A book that shows and celebrates a world full of difference

Published on: 17 March 2017 Author: Alex Strick

Alex Strick talks to Barefoot’s Tessa Strickland about the The Barefoot Book of Children: a milestone title that sums up the publisher's ethos.

The Barefoot Book of Children was our Bookmark Book of the Month in March 2017. It's a beautifully comprehensive and thought-provoking picture of the many different ways people live around the world.

We couldn't wait to hear more from one of the people behind it - and find out why the team calls it a 'sharing book'.

How did the initial idea for The Barefoot Book of Children come about?

One starting point was the response to the Barefoot Books' World Atlas. That title did extremely well, both in print and as an app (over 4.5 million downloads in the app store). It started us thinking about more ways we might work with narrative non-fiction from a global perspective.

Another starting point was the fact that although we publish many stories, some of our most successful books have been non-fiction.

We brainstormed about what a new 'flagship' book might look like - one that would stand alone and be 101% child-centric and not like anything we'd done before. 

What did you want it to offer?

We wanted a sharing book: one that would throw up lots of talking points for adults and children and express the company's values of diversity and inclusivity without being preachy.

Illustration credit: David Dean

We were greatly helped in this by the insightful support offered to us by specialists we consulted, such as Inclusive Minds. And we wanted a linking but understated narrative that would give shape to a largely illustrative documentary-style book, with the illustrations and the relationship between them telling many sub-stories.

What kind of challenges did you come up against - if any?

The writing process was a sheer joy. The idea incubated for quite a few months, then Kate came over to England from the US for a week of collaborative writing. We holed up together, wrote notes, swapped ideas and sentences, looked at what to say when and how and where. It was a very rewarding and exhilarating process for both of us. Everything came together quite fast. By the end of the week, we had a manuscript we were happy with. 

How did you ensure that the book was genuinely diverse and avoided stereotypes?

Much of the work of ensuring accuracy fell to the illustrator, David Dean. David went to great trouble to research a wide range of scenes from different cultures and countries. We had tried to make this process as streamlined as possible for him by supplying a laundry list of cultures and different family clusters to represent.

However, all of us underestimated the amount of work that was involved in sourcing reference images. David had hoped to complete the book by February 2016. In the event, he needed four more months.

What aspects of the book make you feel most proud?

What delights me most about the book is the way in which children respond to it. We've had fantastic feedback from parents of children as young as two years old, who are clearly thrilled to see that this really is a book FOR them. We hadn't expected it to appeal to children as young as this. Of course, it's great that it appeals to older readers as well.

I'm also proud of the way in which different team members commented on the potential of the idea and helped to give it the shape it has. It was a very rewarding collaboration. 

Can you tell us more about Barefoot's ethos?

Since the very beginning, Barefoot has been committed to creating books that introduce children to different cultures and traditions and instill in them a sense of respect and appreciation of others. We've also been at pains to be physically inclusive.

As this book came together, we realised that what we had done, almost without noticing, was create a book that was effectively a statement about the company's brand values. It really has become 'the Barefoot book of books' for us. 

Any forthcoming titles or plans relating to disability and inclusion?

We are proud to be publishing Baby's First Words this season, featuring an adoptive baby daughter of two gay dads. On a broader note, a thread that runs through the entire publishing process is the representation of diversity and inclusivity almost as a norm. Sometime this is quite subtle and implicit - for example, in the forthcoming Dr Potts, My Pets Have Spots!,the protagonists are a single dad and a lady vet, but this is not emphasised in the text.

This is also the way in which many of the inclusive themes in The Barefoot Book of Children are represented: they are part of the mix, but they are not signposted as 'special'. We wanted to show that we live in a world that is full of difference - and to celebrate it.

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