The World in Multicolour

Behind the scenes: Around the world with Lantana

in: Cultural diversity


At Lantana, we say that our books open up the world for young readers. Our stories offer windows onto other cultures and mirror back our common humanity. But what you might not know is how each book is the product of an intercultural and global collaboration, and this opens up our world, too. Join us on a quick trip around the world as we take you behind the scenes of the production of our upcoming title, Kaya’s Heart Song!

First stop, London!

British summer weather is famously fickle, but editor Alice Curry remains steadfast as she steers the production of Kaya’s Heart Song from manuscript to book. Written by first-time author Diwa Tharan Sanders and set in the jungles of Malaysia, this joyous story about mindfulness and listening to your heart made our hearts sing. We believe that pairing an author with an illustrator from another culture enhances the global qualities of the story, while the author’s voice keeps the experience authentic. Alice approached Argentinian illustrator Nerina Canzi, whose stunning work on The Ammuchi Puchi put her at the top of the list. Who better than Nerina to bring Kaya’s magical journey in the vibrant Malaysian jungles to life?


To Argentina for some winter lemons

While Alice enjoys (sometimes) sunny weather, Nerina gathers winter lemons from the tree in her garden. Alice, Diwa and Nerina coordinate via email (in Spanish and English!), sharing photos and Pinterest boards until they come up with a look that inspires them. Nerina works her magic while keeping cosy in her artist’s studio.


 Then, to a beach island in Sri Lanka

“Sunny blue skies and a steady ocean breeze fill me with lots of energy to write,” Malaysian-born author Diwa says. Under the warm tropical sunshine, Diwa reads some notes from Alice and polishes her manuscript. “I love writing outdoors and being close to nature. Because I’m relaxed, the words flow easily.”



And finally, to snowy New Zealand

Katrina Gutierrez, our communications and project manager, coordinates publicity and events with Alice and the London team all the way from New Zealand. With Alice and Katrina at opposite ends of the earth working with a list of authors and illustrators from around the globe, Lantana is truly a publishing house with diversity at its heart.

Kaya’s Heart Song will be out in the Spring and is available for pre-order here. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for up to date news about this and our other books!



The Lantana Team



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. 


Alice Curry is the *WINNER* of the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize 2017!

in: Cultural diversity

Representing Lantana and cheering Alice on were our co-director Caroline Godfrey and author and referee Tom Moorhouse

A huge congratulations to Alice Curry, our Founder and Publisher and fearless leader, for winning the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize! The judges called her a ‘great role model for future generations starting out in publishing’ and said she ‘stood out for her radical switch from academia to starting up a publishing business that puts her passion and knowledge to practical use’.

The Kim Scott Walwyn Prize celebrates the professional achievements of women of promise in the publishing industry. It is open to any woman who has worked in UK publishing for up to seven years. Alice was one of five inspirational women shortlisted for the award – all ‘forces of nature’ in publishing. These are: Amy Durant (Publishing Director, Endeavour Press), Candice Carty-Williams (Senior Marketing Executive, Vintage), Sarah Braybrooke (Managing Director, Scribe UK) and Zeljka Marosevic (Co-Publisher, Daunt Books Publishing).

Alice Curry with Mary Beard

Alice with Mary Beard who gave a fascinating speech about feminism in antiquity

Alice’s thoughts on winning the prize…

This is an incredible honour and – a day after the ceremony – it still hasn’t quite sunk in. Lantana is a tiny, independent publishing house with a mission to open up a space for diverse voices in children’s publishing and I’m so thrilled that this award signals a move in publishing towards its margins – a sign of a more inclusive and welcoming attitude towards young houses and towards those who aim to spot gaps and see opportunities and try to make change where change is needed.

I believe this award celebrates not just the achievements of individuals but a whole collective of people working together to make change in the industry. None of us would be where we are today without the support we constantly receive – from colleagues, family, friends – and it’s this support that allows women like me and the other shortlisted candidates to channel our vision and passion into businesses or imprints or campaigns with a heart and a social conscience.

