Katrina Gutierrez is the director of communications and projects at Lantana Publishing, an independent publishing house dedicated to opening up a space for new voices and with inclusivity at its heart. A children’s literature specialist and a former academic lecturer and researcher, Katrina now pours all her energy into producing beautiful picture books all children can enjoy. We asked her a few questions about the issue of diversity in children’s publishing and what drew her to Lantana Publishing.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your job as the director of communications and projects at Lantana Publishing.
I have always loved children’s books and YA novels, and from a young age, I knew that I wanted to spend my life making books. How I was going to do this and what exactly I would do weren’t immediately clear to me. For a few years I even pursued a different career, but then I realised that the vibrant and magical world of children’s books was where I really wanted to be. I completed a Master’s and then a PhD in Children’s Literature in Sydney. It was there that I met and became great friends with Alice Curry, who eventually founded Lantana Publishing. When Alice asked me to come on board, I jumped at the chance.
My job as director of communications and projects covers many areas, from coordinating publicity plans and events with our US publicists and UK distributor, to organising blog tours and festival appearances for authors and illustrators, to managing our social media accounts – and more. So if you follow us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, do say hi!
2. What, in particular, drew you to Lantana Publishing?
Lantana’s strapline, ‘Because all children should see themselves in the books they read,’ is truly inspiring. It speaks directly to my heart, as I’m sure it does to many readers from BAME and minority cultures from around the world longing to see themselves represented in books. Growing up in the Philippines, I was lucky enough to have access to many wonderful books. But not once did I see a Filipino girl like myself in the books that I loved. It seemed that girls like me, with dark hair and dark eyes, weren’t allowed to take part in the same adventures as fair-skinned children.
Lantana’s mission to open up a space for diverse voices and stories gives me the chance to make children from minority cultures visible, to let them be the source of magic, adventure, courage, empathy and intelligence. I was also drawn to Lantana’s international outlook, which shines a spotlight on the diversity of cultures, ethnicities, religions and experiences, and aspires to create a more empathetic world.
3. Are there any challenges that have surprised you since starting your role?
Diverse books have always been considered niche, but the demand for stories like ours has been growing steadily, culminating this year in the passionate response to the findings of CLPE’s Reflecting Realities report that only 4% of characters in children’s books published last year are BAME. Despite this, it still sometimes feels as if we are shouting at the wind trying to get gatekeepers and influencers – the press, wholesalers, suppliers and booksellers – to notice our books. This is mainly due to the disparity in advertising budgets, manpower and influence between large publishing houses and independent publishers like us. However, we are grateful to the many individuals and organisations such as CLPE, EmpathyLab UK, SLA, IBBY, BookTrust, Pop Up Projects, Letterbox Library and Discover Children’s Story Museum, amongst others, who champion our books and our mission.
4. Has being part of Lantana Publishing and their dedication to diverse representation in children’s literature affected your own reading choices and habits?
Yes! Since joining Lantana, I have been more conscious of whether my reading list offers a spectrum of perspectives, cultures and experiences. And I’ve also made sure that I do the same for my nieces and nephews and offer them a healthy diet of diverse and inclusive books. Some of their Lantana favourites are Dragon Dancer, a magical story about Chinese New Year with a mystical dragon, and Sleep Well, Siba and Saba, a tale set in Uganda of two forgetful sisters dreaming of bright futures.
I’ve also become more aware of the need to read books in translation. Luckily, World Kid Lit has come up with a fantastic list of children’s books and graphic novels from around the world that are available in English and I can’t wait to dive into them. Find them here and here.
5. What is one of your favourite books that you have come across as part of Lantana?
I’m really excited about our upcoming book You’re Snug With Me by Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry, about a mother polar bear preparing her cubs for the world. Poonam’s unique illustration style is inspired by Indian Kalamkari textiles, and for this book she incorporated Inuit fabric patterns into her designs. For me, bringing this unusual and Indian-inspired style to a story set in the frozen north shows that stories can be imagined from different perspectives, and this in turn reminds us that caring for the earth and its creatures is part of everyone’s story, no matter where we are in the world. You’re Snug With Me will be published in November but is available for pre-order from our website now!