How a cardboard box helped me found Lantana Publishing

Published on: 23 February 2018 Author: Alice Curry

A few years ago, I visited a school in Cape Town. The school library was a welcoming place – carpets in warm colours, colourful books on shelves around the walls. I walked along the shelves, reading the spines, and was saddened but not surprised to see that all were by white authors and featured white protagonists.

Lantana Publishing

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a cardboard box in the corner of the room. In the box were a handful of picture books about black children. I tried not to sound indignant when I asked the librarian why these books were in a cardboard box rather than sitting on the shelves. Her answer was that they weren't popular enough to take up shelf space. A few of the white children will read them, she told me, but the black children won't touch them. Why? I asked. Because black people don't have the life these children aspire to. 

I didn't know it at the time, but this conversation sowed the seeds that two years later would grow into a small independent publishing house called Lantana. The librarian's words had highlighted so starkly the sad failing of our societies – that white privilege is still rife in our communities, as it is in the book industry – and that young people's self-esteem and self-worth are so tightly bound up with their representation, or lack of representation, in the media they consume and the books they read. If black lives and black experiences are represented only through secondary characters, or stereotyped into roles the majority culture marks out for them, why should young black children feel that they can expect a life that isn't similarly marginalised, valued less highly, or relegated to a metaphorical box in the corner of the library? 

Lantana booksI founded Lantana Publishing in 2014 under the guiding principle that all children deserve to see themselves in the books they read. Since then we have published a series of award-winning picture books whose authors and illustrators hail from over twenty countries. Four are from African nations – Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya – and in each of their books, black protagonists steal the show: having adventures, getting into trouble, making brave decisions and dreaming of a bright future for themselves and their families. In each, readers can see a life they aspire to, achievable by a person just like them. I'd like to think that these books might be popular enough with the students of the school in Cape Town to sit proudly on the shelves rather than in that dusty cardboard box in the corner of the library. 

There is no dearth of talented authors and illustrators of diverse backgrounds in the UK and elsewhere, as we can attest to from the number of submissions we receive each week. There is no shortage of sweet, surprising, amusing, heart-wrenching stories being told about children whose love of adventure, curiosity about the world, and desire to see and be seen, is identical from Cape Town to London. I spend some of the most enjoyable hours of my working life scouring the web in search of new voices: flicking through portfolios, reading blog posts, scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest feeds, wandering through the halls of book fairs and graduation displays. It is a search that almost always ends in discovery, with another door opened, and another step taken towards a more representative children's book landscape...wherever you happen to be in the world.


Alice Curry


Alice Curry is the founder of Lantana Publishing, a London-based independent publishing company shortlisted for the Bologna Prize for Best Children's Publisher of the Year 2017. She is last year's winner of the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize for women of promise in publishing. To find out more about Lantana Publishing, please visit:



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