Alice Curry Kim Scott Walwyn Prize

Kim Scott Walwyn’s parents, who proudly honour their daughter’s memory with this award

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my tiny team who are wonderful and who have backed me and my vision for Lantana from the start. I am also deeply grateful to Kim Scott Walwyn’s family and the judging panel for this incredible show of support and encouragement – it is a wonderful legacy and a real boost to the confidence of any woman starting out in this industry. My thanks also go to the sponsors of the prize – the Society of Young Publishers, National Book Tokens and the Publishing Training Centre – who offer much-needed financial support and formal training.

I want to acknowledge the other shortlistees – Amy, Candice, Sarah and Zeljka – who are all incredibly impressive women and will no doubt continue to achieve amazing things throughout their careers. And last but not least – to women in general, those often unsung heroes who contribute so invaluably to every business and every sector, just like Kim Scott Walwyn whose memory we honour with this prize.

Long may awards like this one inspire and encourage women – young or old – to take risks and dream big.’


Katrina and the Lantana team

Nadine Kaadan’s ‘Stories and Songs for Syrians’: Building bridges, not walls

in: Cultural diversity


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At Lantana, we believe in the power of children’s stories to teach empathy and create a culture of kindness. Nadine Kaadan, award-winning Syrian author and illustrator of The Jasmine Sneeze, has been a wonderful inspiration. Now more than ever, children’s books are needed to foster compassion and harmony, and this is why we are very proud to support ‘Stories and Songs for Syrians‘, a weekend of storytelling, music and art to welcome Syrian refugee children in the Cheltenham and Gloucestershire communities.

The event, run by Nadine and Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, co-founder of Babel Babies, will be held in both English and Arabic to celebrate diversity and inclusion. Nadine will give a book reading and an art workshop on two of her books: The Jasmine Sneeze, about a lovable cat who learns the importance of the jasmine flower to the people of Damascus, and Ghadan, about a child’s life during war. Together, these books offer a deep reflection on the Syrian experience.

The event is from 1-4pm and will be at The Suffolk Anthology Bookshop in Cheltenham on Saturday, 4 February and The Friendship Cafe in Gloucestershire on Sunday, 5 February. Please reserve your space on the Babel Babies website by Thursday, 2 February.

You can also support the project by making a contribution to their online appeal or buying a copy of The Jasmine Sneeze from their site. Everything they raise will be given to Hands Up Foundation, a UK-based charity that funds humanitarian and development projects for displaced Syrians in camps in Lebanon and Turkey, including emergency relief to survive the harsh winter.

We are very proud to have donated books to such an important initiative. If you are in the area, be sure to join one or more of the events! We think they will be magical – and surely the best way to spend National Storytelling Week.

And a little reminder of why The Jasmine Sneeze is so special:

The Jasmine Sneeze is a funny, magical tale set in Damascus whose conclusion gently suggests that there is room for us all in this world and that tolerance will triumph ultimately. Really lovely book with scope for lots of rereadings!’ – Guardian Witness

‘Kaadan has the wonderful ability to weave her gorgeous watercolour illustrations and traditional aspects of Syrian life into a whimsical children’s story that captures the essence of her hometown of Damascus.’ – R. SikoraOrient News

‘This enchanting story and delectable illustrations with their rich swirling colours and patterns on every page demonstrates Syria’s long and proud cultural heritage at a time when it has been marred by five years of war.’ – Outside In World

The Jasmine Sneeze is a fantastically vibrant read which takes the reader through a world of senses, accompanied by a comical cat… I haven’t read such a satisfying picture book in a while.’  Evie IoannidiNot Now, Adulthood

To buy your copy, please click here.


A Wisp of Wisdom: published today!

in: Cultural diversity

Book Birthday A Wisp of WisdomToday, we’re delighted to publish A Wisp of Wisdom: Animal Tales from Cameroon, Lantana’s outreach project. Happy book birthday to the collection’s wonderful authors Lucy Christopher, Abi Elphinstone, Adèle Geras, Elizabeth Laird, Sarah Lean, Gill Lewis, Geraldine McCaughrean, Tom Moorhouse, Beverly Naidoo, Ifeoma Onyefulu and Piers Torday, and its fabulous illustrator, Emmie van Biervliet!

