of National Youth Libraries Group.

Buy your copy of The Wooden Camel here.  Also available in the U.S.A. from our North American distributor, Lerner Books

Celebrate Empathy Day! 19 Books that Teach Empathy

in: Children's books

Today, we celebrate the first ever Empathy Day! And we are especially pleased because The Wooden Camel has been selected for the Read for Empathy Guide put together by Empathy Lab UK. Written by Wanuri Kahiu and Manuela Adreani, this is a story about the hopes and dreams of Etabo, a young boy who longs to be a camel racer. The Read for Empathy Guide lists 21 ‘must-reads’ endorsed by Nicolette Jones, the children’s book reviewer for The Sunday Times. You can download the Guide for free from the Empathy Lab’s website!

What is Empathy Day?

Empathy Day is ‘a platform to emphasise the importance of empathy in our divided world, and raise awareness of the power of stories to develop it.’ Books help children ‘lay strong foundations for resisting prejudice and intolerance,’ Miranda McKearney, founder of Empathy Day, states in a press release. These claims are supported by neuroscientific research that ‘shows that the emotions we feel for characters wires our brains to have the same sort of sensitivity towards real people.’

19 Books: Our favourite books that teach empathy

We were so inspired by Empathy Day that we created our own list! These books are close to the hearts of Lantana’s authors, illustrators, and staff.

Wanuri Kahiu recommends Tinga Tinga Tales: Why Giraffe Has a Long Neck by Claudia Lloyd and Edward Gakuya and Elmer by David McKee: ‘Why Giraffe Has a Long Neck is a beautiful story of friendship and how all animals of different sorts come together to help a friend in need. It is kind, compassionate and funny. We love reading it. We also love reading about Elmer who always seems a little different, but his difference is embraced and accepted. It is a beautiful book on friendship and love.’

Manuela Adreani recommends The Story of a Seagull and The Cat Who Taught Her to Fly by Luis Sepúlveda: ‘The sweet story of a cat that promises to care for the egg of a dying seagull. The empathy and love that the cat has for the baby seagull succeeds in engaging everyone – cats and humans – in teaching the little seagull how to fly.’

Abi Elphinstone recommends The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden: ‘Kizzy is a Diddakoi – a halfgypsy – and after her beloved grandmother dies, she finds herself victim to bullying, prejudice and hatred within the community. This is a book that champions outsiders, celebrates the beauty of vanishing cultures and upholds the values of compassion, courage and acceptance.’

Sharanya Manivannan recommends The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros: ‘Such a lovely book that encourages looking at people around you and seeing how we are interconnected.’

Gill Lewis recommends Small Finds a Home by Karin Celestine: ‘I love this book because it is about the power of simple acts of kindness. It is a story of how offering friendship without judgment or expectation enriches all our lives.’

Tutu Dutta recommends The Adventures of Beebo and Friends by Malaysian author Brigitte Rozario and Tan Vay Fern: ‘This is a series of five books (for ages 5-9) about a boisterous and fun-loving boy and his friends, who sometimes gets into scrapes. I chose these books because they teach young readers values such as empathy in a fun and engaging way.’

Mahtab Narsimhan recommends Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña: ‘I think it’s a wonderful story that shows readers how to appreciate what they have instead of wanting what they do not. Some lines in there are priceless, and are not just for kids. Adults can appreciate the subtle message, too!’

Joyce Chng recommends Accessing the Future edited by Djibril Al-Ayad and Kathryn Allan: ‘It is an anthology of speculative fiction that examines disability. Great for medical professionals and people who would want to learn more.’

Keilly Swift recommends Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and Frog and the Stranger by Max Velthuijs: ‘Teaching my baby girl that friends come in all shapes, sizes and shade!’

Geraldine McCaughrean recommends 4 books!: The Girl in Between by Sarah Carroll takes us inside the life of a woman who has sunk as low as life can take you and the child she took there with her. Love That Dog by Sharon Creech made me weep for a little boy who has lost his dearest possession. Island by Nicky Singer is about empathy temporarily mislaid between mother and son and discovered between man and animals. Little Bits of Sky by S.E. Durrant lets a reader experience how it feels to have no one permanent in your life, the damage it does and the healing possible when someone comes along who is prepared to show unqualified tenderness.’

Nadine Kaadan recommends Sky Blue Accident by Piet Grobler: ‘Such a creative and poetic children’s book!’

Katrina Gutierrez recommends Migrant by Maxine Trottier and Isabelle Arsenault: ‘My pick is a sweet story about a family of harvest labourers – Menonnites from Mexico who travel to Canada every spring – that uses imaginative metaphors to express the migrant child’s feelings, longings and optimism. They are migratory geese, then a litter of kittens cuddling for warmth, then a hive of worker bees. A clever and gentle way to encourage compassion for labouring migrants.’

Alice Curry recommends Shine by Filipino author Candy Gourlay: ‘I picked Shine because it is a book about accepting difference in other people but more importantly in ourselves. A gentle, sensitive novel that acknowledges our limitations but above all celebrates our immense capacity to love.’

And of course, we recommend The Wooden Camel!

This is what Empathy Lab has to say about why they recommend this book: ‘Everyone has dreams, and this story of a Turkana boy who longs to be a camel racer will resonate with children everywhere. Readers will empathise with the kind-hearted siblings desperate to find a way to make their youngest brother happy.’ 

Happy Empathy Day, everyone! We hope you enjoy these books as much as we do. 


Bringing drawings to life: an interview with Manuela Adreani

in: Children's books


Today, I caught up with brilliant Italian artist Manuela Adreani, illustrator of The Wooden CamelShe talked about her illustration process, the challenges and joys of creating art, and what she learnt about Kenya, where the book is set. Read on for a glimpse into the life of an award-winning illustrator!

Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a few of your favourite things about living in Turin, Italy?

