Independent Children’s Publishing in France: Inspired, International, Ingenious

In Europe by Olivia Snaije

Thriving amid the conglomerates: Helium Editions, Editions Sarbacane, l’école des loisirs, and MeMo.

By Olivia Snaije

Sophie Giraud of Helium Editions is all smiles...

PARIS: The 27th edition of the children’s book fair in Montreuil, just outside of Paris opened last week to throngs of industry people (about 27,000). Over the weekend some 149,000 visitors descended on the event to see 3,000 authors and illustrators and buy signed copies of books.

Last year children’s books generated sales of 368.2 million euros in France, so one might safely say that it’s a sector that is doing well.

Design and illustration are high on the priority list here and walking through the fair is similar to being in a large, ebullient, highly colorful pâtisserie.

Helium Editions Joins Actes Sud Junior

All the big French publishers are present as are the last three independent publishers who have as much buzz and success around their stands as the larger ones. Until earlier this month there were four, but Helium Editions, founded by Sophie Giraud in 2009, was just sold to Actes Sud Junior.

Each independent house has its specialty and is particularly creative in finding ways to stay afloat in sovereign waters. Helium’s Giraud seems pleased to be joining the growing and dynamic Actes Sud Junior, (itself independent although partnered with Thierry Magnier’s publishing house). Helium specializes in creative pop-up books, which until recently, were produced in co-editions to ease expenses.

Pop-ups such as P’tits Pingouins (‘Lil Penguins), or Popville are published in co-editons with companies such as Abrams, Germany’s Carlsen Verlag or the Netherlands’Querido. This year Helium experimented with two adult authors writing for children with Maylis de Kerangal’s Nina et les Oreillers (Nina and the pillows) and Floc’h’s Une Vie Exemplaire (An exemplary life).

Frédéric Lavabre and editorial director Emmanuelle Beulque of Editions Sarbacane

Editions Sarbacane Celebrates Ten Years

Publisher Frédéric Lavabre and editorial director Emmanuelle Beulque founded Editions Sarbacane 10 years ago. The team is extremely active on the international front and finds it important to go to fairs around the globe besides Bologna and Frankfurt, such as Buenos Aires (their fourth consecutive year) or Taiwan.

“We travel a lot and exchange ideas with other publishers,” said Beulque. “We also work with illustrators from all sorts of countries such as Chili, Germany, the Czech Republic and Japan.”

Sarbacane partners with Amnesty International for some of their books and does well with a series of classics that include richly illustrated, new translations of Arthur Conan Doyle or Mark Twain. Sarbacane’s new book, Tom Sawyer, Detective, is one of Twain’s novels written in 1896 that had not been translated into French since 1902.

l’école des loisirs: The Biggest of Them All

The venerable l’école des loisirs is certainly the oldest and largest children’s book publisher within the stable among independents. Founded in 1913 it has a back-list of over 3,500 titles and puts out 250 new titles a year including big names such as Tomi Ungerer, Claude Boujon, Agnès Desarthe, Susie Morgenstern, Nadja, and Grégoire Solotareff, as well as books in translation by Maurice Sendak, Leo Lionni, or Judy Blume.

This year with the growing interest in e-books and apps, l’école des loisirs took the plunge and partnered with a new digital publisher, europa apps to produce an application of their successful book, Le Livre des Bruits (The Noisy Book) by Soledad Bravi. For ages 2-5, The Noisy Book (just published) is a delightful, extremely well designed app in which you can actually create your own rap with sounds of clocks ticking, snakes hissing or wolves howling.

Bravi has worked with with europa apps on other applications and the company in turn has hired l’école des loisirs editor, author and illustrator Grégoire Solotareff as artistic advisor for their children’s collection.

Editions MeMo

MeMo's booth at this year's Children's Book Fair outside Paris

The Nantes-based independent publisher Editions MeMo pays great attention to details such as the heavyweight quality of their paper to give it the feel of drawing paper. MeMo books have stunning graphics; one of their recent books is a French adaptation of a 1926 work by Russian constructivist Alexander Rodchenko, which describes children dressing up as animals, using clothing or utensils at hand to make their costumes. MeMo also produces a number game and a letter game, which “shows children that writing is actually a lot like building,” said Christine Morault, who co-founded MeMo in 1993.

Anne Crausaz, a Swiss illustrator, is one of MeMo’s authors who is doing particularly well in the US with her recent book, Premier Printemps (Seasons). MeMo manages to sell a number of high quality books to the US and China, hopefully proving that when a product is beautiful enough, someone will buy it.

SURVEY: What’s the Top Challenge Children’s Publishing in 2012?

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.