For those of you who have pre-ordered your copy, this special book will be in the post and on its way to you early next week. We hope you love these age-old traditional tales about armoured pangolins, blue-bottomed drill monkeys, red-legged francolins and red river hogs (not to mention a cunning trickster tortoise!) as much as we’ve loved compiling them.

Just a reminder of the project:

A Wisp of Wisdom had an unusual birth. It began when a conservation research team in central Africa collected folk tales from their local chiefs and elders. It ended with eleven children’s authors, an artist and a publisher joining the project to help retell stories from the Korup region in Cameroon.

promo-spread-2-1Why? Good question. The answer is that Korup has rich stories, full of the animals that live in their precious forests. But the oral tradition that hands these stories down is being lost. And people in Korup have no books. (We mean this. No books. None.) And so the stories are being lost.

The original idea was to collect the tales and photocopy them, so the children would have something to read.

The original idea…grew.

promo-spread-4-1Wouldn’t it be good, we thought, to make a proper book. And to have lots of authors. And to illustrate it beautifully. And to raise the funds to print at least 2,000 copies of that book in Cameroon. And for the conservation team to then give the book back, for free, to the children of Korup.

A Wisp of Wisdom is that book. We hope you enjoy it.

To buy your copy, please click here.

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 tigons and letting the imagination run wild: an interview with Keilly Swift

in: Children's books


Today I caught up with Keilly Swift, debut author of The Tigon and the Liger, who is also managing editor at the much-lauded children’s newspaper, First News. She told me all about what makes tigons and ligers special and why they are a good symbol for those who feel like they don’t fit in. Keilly also shared some writing tips she received from the brilliant Michael Morpurgo – read on to find out!

Congratulations on the publication of your new picture book The Tigon and the Liger! Can you tell us what it’s about?

It’s the story of a tigon (a cross between a male tiger and a female lion) and a liger (a cross between a male lion and a female tiger) who are bullied for being different. Their lives change forever when they become friends, begin having fun and learn to celebrate their differences.

Do tigons and ligers really exist? What made you decide to write about them?

The Tigon and the Liger Keilly Swift Cosei KawaYes, tigons and ligers do exist, but they are very rare indeed. They are usually found in zoos or wildlife parks where tigers and lions are more likely to meet. I was inspired to write the story after working on a feature about hybrid creatures for an educational magazine. The subject is a controversial one, but I saw tigons and ligers as wonderful symbols of how we all sometimes feel we don’t belong and the characters of Tyler and Lyla began to take shape in my mind.

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

Cosei’s illustrations are absolutely stunning, they add depth to the story and bring the characters to life in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I love his use of colour, the small details he’s added and the different perspectives he uses, such as the spread where Tyler goes off on his own which Cosei has illustrated looking down from the top of tall trees – Tyler looks so small and alone and it really emphasises how lonely he is at this point in the story. I also love the opening picture of Tyler and the pyramid of big cats showing Tyler and Lyla playing with their new tiger friend – it’s so lovely to see them having fun!

At Lantana, we feel that this story might speak particularly to children from a mixed race background. What message do you hope readers will glean from your story?

Yes, I certainly think that the story might appeal to children from a mixed race background. However, I hope it speaks to anyone who has ever felt different or like they don’t fit in (which must be everyone at one point or another!). The underlying message is that what makes us different is what makes us special and that everyone should be accepted, and accept themselves, just as they are.

You grew up in the BahaIllustration the Tigon and the Ligermas before moving back to the UK when you were nine. What was it like splitting your childhood between two countries?

Did you ever feel torn or out of place? Although I definitely stood out at my school in the Bahamas, with my fair skin and blonde hair, it was when we moved back to the UK that I felt more out of place. I remember being teased for my Bahamian accent and the different words I used (such as candy for sweets, sidewalk for pavement, etc.), as well as feeling out of my depth at school because the curriculum was so different here. I desperately wanted to fit in and would practice my English accent every night!

Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures, world views or family arrangements other than their own?

Children are naturally curious and I think it’s vital that they read books that teach them about different cultures and ways of life. It not only means that they’ll grow up with an open mind, but also that they’ll be open to so many more wonderful cross-cultural opportunities, from travelling and studying to new friendships. A lot of the problems the world faces today could be solved if diversity was celebrated and everyone grew up with an appreciation and acceptance of different views and ways of living.

Congratulations also on recently becoming a mum! Has this wonderful event given you a new perspective when it comes to writing for children?

Thank you! My baby girl is just over three weeks old at the moment and she isn’t sleeping very much at night, which gives me a new perspective on everything! I’ve worked in children’s publishing for a long time and I think that becoming a mum has made me even more passionate about helping children understand the world they live in and promoting a culture of acceptance and tolerance, as bullying is an issue that affects far too many young people.

The Tigon and the Liger is in rhyming verse. Is this your preferred writing style or did it just seem right for the story?

I love writing in rhyme and it definitely felt right for this story as I think it makes the underlying message more accessible. It’s certainly challenging to tell the story you want to tell and ensure the rhyme scheme works, but it’s so satisfying when it all comes together and you strike upon the perfect rhyme!

Do you have a favourite picture book (that’s not your own!)? 

Tigon and liger, ilustration, animalsI love Room on the Broom – Julia Donaldson is the master of the rhyming story! I also treasure my Japanese picture books, such as Little Daruma and Little Tengu, that I bought while I was living in Japan – they really helped me with my Japanese language skills and also to learn about Japanese culture and various traditions.

Finally, can you give any aspiring authors any tips for their writing?

The wonderful Michael Morpurgo once gave me some great advice that has stayed with me – he said not to rush, take time to work out what you want to write about and give the idea time to develop in your head before putting pen to paper. Develop your own style of writing by reading and writing as much as you can and then, when you start your story, let your imagination run wild – you can edit it later. The Tigon and the Liger was originally twice as long as it is in the finished book and there were lots of drafts in between, so don’t be afraid to keep rewriting something until you’re happy with it!

Thank you, Keilly!



in: Children's books

The Tigon and the Liger by Keilly Swift and Cosei Kawa, published by Lantana Publishing

The Tigon and the Liger is out today!  

A book that celebrates diversity and loving the skin you’re in!  Described as ‘a fantastic read’ and ‘destined to become a new classic’, this picture book by debut author, Keilly Swift, and award-winning illustrator, Cosei Kawa, is a book to be treasured.

Buy your copy now by clicking this link!

The Tigon and the Liger unboxed!

in: Children's books

The Tigon and the Liger by Keilly Swift and Cosei Kawa

Today we were delighted to receive copies of Keilly Swift and Cosei Kawa’s new picture book The Tigon and the Liger direct from the printers, looking brand new and gorgeous in its packaging. With just over two weeks to go until publication date (8th September), we thought we’d give you the low down on this special new title from Lantana, and why we think it’s a book every child who has ever felt like they don’t fit in (which, let’s face it, is most of us!) should read…

The Tigon and the Liger Lantana Publishing unboxing

Tyler the tigon was terribly rare. A big cat like him isn’t found everywhere. Unique from his ears to his tail to his tum, his dad was a tiger, a lion his mum…

Tyler the tigon has never fitted in. Neither a tiger like his dad nor a lion like his mum, poor Tyler stands out like a sore thumb. Taunted and teased by the other jungle creatures, he flees into the forest with the weight of the world on his shoulders. But who should he find there? An equally extraordinary creature with a tale to match his own… A delightful story in rhyming verse about appreciating your differences and learning to love the skin you’re in.