<img src="image.png" alt=""/>I have been drawing since I was young and I think creating is one of the most stimulating things. It is so fascinating to me. There’s something magical when I see the drawing coming to life. This is the reason why I’ve always chosen creative works.

I came to Turin to study animation. I was so lucky to find a job in an animation studio so soon after I finished a Master’s at IED (European Institute of Design), and so I decided to stay in Turin. Even though I can work from anywhere, it is difficult for me to leave. I rent a nice flat in the city centre, and so I can walk and use my bicycle to go anywhere. There’s a splendid veggie market so close to where I live! For a vegetarian, this is fantastic! Turin offers many cultural activities, too, and has many beautiful parks.

Do you think you have a particularly Italian or European illustration style?

I’ve never thought about it. I’d like to think that there are no borders. I love so many illustrators from all over the world, but I’ve noticed that when I draw, my mind often recalls the works of the great Italian painters.

Can you tell us how you go about creating your illustrations? What materials do you use?

I read the story a few times, and then I go through the words again and sketch a storyboard — in very small drawings that I almost don’t understand myself. When I’ve finished all the sketches, I draw them in their actual size. I scan the pencil drawings and colour them using Photoshop. I keep the pencil drawings and then I use brushes in the same way that I would use them on paper to give warmth to the end result. I love colouring. It makes me happy, dreamy and emotional. When I’m not very well I just can’t get the colours right.

Did you enjoy illustrating The Wooden Camel? What did you like about the story?

I did enjoy working on this story, although it was difficult because I knew so little about the Turkana people and I’ve never been to Africa in my life. I spent my time looking at the photos and videos I could find, trying to immerse myself in that place. The easiest part was to understand the loving attitude of the oldest sister of Etabo, because I am the oldest of three.

Have you learnt anything about Kenya that you didn’t know before? 

I really didn’t know the Turkana people so I had to learn how they live, what they do. They are so beautiful with their colourful beads and they have these delicate features. I love their sense of community. We don’t see that so much in the Occident.

Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?

It is very important to know other cultures. We live in a multicultural world, and knowing others through their stories is the only way we learn to respect and not be afraid of what might seem different from us.

What countries or cultures would you like to see represented more often in children’s books?

In my small career as an illustrator, I was lucky enough to illustrate covers showing the Indian culture and one story from the Native Americans, and then this story about the Turkana people in Africa. I guess I would like to see more of these kinds of books, as I don’t see them in Italian bookshops. We mostly have books representing Europe and America, as far as I can see, so there is a lot to do.

When you are not illustrating picture books, what other types of artwork do you create?

I still work on some animated series sometimes, and I find it very funny because it is almost like being an actor — which I could never be because I am a shy person.

<img src="image.png" alt=""/>Do you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?

This might seem funny, but my first advice is: take care of your eyes and the backs of your arms. Illustrators spend many hours sitting in a chair, and there are no holidays and few free weekends. Love what you do. And believe in yourself instead of the doubts that will always accompany you.

Thanks Manuela! You can find out more about Manuela and her beautiful and award-winning work here. To buy your copy of The Wooden Camel, please click here


Photo from Manuela Adreani.

Creating heaven on the backs of camels: an interview with Wanuri Kahiu

in: Children's books

<img src="image.png" alt=""/>This week, we celebrated the book birthday of The Wooden Camel.  To mark this special day, I called the book’s talented author, Wanuri Kahiu, and learnt about her home country Kenya and her delight in camels. She also told me about her version of heaven…

Congratulations on your first picture book, The Wooden Camel! Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Wanuri Kahiu and I am a storyteller — a filmmaker, mostly. And I live in Kenya.

What is The Wooden Camel about? 

The Wooden Camel is about a little boy who really, really, really wants to race camels but he’s too small. So his sister whittles him some wooden camels that he dreams to life, and rides them.

What are three things you think everyone should know about Kenya where The Wooden Camel is set?

We are a really generous people — we are very, very affectionate and loving. We have the most stunning landscapes on the face of the planet. And if you are accepted into a family, you are in that family forever and ever and ever. So if you are ever adopted by a Kenyan, it’s the best thing that could happen to you.

Why camels? And what made you decide to write a story about the Turkana people?

I’ve always been fascinated by the Turkana people, especially now since they are in a very challenging situation. Lake Turkana, the largest freshwater lake in the desert, is about to completely wither away because one side of the lake that supplies water is being dammed. The lake is on the verge of extinction. I’ve always felt a very special affinity towards that place and people, and so I try to draw awareness towards what’s happening in Turkana whenever I can. And why camels? Because I think they are one of the funniest creatures on earth. I think they have the silliest faces. And they spit, and they are long! They’re just the most curious creatures and I love them.

<img src="image.png" alt=""/>What do you think of Manuela Adreani’s illustrations for your book? Do you have a favourite illustration?

Oh my gosh, I love love love her illustrations. I LOVE them! I think they are so awesome and my favourite in the book — and I really want to frame it for my children’s room — is the one where Keti and Etabo are sitting in the tree. It’s so cute! You can have a boy and his goat, his best friend, in the tree at the same time and I just love it.

You are one of this year’s TED Fellows – congratulations! Can you tell us a bit about what this entails and what it means to be a role model for African girls & women everywhere?

I am really, really excited to be a TED fellow. I think it’s such an honour and it’s something that I have actively worked towards. I’ve been wanting to be a TED fellow for a long time and I never thought I could until I was ready. So I finally applied and I was amazed that I got in! Being a TED fellow is a dream come true. I don’t know if I’m a role model. I certainly hope that the work I do inspires. I’m excited to share my stories, especially with my children. They keep calling The Wooden Camel, ‘the camel book,’ and they keep asking to see it and when they’re going to get it. More than anything, I want to be able to leave work behind for my children so that they have an idea or a bit of an understanding about what I think about the world. So hopefully my work inspires them.

