If you are to go indie, it makes sense to do something a little different. Something that you are passionate about, with a unique focus that only you can bring to it. I think about this when I think about Woodland Way.
Woodland Way is an independent publisher of children’s stories that foster kindness, respect, empathy, resilience, and laughter. It is the publisher of two books in particular that we came upon at the Boston Book Festival in the fall: The Dinglebeast Needs to Sleep and Even in My Monster Hat. There was something every special about those books that drew us to them from the time we first saw the illustrations and started turning the pages inside.
What I think struck me most was that within the pastel colors of the illustrations that covered the pages and the sparse text that tells the stories is a bit of a quiet space. A quiet space for imagining and for just being.
We had the opportunity to catch up with one of the publishers at Woodland Way, its co-founder Sarah Dawgert, and she was kind enough to give us a bit of insight into the magic that this independent publisher is creating and the running of an independent children’s press.
Welcome to Inkspokes, Sarah! And thanks for taking the time to join us.
NS: What was your inspiration for starting Woodland Way? What led to your focus on children’s stories that foster kindness, respect, empathy, resilience and laughter?
SD: Woodland Way was founded by Jim McVety and, me, Sarah Dawgert. We are not just business partners but also partners in life! We are married with 3 children and they were one of our inspirations for starting Woodland Way. We share a love of reading, and when we started having children we read to them starting their first few days of life. After years of discussion about starting Woodland Way, we decided to take the leap in 2014.
Even though there is some debate about the future of print books, we really believe that there is no replacement for the joy to be found reading an actual paper book with a child. The physical act of turning pages, pointing to pictures and words, exploring the images, cuddling together, and revisiting the book later—there is no substitute. Also of course we know reading from a young age is important to children’s development.
Kindness, respect, empathy, resilience and laughter -these particular values are ones we wanted to instill in our own children. Doing research in the education field and in social work added to our understanding of things like empathy and resilience being key for children’s future successes. While we strive to foster those values, we want to do so in a genuine, authentic way. For example, in Even in My Monster Hat, the main character Anna is a quiet and shy but unlike many books about shy children, the book doesn’t end with her no longer being quiet and shy. It ends with her mighty inner roar. As Anna says, “There’s nothing wrong with being quiet even in a monster hat, I feel my roar inside.” This felt very genuine to us.
NS: Can you tell us a little about the books and other products that you have published?
SD: Let me start with a little description of our first three books. A, B, C, Disgusting is a zany, hilarious alphabet adventure like no other. From Ape Armpits to Zebra Zits, you will enjoy colorful creations and uproarious wordplay. In the Dinglebeast Needs to Sleep, a fuzzy and furious beast is tired and just wants to sleep. But the world around her has other ideas. The Dinglebeast travels far and wide across a vivid, spectacular landscape as she discovers that peace of mind doesn’t have to start with peace and quiet. In Even in My Monster Hat, you will discover the beauty and power of a shy kid who finds her roar in the best place a parent could hope for. As Anna navigates her expanding world, you see how special it is for a quiet kid with confidence to find her voice.
Ideal for ages 3-8, these books have a unique artistry. Author/illustrator Catherine Dawgert is able to capture so much in the small details: the eyes of the character or the way the character is standing. Her humor, compassion, and authenticity shine through in the books.
At the printer now, we have a new English-Spanish bilingual series, the All Around Me Series, for small children (age 0-4). The first two books in this series are Colors/Colores and Trains/Los Trenes. There is a real need for bilingual books and we hope to keep building this series. The books encourage young children to look with wonder at the everyday world around them. They have simple interactive text and use close-up photography. The simple text is perfect for the attention span of this age and for early readers. These books should be up on our website in March 2017!
In addition to books, we have note cards and prints. People often like to buy these along with the books if they are gifts. Others positively responded to the artwork in the books but did not know or work with small children. For example, at the Boston Book Festival a man was jogging by the booth, stopped in his tracks and picked up a card from The Dinglebeast Needs to Sleep. “I have to have this,” he said, “it called out to me”. And off he ran, his new card in hand.
We also have two Memory games to go with the All Around Me bilingual books. The games can be used for memory, a jumping off point for story-telling, flashcards, or whatever your imagination allows! While educational, games also encourage the values of Woodland Way. In order to play games with others we need kindness, respect, empathy, resilience and laughter. And, well, we love playing the games, even though our kids always beat us at Memory.
NS: What has been the hardest part in being an independent publisher, especially of children’s books? What has been most rewarding?
SD: This is a tough market in which to get started. Small independent publishers do not have the money, reach, or name recognition that larger publishers do. Another challenge is being respected at the same level as larger publishers—some book festivals do not accept independent publishers, while certainly some others value them. An enormous amount of work goes into creating a book from start to finish. With a small staff and limited resources, it can be challenging, but that is also where some of the fun and creativity comes in. We wear many hats here at Woodland Way.
The great thing about being independent is that we can produce books that we know are good, not just that are trendy or based on a popular character. The whole experience has been very rewarding. The reactions of people to the books and the support we have received affirms the leap we took starting Woodland Way. We love getting emails, photos and notes from happy customers. I feel giddy when we are at events and people pick up the books and get sucked in: children and adults reading an entire book while standing on a hot sidewalk, giggles from children and adults as they read the books at our table or engage with us in an art project. One child studied The Dinglebeast Need to Sleep for about 30 minutes as his mom patiently waited. An adult woman flipping through Even in My Monster Hat started tearing up and said, “This is me, I wish I had this book when I was a child!” The numerous adults who have bought A, B, C, Disgusting as gifts for children then later told us they decided to keep it for themselves. All of these examples make us proud of Woodland Way and our authors.
During author visits we witness students, teachers and librarians connecting with the author, with each other and with the books. It’s rewarding and a testament to how books can connect us across lines of age, race, gender, ability, language, etc. We have visited libraries, public schools, private schools, community organizations and pre-schools. While the children were unique in each location, the books spoke to all of them.
NS: What elements are most important to you in a good children’s book?
SD: We have read hundreds of children’s books in our careers as parents, aunt and uncle. We love books that do not talk down to children. Books that use robust vocabulary. The artwork. Humor. Diversity in character representation. Books that “last”, for example our 10 year old occasionally takes a break from chapter books to pull out some of his favorite picture books.
NS: What are your publishing plans for the near future? What would you like Woodland Way to be doing in three years’ time?
SD: In the near future, along with the upcoming bilingual All Around Me Series, we have a book in the works called The People on The Bus. This is an interactive book that celebrates the uniqueness and value of all people. The format of the book is different in that it can fold out accordion style; one side has text and the other does not which allows the reader to make up their own story. It’s very cool.
In three years’ time, Woodland Way would like to continue building, adding new authors and illustrators, and getting our name out as a publisher of quality books. What else…major awards of course! Being at book festivals, art shows, conferences, school and library visits—this is what energizes us and our authors and we would love to be able to branch out more with those kind of “in person” events. We are truly a family business and would like to build in a way that allows us to stay true to that. Whatever we do, we will continue to focus on quality genuine children’s books, games and art that foster kindness, respect, empathy, resilience, and laughter.
(This interview was conducted for Inkspokes by Nelson Suit. Illustrations in this post are copyrighted by Catherine Dawgert or Woodland Way, LLC. All Rights Reserved.)
Woodland Way is an independent publisher of children’s stories that foster kindness, respect, empathy, resilience, and laughter. More information on the books and author-illustrator Catherine Dawgert may be found on the website for Woodland Way. The books, illustration prints and games may also be purchased directly from Woodland Way.