The Tigon and the Liger Keilly Swift Cosei Kawa

And how did it all begin? ‘Tigons and ligers captured my imagination when writing a magazine feature on hybrid creatures,’ says debut picture book author Keilly Swift, who is also managing editor at the hugely popular children’s newspaper, First News. ‘I thought they were wonderful symbols of how we all sometimes feel we don’t belong, and the story of Tyler and Lyla soon took shape…’

And take shape it did. With the help of award-winning Japanese illustrator Cosei Kawa’s gorgeous illustrations, Tyler the tigon and his new friend Lyla the liger soon came leaping out of the pages of this playful book with a serious message.

Illustration the Tigon and the Liger

‘This book is beautiful, the illustrations exquisite, but more than that, the key message about being comfortable in your own skin is important and powerful and it will no doubt become a favourite.’ – Lucy Campbell, award-winning family blogger.

What this lovely, rhyming picture book tells us is that having parents of different nationalities, ethnicities or cultures (or species in the case of Tyler and Lyla!) doesn’t make you neither one thing nor another, but, in fact, the best bits of both. And that’s a pretty wonderful message for anyone who has ever felt torn between two or more identities.

illustration for the Tigon and the Liger, Lantana Press

Here at Lantana, we hope that these playful cubs who are taunted and teased for their differences yet manage to find the courage to romp around the pages, delighting in their stripes and spots, will inspire young children to appreciate all the things that make them unique. As the 7 year-old pupils of All Saints Class at Portway Primary school wrote after Keilly’s author visit: ‘The story taught us it doesn’t matter who is different, we are all special.’

Keilly Swift's author visit to Portway Primary school

The Tigon and The Liger opens very young children’s eyes to the notion that, although other people may seem different, inside we all share the same hopes, fears, needs and dreams. The Tigon and the Liger is destined to become a new classic and is a book every child should grow up reading.’ – Nicky Cox MBE, First News

Tigons and ligers are far from alone in the animal kingdom. Zedonks, zorses, leopons, pumapards and wallaroos are all descended from parents of different species, a phenomenon that is not without ethical contention given that most documented cases of hybrid creatures exist within the confines of man-made zoos.

Tigon and liger, ilustration, animals

In the wilds of our children’s imaginations, however, we hope Tyler and Lyla will become a beacon of hope and a source of inspiration to children everywhere, and a fantastic way ‘to teach younger children about being unique and comfortable with who they are’, as Scott Chudley, the Deputy Head of Portway Primary, puts it.

To pre-order your advance copy today, please click here!

The Tigon and the Liger Lantana Publishing

High Five! Highlights for Lantana Publishing

in: Children's books

As the dust starts to settle on the new year and people everywhere begin to wonder whether they can really stick to those rather ambitious new year’s resolutions, we’ve taken a look backwards at our best bits of 2015 and forwards at what’s to come in 2016.


2015: Counting down our best bits

Looking at our Facebook page, what Lantana posts did you most enjoy in 2015?

5) Reading the wise words from Dragon Dancer illustrator, Jérémy Pailler, about imagination and innocence: “Whether the dragon is real or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is real for the boy. This is where the beauty of innocence lies. And this power gathers then spreads positive energy to everyone.”

Read the rest of the interview with Jeremy on our blog, here:

Dragon Dancer Joyce Chng Jeremy Pailler






4) Sharing the educational resources that are available to accompany all of our books and can be downloaded for free from the education page of our website:

3) Checking out the fabulous review of Chicken in the Kitchen by Zahrah from Bookshy Books: “Chicken in the Kitchen works for a number of reasons – one is Okorafor’s imaginative words, which truly transports you into a world of mystery and magic … Another strength of this book are the breathtaking illustrations by Iranian-British illustrator, Mehrdokht Amini.”

Chicken in the Kitchen Cover Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht Amini

Read the whole review here:

2) Reading Alice’s article, ‘Top ten reasons we need to see more diversity in children’s literature’, published in Female First, in August.

Read the rest of this fascinating article here:

1) Seeing the gorgeous cover art for Looking for Lord Ganesh when we first announced its upcoming publication.