Can you tell me more about what it is you think about the world? What message do you hope children will glean from your story?

I have a friend who says that whenever he’s asked what his version of heaven is, he points to his work. I really believe in that. I believe that I create the people that I like in situations that are complicated and where they’re faced with such bravery and such courage. I feel like just the attitude itself is like a breath of heaven in the sense of a utopia, not necessarily a religious heaven, where we’re most at ease and most in sync with each other and we’re in harmony with the world and with the planet. In The Wooden Camel, I hope readers see that we all have dreams, and whether or not we know it, sometimes they’re fulfilled in ways we don’t foresee and they are fulfilled in ways that are not necessarily expected. So, it’s an encouragement to dream but to look for ways that dreams manifest because they don’t always come to you in the way that you expect — they don’t always manifest in the way that you imagine.

<img src="image.png" alt=""/>You have won many awards for your work as a filmmaker. What made you decide to write a children’s picture book? Can you share something about the differences between writing a picture book and writing a film?

I think writing a picture book is quite extraordinary because you’re sharing the story with the illustrator. So, when you begin to write and imagine, you do so without knowing how much the world will come to life, or how much more of the story can be told, not through words but through the illustrator. So it was this amazing orchestra of images and words that I had never expected that is kind of similar to film, because when you start writing film you don’t know what the final image is going to look like. You start to breathe one life into it, but when it’s taken on by the people that you’re working with, it becomes a completely different thing. And I think that’s the same thing that happened with The Wooden Camel.

Etabo dreamed of being a camel racer. Have you always dreamed of becoming a filmmaker?

I have always dreamed of becoming a filmmaker. It happened when I was sixteen. Before that, I wanted to be a nun, because I was in Catholic school, and a doctor, because my mother’s a doctor, and I wanted to be so many things. And then I realised that you could make film and it combined two of my favourite passions — being a telly addict and reading. And I was done! It’s a done deal.

Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?

Absolutely, and I can’t wait to get the whole Lantana collection! We already have Chicken in the Kitchen, and that was autographed by Nnedi [Okorafor]. My children love it. I think that if the very first sense of travel they have is through books, I would love that. I would love to introduce them to different places through what is being written by artists of those places.

And finally, can you give our aspiring authors any tips for their writing?

<img src="image.png" alt=""/>I think that the best thing to do when you’re an aspiring writer is to just write, and to write, and to write, and to write. I strongly encourage anybody who can to write and to find ways of writing. And even if you think that your story has been heard or is not original — whatever doubts you have, I still think you should write because you will always find an audience. And your first audience is yourself.

Thanks, Wanuri! You can find out more about Wanuri and her amazing work here. Watch her inspirational TED talks here. And to buy your copy of The Wooden Camel, please click here. 



in: Children's books

Happy book birthday to The Wooden Camel!


Etabo dreams of being a camel racer. One day he might even beat his older brother when they race. But with the price of water rising, Etabo’s father must sell the camels, and his siblings must find work. What will Etabo do now? This story of love and hope centres on the inspiring Turkana people of north-west Kenya.

Told with gentleness and humour, this heartwarming tale from Wanuri Kahiu and Manuela Adreani is about keeping one’s dreams alive.

Purchase your copy here!

‘Through its beautiful illustrations and charming story, this book opens a window into another culture while encapsulating a theme that will resonate with anyone who knows how it feels to hold onto their dreams against all odds.’ – Books for Topics

‘Beautifully illustrated! I smiled as I read this charming story of a young boy who finds unique ways to keep on believing even when it seems impossible.’ – Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed, African literature blog, Bookshy

‘Adreani’s scenes of the Turkana people of Kenya set against the harsh landscapes are truly beautiful and perfectly complement the soft, sympathetic humour of Kahiu’s text. A book to cherish, to share, ponder upon and discuss widely.’ – Jill Bennett, Red Reading Hub 

Making space to dream: an interview with Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl

in: Children's books

This week, I asked Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl some questions about her new picture book, Sleep Well, Siba and SabaShe talked about the challenges and joys of writing and the kinds of stories she wants to write about Africa. She also reveals something unexpected about her own dreams…

Congratulations on your first picture book, Sleep Well, Siba and Saba! What would you like your readers to know about you?

Thank you so much. I think one thing that I’d like readers to know is that I find writing painfully difficult, even though I write professionally (within the international NGO sector) and creatively.

What is Sleep Well, Siba and Saba about? What inspired you to write this story?

Sleep Well, Siba and Saba is in many ways about finding the beauty in the unknown, and even the unknowable. I like to think of Siba’s and Saba’s dreams in the book as special, inexplicable gifts they were given. The book is also about making space to dream–both literally and metaphorically. In a much broader context, the book is about expanding the notions of what life is like for ‘African’, in this case Ugandan, children. Often times children’s stories set in Africa focus on dearth–lack of water, lack of opportunity, lack of food. I wanted to focus on universal experiences like dreaming…. and losing things! I was inspired to write the story to create space for a broader narrative about the African/Ugandan experience. Also, I went through a stage in my life where I would dream things, and they would happen the very next day. I could not explain it and still cannot explain it. Finally, and most importantly, I was inspired to write the book so that I could capture a personally sentimental picture of Uganda that could be shared with my own children, namely my daughter, Nsaba.

What message do you hope children will glean from your story?

I think the message is simple: your dreams are powerful and they can be actualized.

You were born in the USA, worked in Uganda, and now live in South Africa. Can you tell us how these cross-cultural and multilingual experiences have shaped your outlook on life? 

My experiences across continents and cultures have shaped my outlook primarily by reinforcing this notion that we are all living, breathing beings moving through this life together. Our connections are rich and often unexpected and our lives are deeply woven together. And as strange as this may sound, the frustrations that I have experienced in every single country that I have lived (with both people and place) have served to strengthen my affection for this wonderfully beautiful human experience we share. There is no perfect person, no perfect place, no perfect culture, no perfect life. We are bound together in that.

