Children’s Books in Colombia: Interview With PRH Grupo Editorial’s Laura Gómez

In News by Porter Anderson

‘There’s no translation needed,’ Laura Gómez, of PRH Grupo Editorial in Colombia says, when illustrators are crossing borders.

Laura Gómez. Image: Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Already Tracing a Prominent Career’
When Laura Gómez spoke to the professional program at the São Paulo International Book Fair in late August, her audience had a chance to catch on to her way of putting her finger on the subtleties just behind the obvious.

For example, Gómez told her audience, “When I was planning my trip to Brazil and began to investigate the different publishing houses I was about to meet, I was amazed not only at the marvelous catalogues but also with all the Colombian illustrators who are already tracing a prominent and solid career in Brazil.”

This is a potent point coming from Gómez, who is the director of the children’s and youth division at Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial in Bogotá. Some 10 years into her career, she’s becoming an influential voice in young people’s publishing in the Latin American region and has begun realizing, she says, that the potential for illustration to propel strong storytelling across those many borders is underrated.

Verões Verdes by Colombia’s author-illustrator Dipacho, in its Portuguese edition from Editora do Brasil

A Spanish-speaker in the Portuguese summit of São Paulo, she said, “There’s no translation needed” when publishers effectively let their illustrators do the talking. “This should be a first step to work actively to strength our relations,” she said. She had spotted Verões verdes by the Colombian author and artist Dipacho, “published by Editora do Brasil. This was initially published at Penguin years ago, a great example.”

Dipacho’s Green Summers, as it’s translated—about vegetables barreling into summer together—clearly is aided in its Portuguese translation by Heloisa Jahn by Dipacho’s veggie-funny illustrations, wide eyes rolling as they step out.

‘That’s My Mission’

Gómez is a committed supporter of PRH’s Mapa de las Lenguas project, a “map of the languages” devised to enable any title to be published in myriad languages at once. Illustration goes hand in hand, when looking for landmarks anyone can read on such a metaphorical map.

In an interview, she comes to another insight, maybe more worrisome but easily as important. She describes an intensely popular BookTuber in Bogotá, a young woman who can persuade her peers to try a book. “She never leaves her house,” Gómez says. “She reads all the time. Her bookshelves are color-coded and organized by author. It’s her whole life.

Irene Vasco’s ‘Thousand and One Nights’ treatment, ‘Expedición Las mil y una noches’ with illustrations by José Rosero has just been published in time for the holiday season by PRH in Colombia

“But she doesn’t read anything else, just young-adult fiction, right? So she has never read GarcÍa Márquez” and actually has no experience of Colombia’s revered literary heritage. In this instance, Gómez is saying what a publishing executive in Paris has just said to Publishing Perspectives in a conversation. “How do we graduate these younger readers [to get them beyond] the desire for mass escapism?” Can the plethora of young-adult content once thought to be a major key to bringing young people to reading actually hold some of them back from exploring what else is available and important in literature?

“That’s my mission,” Gómez says, revealing something of how engaged she is with her work and the consumers she and her colleagues are cultivating. She has realized that many younger readers today, even if devoted to reading, are encountering “the same plot, the same characters,” in one formulaic tale after the next.

In an age in which social-media dynamics can be a market’s key energy, the influencers are the consumers themselves, and they may have no more grounding in literature than their followers. How, then, do you move a generation into stronger stuff?

Colombia’s Market in 2022: ‘One of  the Best’ Years

Gómez has just had her annual chance, of course, to see legions of the young readers served by Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial at this month’s Guadalajara International Book Fair—a show that’s traditionally good at drawing a young, inquisitive crowd. On Sunday (December 3), Marisol Schulz‘s show closed its 37th iteration with a headcount of 857,315 visitors, more than 50,000 attendees over last year’s 806,805.

Even as you could see the waves of young fairgoers surging across the huge exhibition floors at “FIL Guadalajara,” as they know it, Gómez describes the strong year that her market had in 2022. “One of the best,” she says, “in terms of book sales” accounting for 32.9-percent market growth over 2021’s figures monitored by the Colombian book chamber. “Books with subjects related to personal growth and general interest,” she says, “remain the most sold around the country, followed by educational books.”

And how is the digital transition going in Colombia? “Only 7.7 percent of total sales,” she says are in digital formats. Nevertheless, if you ask her what’s big this year in the holiday season book market in Colombia, she points to interactivity, a rather near cousin to much digital content for a market not yet speeding into adoption.

Key Titles for the Holidays

“Holidays are always a great time in book sales in Colombia,” Gómez says.

“What our sales reports show is that what’s selling the most during this season are activity and interactive books, which is no surprise.”

Pokémon: The Essential Guide, she says, is a big favorite in that regard, “but so is the children’s fiction category, and in that I’d highlight the Harry Potter series, which remains a huge hit in our country and has been released by Penguin with new cover designs.”

There’s also lots of anticipation, she says, for the new tie-in by Sibéal Pounder from PRH worldwide for Wonka, the prequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The film, said to have had a budget of US$125 million, starts previews in Colombian cinemas on Thursday (December 14).

“And then,” Gómez says, “there are classics of Colombian authors” for the holidays, “such as Maria del Sol Peralta’s work.

Her ¡Arre, borriquita! (Come on, Little Donkey) “is a must-have if you truly want to celebrate Christmas in a very Colombian style,” Laura Gómez says, “and sing along with all the popular villancicos, Christmas carols.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on children’s books is here, more on Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial is here, more on Penguin Random House is here, more on Colombia’s publishing market is here, and more on Latin American publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.