Find out more about the book and pre-order your own copy here:

Looking for Lord Ganesh Mahtab Narsimhan Sonja Wimmer


2016: Looking forward to more best bits

Jasmine Sneeze Nadine Kadaan Haroun cat Syria

5) We can’t wait for the publication of Looking for Lord Ganesh and The Jasmine Sneeze on April 11th! You can find out more about these books and their award-winning authors and illustrators by visiting our website, where you can also pre-order the books:

We also have a few more books up our sleeve so stay tuned over the next few weeks for the upcoming announcement of yet another Lantana title! We’ll give you a hint. It involves the most extraordinary jungle creatures you are ever likely to meet…!

4) Because we know that readers can’t get enough of their favourite stories, we are launching a range of book-related gifts in the Spring. From subscription packages to activity packs, you’ll be sure to find something to engage the young readers in your lives. Keep checking our website for updates.

3) At Lantana, we are committed to creating beautiful books to engage readers from many different cultures and backgrounds and want to make sure that these books reach the children who need them the most. This year, we are working with a charitable partner and a host of well-known authors to publish a collection of Cameroonian tales, re-told for twenty-first century Cameroonian children. Visit our website for more news on this project in the next couple of months.

Cameroon children's books folk tales Oxford University charity crowdfunding

2) 2016 is going to be a busy year, and we are already booking our tickets for this year’s book fairs in Bologna and London. We’re also hoping to visit some of Britain’s premiere children’s book festivals. Keep an eye on our social media pages and do come and say hello to us at some of these events over the year.

1) In 2016, we want to work with even more talented authors and illustrators. If you’re from a diverse background and have a picture book manuscript you want to submit, we would love to hear from you. Read our submissions guidelines on our website here:

And how do we know that 2016 is going to be a good year?

5) Award season got off to a flying start for children’s literature with the announcement that Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree had won the Costa Children’s Book Award. You can visit Frances Hardinge’s ‘Twisted City’ and find out more about her work, here:

4) #ReadDiverseDecember was so popular that it has become #ReadDiverse2016. Here’s to 2016 being a year of more readers buying and reading diverse books and publishers publishing them! Follow the Read Diverse team at @ReadDiverse2016.

ReadDiverse 2016 Twitter diversity3) Even celebrities are trying to get us reading a more diverse range of literature! In the first week of January, Emma Watson launched a Feminist book club, ‘Our Shared Shelf’, as part of her work with UN Women. You can virtually join the book club on Goodreads, here:

2) You know it’s going to be a good year for children’s literature when the first week of the year sees the announcement of a new children’s book festival. You can read more about the National Trust’s Children’s Book Festival at Wray Castle, in the Lake District, here:

National Trust festival children's books

1) Diversity in children’s literature continues to be a hot topic. Teen blogger, Safah, has already drawn readers’ attention to the need for books to embrace all aspects of different cultures and lifestyles in her recent article in Guardian Children’s Books. You can read her article here:

What a year 2016 promises to be! Sign-up to our blog, follow us on Twitter and ‘like’ us on Facebook to keep up with all the year’s news from Lantana, and to review our books, please visit Goodreads or Amazon.


Christmas Around the World

in: Cultural diversity

Lantana Christmas LogoChristmas is such as special time of year predominantly because for most of us, it is rooted in the traditions that we share with our family and friends. These traditions differ between countries but also between individual families and communities within the same country. How many times have you heard someone exclaim: “you wait until when to open your presents?” or “what do you mean you don’t eat brussel sprouts!?” In the spirit of celebrating cultural diversity and the unique ways we all celebrate Christmas, we have put together some facts about the Yuletide season from a selection of countries from around the globe.

Christmas countries around the world Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht Amini Jeremy Pailler Tutu Dutta


Nigeriaikini ọdun keresimesi

Many parts of Nigeria are now predominantly Catholic and so celebrate Christmas with as much ardour as their counterparts in the UK. In Nigeria, the Christmas celebrations often centre on communal feasts, and weeks before the big day, people buy the livestock – hens, turkeys, goats and cows – that they will eventually be eating at Christmas. The animals are slaughtered on Christmas Eve and traditional meals are then prepared. Forget brussel sprouts and roast potatoes – in Yorùbáland, these festive meals will include pounded yam accompanied by peppery stewed vegetables.

