The following article was originally published in Spine issue 3.
If you haven’t heard of Nosy Crow yet, then you’ve got some atoning to do. The company started in January 2011 as an independent publisher of parent-friendly children’s books and apps, and boy, have they hit the road running since. The multi-award winning team focus their business on publishing content that encourages children to read for pleasure—a winning formula that has seen them now rise to be the 16th biggest publisher of children’s books in the UK.
Nosy Crow have been garnering media attention recently for their fresh approach to publishing books that challenge stereotypes. Princess Daisy and the Dragon and the Nincompoop Knights features a princess that defeats a menacing dragon (succeeding where all knights had previously failed) and then grows up to become a chess-playing queen. With no husband to come to the rescue or fall in love with, this book reassures its readers that girls belong to themselves and are capable of rescuing themselves, thank you very much. But Princess Daisy isn’t the only book like this on Nosy Crow’s list; there’s a clear dedication to this kind of publishing, so we got in contact to find out more.
Kate Wilson, founder and director of Nosy Crow, started her career as a rights seller, going on to hold senior management roles such as MD of Macmillan Children’s books and Group MD of Scholastic UK. We caught up with her to find out more about their habit of publishing children’s books that are more than a little different.
Earlier this year you published books with a new take on the average princess story, challenging the idea that princesses have to hang around waiting to be saved. Are books with stories that challenge the norm something that you're moving towards consciously?
I think that we’re always looking for something original, and we are always looking for compelling characters. Many of us at Nosy Crow are parents of girls who each went through a pink-fairy-princess phase. I think that’s one of the things that makes us want to find stories that have an element that might make children who are interested in princesses and fairies keen to read (or have books read to them) but that have central characters who are strong, brave, proactive and clever. This is true for picture books like Princess Daisy and the Dragon and the Nincompoop Knights, or Troll Swap by Leigh Hodgkinson and The Fairiest Fairy by Anne Booth: each is about a girl who struggles with what others expect of her, and who triumphs on her own terms nonetheless.
Princess Daisy and the Nincompoop Knights challenges stereotypes with its story, although I couldn't help but notice that the cover is pink. Were you tempted at any point to choose another colour?
We tried out several different colours! The best contrast for the green dragon was pink. But it’s also true that we wanted to attract exactly the sort of audience who might be drawn to more conventional princess and fairy stories.
Is there anything different that you've had to consider when marketing Princess Daisy (or books similar) in comparison to your other books?
I don’t think so. We’re proud of everything we publish, and I can’t imagine publishing anything that suggested that girls were inferior or passive or weak. Even in our app retelling of Cinderella, we went for a non-pneumatic princess, and a prince who is attracted to Cinderella because she’s a good dancer, has a nice smile and is easy to talk to, rather than because she looks good in a dress. But then I think that we take our responsibilities as children’s publishers very seriously.
At what stage of the production process is the cover design thought about? How involved are the illustrators?
The illustrators create the cover image. It’s usually the last image for the book that they create: by that stage, they’re at home with the characters and the story.
What do you have to pay particular attention to when designing a cover for children?
A cover for children has to appeal to a child but also to adults – the parent, librarian or teacher or other adult who is looking for clues. It has to stand out in a book shop. It has to look good without its finishes (foil, spot UV) when reduced to the size of a postage stamp, so it should be clear, and bold and bright and not too fussy.
In your opinion, is it possible (or even important) to create books that aren't targeted at a particular gender?
We publish books that aren’t targeted at a particular gender all the time. Our Pip and Posy books are a good example: in these, there’s a boy rabbit and a girl mouse, and they’re about the emotional rollercoaster of toddler life. Sometimes one makes a mistake or behaves badly, and the other is the peacemaker or the comforter, and sometimes the other. I’d say that the majority of our books particularly the books for younger children, would appeal equally to boys or girls.
Kate has written extensively on these subjects, which can be found on the Nosy Crow blog, she adds that since writing these blog posts, though—and this just goes to show that Nosy Crow, like any business, is a work in progress—they’ve stopped describing books as “for boys” or “for girls” on their website blurbs.
Thank you for your brilliant answers Kate! It’s certainly an extremely interesting time for children’s publishing, and we’re hoping that more publishers begin to follow in your footsteps.