Today we’ll be talking to the storied NorthSouth Books, the US branch of NordSüd Verlag. Heather Lennon, the managing director, was kind enough to carve out some time and answer our questions. So, let’s get to it!
Firstly, what circumstances led to the creation of your company? Some publishing companies start out as passion projects—was this the case for yours? Tell us about yourself!
NorthSouth Books is actually celebrating 30 years of publishing in the USA this year! The company has a long and interesting history—our parent company, NordSüd Verlag was founded as a picture book publisher in Switzerland shortly after the second World War. It was a family business. The company has always been devoted to its authors and illustrators. For example, we have worked with Bernadette Watts for over fifty years now. Our bestselling title, The Rainbow Fish, celebrated its 25th anniversary just recently. Our passion is for picture books, so we do not publish middle grade or young adult at this point. Never say never, though!
Question 2: Many publishing houses operate based on a set of core concepts or values that they would like to see propagate throughout the world—or at least the areas the publishers can reach! What would you say are the values that you search for when considering whether to publish a work?
NorthSouth, the American arm of NordSüd, primarily publishes the same list as NordSüd—and those books are all translated from other languages. For the last five years, we’ve also been publishing one or two titles each season from American authors & illustrators. The core concept that we’ve always worked with is simply seeking out the best books from around the world. We’re very proud that our publishing program includes creators such as Lisbeth Zwerger, Kazuo Iwamura, Rashin Kheriyeh, Kwame Alexander, Torben Kuhlmann, and José Sanabria.
Question 3: So obviously we are a blog about translation, and as such are very interested about your thoughts regarding it! Do you gravitate towards specific languages or genres? Linking back to the previous question, what about the languages or genres draws your attention?
Since our parent company is based in Zurich, Switzerland many (but not all) of the NorthSouth titles are translated from German. That said, every year our staff meets with publishers from around the world to buy and sell rights at book fairs like Frankfurt and Bologna. I was lucky enough to attend the Göthenburg Book Fair in Sweden last September, where I met with many Nordic agents and publishers. It was a great experience. I personally think the American market would find many of the Nordic titles appealing, and we are the US publishers of Sven Nyqvist’s classic Swedish series Pettson & Findus, whose books have been well-received.
Question 4: When you work with translators and authors in other languages, how do you go about contacting them? Do they find you? Do you have in house translators that you prefer to use? What’s the thought process behind the decision, whether it is artistic or pragmatic?
We do have translators that we have worked with for years and continue to work with. Part of that is pragmatic in that they understand our deadlines and systems and personalities which makes the workflow that much easier. But we do use new translators, and we are lucky, being a company known for books in translation, to have many contacts. Aside from meeting translators at book fairs, I’ve also found cultural offices like The Goethe Institute, the Norwegian Consulate, The Swedish Arts Council, and The Frankfurt Book Fair NYC office (formerly the German Book Office) to be really helpful when we need someone with specific skills.
Question 5: What are the upcoming titles in your catalog that you are most excited about? What book in your catalog would you recommend for a lazy beach goer stretched out on a beach chair? What about for a precocious child reading under the covers of a bed? For a weekend pop into the library?
The upcoming title I am most excited about would be The Light and the Dark, written by Kerstin Hau and illustrated by Julie Völk. It’s a book about emotions, and it’s illustrated using an interesting technique called cyanotype. It just got a great review in Kirkus who said – “An unusual, tender, and emotional journey in and out of the shadows” – and I think it’s a great example of the kind of translated books we do well. It is unusual, but still accessible. We’re all picture books, so I can’t offer any juicy beach reads, but a favorite off the backlist is Kazuo Iwamura’s Seven Little Mice Go To the Beach. Originating in Japan, it’s a fun feast for the eyes with lots of detail on each page. For the precocious child, definitely delve into all of Torben Kuhlmann’s books. We were thrilled when Edison was named a Batchelder Honor last year, by the American Library Association Youth Media Awards. His Mouse Adventures series includes Lindbergh, Armstrong, and Edison, and the stories and visuals combined are just stunning.
Thank you for satisfying our curiosity today, Heather! The Light and the Dark sounds really interesting—that Kirkus snippet got me really curious about it. I look forward to seeing it and your other titles on bookshelves in libraries and bookstores all around the country!