What are three things you think everyone should know about Uganda where Sleep Well, Siba and Saba is set?

Well, excuse my biases, but Uganda likely has the most delicious produce (fruits and veggies) on the planet. It is also delightfully verdant and since Ugandans love to have a good time – you will too if you visit the country!

What do you think of Sandra van Doorn’s illustrations for your book? Do you have a favorite illustration?

Sandra managed to capture my own dreams in her illustrations. That is to say, I wanted a magical feel about the book–in both sound and image. This was a dream of mine. Sandra conjured up a magical world that extended far beyond my own imagination. In short, her illustrations are remarkable. My favorite illustration is that of Siba and Saba losing their sweaters. In this one, it’s as though Sandra drew a scene out of my own life. When I saw the illustration, it felt like I was looking at a memory. Now imagine that.

We love the dreams of Siba and Saba. Can you share with us one of your dreams for the future?

I dream unabashedly of meeting Michelle Obama!

Your prose has a soothing rhythm that makes it a pleasure to read aloud. Can you tell us more about your writing style?

I find longer form writing very challenging (although I do plenty of it for work). I also don’t have very much to say, in general. When I do have something to say, I like to say it in as pithy a form as possible. For many years, I could only write poems (creatively). Given that, I think brevity and rhythm characterize my writing style.

Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?

Absolutely! I love the notion of books as both mirrors and windows. The window (seeing other cultures, places, experiences, etc.) is just as important as the mirror (seeing your own culture, place, experience, etc.). Imagine being five years old and having access to 10, 20, 30 different cultural experiences through literature. That level of enrichment and engagement is invaluable. Ideally a child has access to both–the window and the mirror. We need to see others and be seen.

And finally, can you give our aspiring authors any tips for their writing? 

Get very clear about what you want to say (sometimes that may take years) and how you want it to make you and others feel. The ‘feel’ is the most important thing in my opinion. And then, proceed without caution.

Thank you, Nansubuga! You can buy a copy of Sleep Well, Siba and Saba here.

The second photo was taken at a Sleep Well, Siba and Saba storytime event at  The Alligator’s Mouth bookshop.




in: Children's books

Sleep Well, Siba and Saba is published today!


Forgetful sisters Siba and Saba are always losing something. Sandals, slippers, sweaters — you name it, they lose it! Each night, they dream about the things they lost that day. Until, one night, their dreams begin to reveal something entirely unexpected…

An inspiring story about achieving your dreams by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl with enchanting illustrations by Sandra Van Doorn.

Buy your copy by clicking this link!

‘This stunningly illustrated picture book offers a snapshot into life for two sisters growing up in Uganda, with a delightful story that rejoices in the precious details of the sisters’ day to day lives as well as with their hopes and dreams for the future.’– Books for Topics

‘A gently captivating story told with a sweet poetic cadence that must be savoured again and again. The delicately drawn illustrations are rich with details that celebrate the everyday uniqueness of ‘the Pearl of Africa’. What a gem!’– Doreen Baingana, award-winning children’s author

‘The tale of Siba and Saba is heartwarming and inspiring all in one go! In truth, I want to read this book every night and then fall asleep with it in my arms and dream of my future and what I can look forward to experiencing and achieving. Simply stunning!’ – Alexis Filby,  librarian and author of popular blog Book Monsters

On dreaming a bigger future: an interview with Sandra van Doorn

in: Children's books

The book birthday of our newest African title, Sleep Well, Siba and Sabais still a week away but the lovely and whimsical illustrations of Sandra van Doorn have already received rave reviews. Today I asked Sandra about her illustration style and the inspiration behind her dreamy illustrations. She also told me about how working on Siba and Saba led to a project for The Book Bus. Read on to find out more!

Can you introduce yourself to your readers and tell them some of your favourite things about France, where you were born, and Australia, where you live?

I was born in Guebwiller, a pretty medieval town in The Alsace, France. The thing I Iove most about France is that it is such a visual feast – all that prettiness everywhere from architecture to patisserie & floral design, I love that. But on a smaller, more personal scale: French bookstores are incredible. French culture has a great appreciation of illustrated books which means beautiful books are not just a part of your childhood — we have large sections of illustrated books for grown-ups too. It’s wonderful.

Did you enjoy illustrating Sleep Well, Siba and Saba? What did you like about the story?

Yes, very much. I knew I wanted to illustrate the story even before reading the full manuscript. Alice Curry (Founder of Lantana) mentioned dreams & sisterhood in a brief email and it sounded really special. My drawing style sits somewhere on that perplexing, blurred line between reality and strangeness so from an illustration perspective Sleep Well, Siba and Saba was a beautiful project.  On a more general note, I particularly love the idea of dreaming a bigger future than your reality — Siba & Saba do that so well! It’s such a positive message to children from all walks of life.

We think it’s fantastic that your illustrations for Sleep Well, Siba and Saba raised money for The Book Bus, which promotes mobile libraries for communities in Africa, Asia, and South America. Can you tell us more about this initiative, how it came about, and how The Book Bus helps bring books to children who need them?

The opportunity for fundraising came about via The Resource Capital Funds Foundation who awards grants to employees and their family involved in charity work. My husband works for RCF, and when we found The Book Bus, thanks to Alice, it made sense to apply for a grant in support of people who believe in improving literacy in the world. Education is key to children growing into intelligent adults, who will consequently create and live happier lives. The funds granted will allow The Book Bus to introduce Happy Reader books to 10 African schools in 2017.

Can you tell us how you go about creating your illustrations? What materials do you use?

A story always starts with a series of doodles, mixing up reality and unusual things – which evolves into a full image. Then I let it simmer for a little while and work on something different, and trust the process. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and get up to draw!

I mainly work with dry pastels (Derwent pencils, Rembrandt sticks and Pan pastels for larger areas such as backgrounds) but often times other mediums find their way on my paper: crayons, markers, gouache, paper collage. And of course, I work digitally too; it’s useful to create page layouts and I am known for bringing my characters to life in GIFs.

Has living in different countries influenced your illustration style? Do you think you have a particularly European style, or have your illustrations been influenced by your life in Australia?

Living abroad is the most profound undertaking. Everything around and within you changes. Your world becomes bigger and that flows across everything you do. My work feels European because essentially I was raised and educated there but at the same time I am often told there is a playful quirkiness about the illustrations that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. Perhaps that is the result of multicultural living?

How did you approach illustrating a story set in Uganda? Were you nervous that you might misrepresent Ugandan culture in some way?

Yes! Nervous and excited all at once. I knew nothing much about Uganda so I spent many days watching documentaries, collecting photos, reading about Uganda. It was like travelling without ever leaving my studio. But it would have been overambitious to try and grasp the magnitude of Ugandan culture so I am grateful for Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl’s (the author) input.  Her cultural advice and guidance was of utmost importance. In fact, the book quickly became an amazing collaboration between writer, illustrator & editor — something rather unusual in the industry.

Have you learnt anything about Uganda that you hadn’t known before?

I learnt everything about Uganda. Discovering the extensive avifauna of Uganda prompted me to introduce as many birds as possible in the illustrations. It was also important to showcase Uganda’s wonderful landmarks such as the Mountains of the Moon, shimmering lakes and waterfalls.

Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?

Absolutely. Introducing cultural diversity at an early age is probably at the very core of shaping healthier minds towards embracing our multicultural world. And reading becomes that much more interesting. There is so much to learn from others!

When you are not illustrating picture books, what other type of artwork do you create?

I absolutely love creating papier mâché sculptures! They would make such an amazing complement to a picture book. I imagine something halfway between art installation and theatre performance.

And finally, do you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?

A good approach for this industry is a strong blend of passion, discipline, persistence. And having some fun!

Thanks Sandra! You can find out more about Sandra and her wonderful artwork here, and to buy your copy of Sleep Well, Siba and Saba,  please click here.



Nominated for Best Children’s Publisher of the Year 2017 at the Bologna Book Fair!

in: Children's books

We are thrilled to announce our nomination for Best Children’s Publisher of the Year 2017, administered by the Bologna Children’s Book Fair!

What is the BOP?

The Bologna Prize for Best Children’s Publisher of the Year acknowledges the most significant publishers in each of the six areas of the world: Africa, Central and South America, North America, Asia, Europe and Oceania’. We are one of five publishers nominated in the Europe category – and the only publisher from the UK!

Last year’s winners were:

AFRICA: Bumble Books di Publishing Print Matters; ASIA: Kalimat dagli Emirati Arabi Uniti; EUROPA: Andersen Press; NORTH AMERICA: Groundwood Books; SOUTH AMERICA: Ediciones EkaréOCEANIA: Book Island

How we were nominated

The exhibitors at the book fair were invited to submit the names of seven publishers (two for their own geographical area and one for each of the other categories) that ‘have most distinguished themselves for their creative and publishing excellence over the year, showing originality as well as professional and intellectual skills’. The Bologna Children’s Book Fair and AIE – the Italian Publishers’ Association – came up with a list of nominations by counting the number of times a publisher’s name had been submitted. 

What happens next

The attending exhibitors are now in the process of casting their votes for the best children’s publisher in each geographical category. The deadline for voting is on the 28th of February. Six publishers will be given an award – and we may – with a lot of finger crossing! – be one of them. Whatever happens now, however, we are just delighted and proud to have come this far.


Many, many thanks to everyone who nominated us and supported us throughout these past two and a half years. We are grateful and humbled by your faith in us and in our mission to bring UK children’s publishing one step closer towards achieving a more diverse and inclusive children’s book landscape for the next generation of young readers.

Because all children deserve to see themselves in the books they read.

To buy our books, please click here.

Alice, Katrina and Caroline

Lantana Publishing: Because all children deserve to see themselves in the books they read

in: Children's books

It’s Children’s Book Week – the most wonderful week of the year! We thought it would be a great time to remind everyone what Lantana Publishing is all about, and why we have chosen to champion cultural diversity in picture books. Earlier this year, Lantana was IBBY UK’s featured publisher. We are delighted to give you choice excerpts from Clive Barnes’ interview with our directors, Alice and Caroline (updated where there is new information). Reproduced here with kind permission by Pam Dix.

Lantana Publishing is a remarkable new publishing venture. Started in 2014 by Alice Curry (top) and Caroline Godfrey, two friends who first met at Oxford University, its aim is to produce books that reflect the diversity of our multicultural world.

Alice and Caroline each bring their own skills to the work: Alice from an academic background in children’s literature (and a longstanding member of IBBY) and Caroline from teaching. They head a young team drawn from across the world and began publishing with three picture books last year, with two more due out in April this year. (Update: We’ve published four new picture books since!) . Their work is dear to IBBY’s heart, so we were pleased that they agreed to be the second interviewees in our publishing series.

Alice and Caroline, thank you for agreeing to answer some questions for the website. Can you tell us how you met one another?

We met while we were studying English Literature at Oxford University. In fact, we became friends on our very first day at university and have been discussing books with each other ever since.

Caroline Godfrey United Kingdom

At what point did you decide that you wanted to become publishers and what came first, the desire to create children’s books, or to further the cause of cultural diversity in children’s books?

We both have a long-standing interest in children’s books and have been aware of the inequalities in children’s publishing for quite some time. Alice’s work with educational organisations after her PhD hammered home the disparity in publishing opportunities across different cultures and countries where factors such as class, race, socio-economic status and the continuing legacy of colonialism impede publishing opportunities for many people. Caroline’s years as a teacher have given her first-hand experience of the lack of diverse books available in the UK, often leaving children desperate to read stories that reflect their own lives and experiences. Our desire to become publishers was born out of these frustrations.

And why the name Lantana?

The Lantana flower is one of the only plants that has petals of many colours on one stem. What better way to represent our readers? Children of many colours reading happily on one earth.

What do you see as Lantana’s particular contribution to culturally diverse publishing for children?

As far as we know, we are one of the very few publishing houses to focus solely on diversity. This means that our whole team, all of our creative resources and our entire budget are dedicated to one unifying mission – to increase the number of multicultural picture books on the market!  We know of some fantastic publishing houses that specialise in particular areas – Tiny Owl is a good example of this, being a publishing house with a specific mission to bring Iranian children’s books in translation to the UK – but we feel that where we can really contribute is to increase the number of picture books that reflect a wide variety of different cultures, geographies and belief systems – working with authors of BAME backgrounds as well as of other nationalities. Alice has written about some of the different types of culturally diverse books currently available on the market; by contrast, we have a special fondness for fantasy writing because we believe that all children – and not just those of privileged backgrounds – should get to go on adventures.

Cover - medium resPhoenix Song, written by Tutu Dutta, born in India, and living in Malaysia. Illustrated by Martina Peluso from Italy. A tale of a Malaysian boy and a very special flute.





From your website and blog, it seems to me that you see Lantana is aiming to do a lot more than publishing books. What do you see as your wider mission?

Essentially, we’d like to inspire as many children as we can to read and enjoy books. This means many things – working with authors who may not have the opportunity to publish with mainstream publishers, producing books that are reflective of our diverse population (after all, if you can see yourself in a story, you are more likely to engage with that story and be caught up in its magic) and also making sure children who don’t have easy access to books find stories that are relevant and inspiring to them. We see each of the above not as a nice add-on to a commercial agenda but as a cultural and educational imperative. As a former teacher, Caroline is in a perfect position to make our books relevant and accessible to teachers and she has produced a comprehensive range of classroom resources to accompany each book. We believe we have the capacity to make a real change to the reading habits of young people and are excited to be creating a thriving community of passionate and vocal supporters of diversity on our website and social media pages. This year also sees the beginnings of our outreach programme to reach children in under-resourced areas whose access to books is limited!  (Update: Our outreach project, Cameroon stories, is in full swing!)

Is there a particular reason why you began with picture books and why you chose to commission new books rather than, perhaps, looking for books that might be translated into English?

Some really exciting work is happening in diverse young adult fiction at the moment. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet seen this type of momentum in picture books where old favourites such as Handa’s Surprise tend to be the go-to texts, even though this book was published more than a decade ago!  We wanted to give a boost to the picture book genre so have concentrated our efforts here, although we may expand into middle grade fiction in the future. One thing we hope to do sooner than this is to publish translations since we agree that translated picture books are in woefully short supply in the UK market. We really like the idea of bringing the best books that the world has to offer to children in this country and hope to do so very soon.

The Jasmine SneezeThe Jasmine Sneeze, written and illustrated by Nadine Kaadan. The story of a cat and a mysterious flower spirit set in the author’s home city of Damascus.





These books feature authors and illustrators who are perhaps not that well known in Britain and often pair authors and illustrators from different cultural backgrounds. Can you tell us about the thinking behind your commissioning policy and how you found your authors and illustrators?

We have been lucky and privileged to work with some fantastic authors and illustrators whose talents are unmistakable. Yet these authors are generally published by small-scale presses and are unfamiliar to British readers. Nnedi Okorafor, our African American author, is an exception to this rule since she has won widespread acclaim for her middle grade novels as well as several international writing awards. If we love someone’s work, we believe our readers will too, and we don’t think that cultural or geographic boundaries should impede a reader’s access to great stories. We find that the cross-cultural conversations that spring from working with authors and illustrators from different backgrounds – Nnedi’s book Chicken in the Kitchen was illustrated by Iranian-born illustrator Mehrdokht Amini, for instance – can be really productive and eye-opening, providing new facets of understanding to the stories. We are always on the lookout for new writing. We have a submissions page on our website and are constantly receiving manuscripts from around the world.

Chicken in the Kitchen, Nnedi Okorafor, Mehrdokht Amini, diverse children's book, African picture bookChicken in the Kitchen, published last year, has won Best Book for Young Children at the Africana Book Awards 2016 in the USA.

(Update: It has since become a White Ravens Honour Book 2016 and has been nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2017)



You have a young team of advisers drawn from different parts of the world on your website. Can you tell us something about their roles and how you hope to develop them?

Our advisers are wonderful – they are always on the lookout for authors and illustrators from their own cultures and countries who we may like to work with in the future and they keep us up-to-date on the children’s books that are being published overseas.

To us, Lantana looks like something new, in Britain at least, but I know that you both have a wide knowledge of publishing for children and I wonder if you have taken inspiration from any other publishers either here or elsewhere?

We have always been inspired by publishing houses that make diversity party of their mission: Frances Lincoln and Tamarind Books are good examples of these. Lee & Low in the US, Tara Books in India, Gecko Press in New Zealand – all of these are doing fantastic work in this field. We like to share experiences with other companies whose aims and passions are similar to ours, such as Tiny Owl who we mentioned earlier. And we are always very interested in small independents who are doing inventive things by targeting a niche market, such as Pereine Press and Persephone Books.

Dragon Dancer Cover ImageDragon Dancer by Singaporean Joyce Cheng and French illustrator Jérémy Pailler is the third of the books published by Lantana in 2015. It’s a story of Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore.





Do you think Britain is receptive to culturally diverse publishing? What challenges does the market present for you?

Wonderfully, a much wider conversation has grown up around diversity in children’s publishing following the successes of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and the recent #OscarsSoWhite debate has generated even more discussion about cultural representation as a whole (we have written about this debate and how it links to our own mission here). The inaugural Bare Lit event at the Free Word centre in February and the recent introduction of the Jhalak prize for BAME authors are both heartening demonstrations that organisations and individuals are trying hard to turn such talk into action. One of the challenges we face, of course, is that industry attention doesn’t necessarily have an obvious or immediate impact on consumer behaviour. We would urge parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians to be as adventurous as they can when purchasing books for young people. As a small independent publishing house, we are at a disadvantage since we are expected to offer the same types of discounts to suppliers and wholesalers as large multi-resourced publishing houses; to counter this we hope to gain loyal, passionate and engaged coterie of supporters who want to see more diversity in children’s publishing as much as we do.

How do you hope to develop Lantana?

We hope to become a thriving press that is well-known for the books we publish – books that are of high quality, beautifully illustrated and culturally diverse. We hope to expand our work with budding authors and illustrators of BAME backgrounds in the UK as well as those abroad, and to make our first forays into publishing translations. If we can get to a stage where we can recruit a new generation of young publishers to help shape the company and develop a team, as well as a portfolio, that is representative of our diverse population, we will consider it a job well done. In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with our wonderful small team and nurture new writing talent, develop our outreach programme and inspire children with our unusual, multicultural books.

Looking for Lord Ganesh Mahtab Narsimhan Sonja WimmerLooking for Lord Ganesh, written by Indian-born Canadian Mahtab Narsimhan, and illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, born in Germany and now living in Barcelona. This is a story of a young Indian girl’s adjustment to life in a new country and how she enlists the help of Lord Ganesh.




Told by moonlight: an interview with Mahtab Narsimhan

in: Children's books

coby-me-and-lord-ganeshWe thought it would be a lovely idea to celebrate Diwali with Mahtab Narsimhan, the author of Looking for Lord Ganesh – and we were right! Mahtab told us fascinating stories about the bravest people in India and why Lord Ganesh is a wonderful symbol for starting a new life in a new country. We also found out the meaning of her name…

Can you introduce yourself to our readers and share a few fun facts about Mumbai, the city of your birth?

My grandmother named me, Mahtab, which means moonlight, in Persian. I was born in Mumbai and lived in this city till I was twenty-four. This city by the sea has some of the bravest people in India. Every year they are battered by fierce monsoons, mind-numbing heat, and humidity, and yet they soldier on with life without complaint. This is also the city which is famous for the ubiquitous dabbawallas, tiffin carriers, who deliver home-cooked food to white-collar workers. A unique aspect of this 150-year old service is that it is entirely manual (no computers or paperwork to track the six million tiffins delivered on a monthly basis) and yet their accuracy is 99%. One box in six million is lost, and this is the premise of one of my novels titled – The Tiffin.

Mumbai also has the legendary Gateway of India constructed in 1924 to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay (Mumbai).


Your first picture book, Looking for Lord Ganesh, was recently published in the UK. What is it about?

It is about a young girl, Anika, who has immigrated to a new country and is trying to fit in. This is something many immigrants, just like I once was, can identify with. When Anika faces problems in settling in, she remembers her grandmother’s words, which is to pray to Lord Ganesh for answers. Being a child of the digital age, she turns to the internet for answers. Her problems are finally solved but the reader has to decide who it is that is actually helping Anika.

What made you decide to write about Lord Ganesh? What is so special about him?

I’ve always found Lord Ganesh to be one of the most fascinating, and fun, of the pantheon of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Plus there’s a cool (and gory!) story of how he got his elephant head. Lord Ganesh is known as the God of Wisdom, New Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles. It was serendipitous that my first foray into writing picture books is about the God of New Beginnings, and my favourite.

What do you think of Sonja Wimmer’s illustrations for your book? Which illustration is your favourite?

Looking for Lord Ganesh promo spread 1 - low resThey are simply gorgeous! I could not have asked for a more talented illustrator, nor imagined a better way my words could have been brought to life. My favourite illustration is the one where Anika and Hadiya are sitting on a tree branch, talking about forming their own team.

Looking for Lord Ganesh speaks particularly to children who have experienced immigration, or those who have been bullied at school. What message do you hope readers will glean from your story?

That help is always available if you actively seek it. Sometimes it can come from outside – an adult, a friend, or a book you’ve read where the character faced a similar problem and managed to work through it. But often, we already have the answer within us. All we need to do is to listen to that internal voice which gives excellent advice even if it may be hard to follow. In reading this story, I hope I can inspire kids to look inward as well as outward for answers to their problems because the one constant in life is change.

You grew up in Mumbai but spent a few years living in the Middle East before you settled in Canada. Can you tell us what it was like for you to move to a new country? Was there a time that you felt lost and out of place like Anika in the story?

Very often I felt the way Anika did. Change is always hard. Leaving everything that is familiar to you and embracing the unfamiliar is scary. You have to believe that you will get through this stage, be brave and carry on. I am totally at home in Canada now even though the first few years were very hard.

celebrating-diwali-at-home-with-lord-g-x-2What is Diwali and why is it so special to you? What role does Lord Ganesh play in this

Diwali marks the triumph of good over evil. It is when Lord Rama vanquished the evil Ravana and returned to Ayodhya, after 14 years of exile, as the rightful heir to the throne. He was accompanied by his wife, Sita and his brother, Laxman. The people of Ayodhya were so happy that they celebrated this occasion with lights and firecrackers. Diwali is also the New Year for Hindus and is the time when they worship the Goddess Laxmi (for wealth) and Lord Ganesh (new beginnings).

Do you think children living in Mumbai (where you grew up), children living in the UK (where the book is published), and children living in Canada (where you live) will appreciate the story in different ways?

I am sure each child will take something different away from the story based on their own experiences and perspectives. That is the beauty of stories. It resonates with different readers in different ways, which is exactly the way it should be!

Ganesh 1Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?

Absolutely! It’s the main reason I write. It is so very important that children from every culture see themselves in stories. It gives them a sense of pride in who they are, builds confidence, and helps them connect with the characters more strongly.

Finally, can you give aspiring children’s book authors any tips on their writing?

Read a lot. Everything you love and even things you don’t. You will always learn something. To be a good writer, you have to love reading!

  • Practice writing every day.
  • Never lose touch with the child you used to be, or the sense of wonder you once had about our world.
  • And lastly, have fun. If you’re having fun, then writing doesn’t feel like work.

Thank you, Mahtab! You can find out more about Mahtab, her awards and her books here.

Photos from Mahtab Narsimhan


On magical butterflies and the special love of grandmothers: an interview with Sharanya Manivannan

in: Children's books

me-oct-14Today is the book birthday of The Ammuchi Puchi! To mark this very special day, I caught up with the book’s very talented author, Sharanya Manivannan. She shared with me some lovely stories about her childhood and learned the importance of keeping our hearts open to the mysteries of love and life. Read on to find out more!

Congratulations on your beautiful new book, The Ammuchi Puchi! Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a few of your favorite things about living in India?

Thank you! That The Ammuchi Puchi found Lantana Publishing brings me such joy. I’ve only lived in India for 9 years, so while I still don’t feel like this is where I belong, what I love includes: the rich, textured history and cultural artifacts from so many fields, from architecture to literature to music and more; the fact that I live in a state (Tamil Nadu) that has both beaches and mountains; and traditional fashion – I can wear flowers in my hair every day, even to work!

What is The Ammuchi Puchi about? And can you tell us what inspired you to write this story?

The Ammuchi Puchi is about two children – 9-year-old Aditya and his little sister Anjali – who are very close to their grandmother, Ammuchi. When Ammuchi passes away, they are visited often by a mysterious butterfly who guides them and gives them consolation. “Puchi” is the Tamil word for “insect”. I wrote the story a couple of years after losing my own grandmother, and although I was an adult by this time, I began to wonder how children deal with losing their grandparents.

Ammuchi Puchi

What made you decide to write a story about death and bereavement for children? What messages do you hope children will glean from your story?

Like Anjali and Aditya, I had also experienced mysterious things after my grandmother’s death, and I wanted to write something that could help children with bereavement while also gently bringing in a touch of the miraculous. The main message of the story is really that love is eternal. And that, as Ammuchi teaches, there is more to the world than what the eye can see (but sometimes, you just have to let things be).

What do you think of Nerina Canzi’s illustrations for your book? Do you have a favourite illustration?

I couldn’t be more delighted that Nerina Canzi has illustrated the book. She has captured the children, Ammuchi and the landscapes so perfectly. Friends of mine were amazed at how Nerina, who is from Argentina, had understood the colours and textures of South India so accurately. Watching the pages develop was an enormous pleasure – I looked forward to every email with a new illustration and oohed and aahed over it! It’s difficult to choose a favourite, but I love the one of Anjali and Aditya riding a parrot-dragon with vines of mangoes streaming behind them – so striking!


We loved the stories that Ammuchi told her grandchildren, Anjali and Aditya. Can you share with us one of your favourite stories from your grandmother?

My Ammamma told us ghost stories, just like Ammuchi! She loved to frighten us by telling us about apparitions in trees and things that had happened in her hometown of Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. As I grew older, I began to understand that my grandmother’s supernatural stories were deeply rooted in her spirituality.

The Ammuchi Puchi is written in very beautiful prose, but you are also known as a writer of poetry. Is there a process by which you choose the writing style for a particular story?

Thank you! I wrote The Ammuchi Puchi one afternoon in 2010, listening to music and sitting on the balcony on which my Ammamma had spent much of her final year of life. I had never written for children before, but there was one thing that I held steadfast in my mind as the story started to come: that children are highly intuitive, and that the moment they sense condescension, you lose them.

Do you have a favourite children’s poem?

This is a classroom cliché, but William Blake’s “The Tyger” is still vivid in my mind from my days in school. There’s a rhythm and a fire to it that overcomes the dreary way in which poetry is taught. So many people hate poetry because we were forced to memorise it and then recite it poorly. The thing about “The Tyger” is that the inflections of all the questions and the natural way in which the lines and our breaths align make the experience just so much more thrilling, even when taught in that boring way.

Ammuchi Puchi

Thank you for sharing such beautiful photos of your life in India on our instagram feed. A few of the photos are of the Navaratri festival. Can you tell us more about Navaratri and what it means to you?

Navaratri literally means “nine nights”, and it is a Hindu festival celebrating different manifestations of the Mother Goddess. It is celebrated in various ways among communities in India and around the world. In South India, for example, there is a tradition of arranging special dolls on a sequence of steps near the altar. Navaratri ends on Vijaya Dasami, the 10th day. This is a very important day for children as it is auspicious to start learning new things, whether that is in terms of academics or the arts. The previous night, all one’s instruments – pencils, paintbrushes, laptops, drumsticks, dancing anklets, and so on, depending on your passions – are kept before the altar and you aren’t allowed to use any of them. No reading allowed that night – I used to find that torturous as a kid! The following morning, after praying, you make a fresh start with those instruments, asking the Goddess to bless your learning and creative pursuits.

Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?

Absolutely! A library, or even a bookshelf, is a key to other worlds. Books teach empathy, and books about diverse cultures are so important both to facilitate understanding as well as to forge identity. Children deserve to see themselves in the books they read, and they also need other children to see them.

And finally, can you give our aspiring authors any tips for their writing?

The Ammuchi Puchi

This tip matters no matter what age you are: read! In order to write well, you must read as much as you can. And you must never stop.

Thanks, Sharanya! To buy a copy of The Ammuchi Puchi, please click here.


Photos from Sharanya Manivannan.