Yams Nigeria Yoruba Christmas Chicken in the Kitchen Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht Amini

As they visit their family and friends, many people in Nigeria will find themselves eating virtually the same meal three or four times – Yorùbán customs deign it extremely rude to decline food when it is offered to you. This is actually a sentiment that is felt strongly the world over: anybody remember Dawn French eating multiple Christmas dinners in the classic episode of The Vicar of Dibley?

The author of Chicken in the Kitchen, Nnedi Okorafor, is US/Nigerian of Igbo heritage and her award-winning picture book explores Anyaugo’s hilarious encounter with an enormous, and very mischievous, chicken on the eve of the New Yam Festival.


MalaysiaSelamat Hari Natal

As in many countries, Malaysians really only celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. It’s a busy time of year for Malaysia and no sooner are the elaborate Christmas decorations taken down, then it’s time for New Year, quickly followed by Chinese New Year. Malaysians, like many people in the UK, flock to shopping malls over Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year and these centres compete with each other to display the most ostentatious decorations. As it is warm in Malaysia over the Christmas period, literally hundreds of people will show up to witness the magic of ‘snow’ falling in public places – even if this is normally made from a soap-like substance! Given the unseasonably warm weather in the UK this year, we may have to resort to soap-snow ourselves.


Malaysia shopping mall Christmas Tutu Dutta Martina Peluso Phoenix Song


Tutu Dutta was born in India and raised in Malaysia. Her picture book, Phoenix Song, is set in the rustling bamboo groves of Malaysia, home to the mythical Chinese phoenix, Cendrawasih.

Christmas wreath

Iranکریسمس مبارک

Although Iran is a predominantly Muslim country where Christians make up only 1% of the country’s approximate population, Al-Monitor reports that over the past decade, celebrating Christmas has become increasingly popular with the younger generation of Iranians. That said, Christmas trees and decorations are sold as luxury items and can be very expensive! Old scrooges in the UK are often heard to moan at the exorbitant price of Christmas decorations but in Iran, a two-metre tree can fetch up to $1000, while even smaller artificial trees can sell for $100. During the Christmas season, these trees can be seen twinkling from the windows of Tehran and other provinces in the north-west of the country. Although this all sounds fairly familiar, the main difference between a British and an Iranian Christmas is that the Armenian Church celebrates Christmas on January 6th, the date of Epiphany in the UK.

Mehrdokht Amini lives in the UK but has Iranian roots. Her unique and vivid illustrations for Chicken in the Kitchen bring alive the colourful New Yam festival in Nigeria.


France joyeux Noël

Although France is just across the Channel, there are many differences between a traditional British and a traditional French Christmas. Intriguing food-related French traditions which may be unfamiliar to our UK readers include sprinkling a log with red wine on Christmas Eve to create an aromatic festive burning smell and in some parts of France, eating thirteen different desserts made from fruit, nuts and pastry.

Epiphany is also important in France and is often celebrated by eating a flat almond cake named ‘Galette des Rois’ (or ‘Cake of the Kings’). This cake normally has a toy crown inside (better watch those fillings!) and is decorated on top with a gold paper crown – a similar custom to burying a five pence coin in your Christmas pudding.

Galette des Rois Epiphany France Christmas Dragon Dancer Jeremey Pailler Joyce Chng

rémy Pailler, the illustrator of Dragon Dancer, hails from France and his evocative picture book conjures up the magic of many traditional Chinese New Year customs.


So while you’re decorating your tree and tucking into your turkey or nut roast, you can picture the customs that characterise Christmas in many other households around the world. And to further celebrate diversity in the New Year, all our multicultural picture books mentioned are available to purchase from our website:

Merry Christmas everybody!


Photo Credits:
Nigeria – Picture taken by Leslie Seaton, available from Flickr:
Malaysia – Picture taken by Wohin Auswandern,available from Flickr:
France – Picture taken by Audrey Xavier Brulu, available from Flickr: