The Well-Considered Book
Barefoot Books cofounders Nancy Traversy (CEO) and Tessa Strickland (editor-in-chief) discuss why their books are so nourishing for children.
You have a very unique business model. Please give us Barefoot’s history.
We started Barefoot Books in England in 1992, with the goal of creating children’s books that feed the imagination while instilling a respect for diversity and a love of the planet. For eight years, we worked out of our homes. In 1996, we were one of the first children’s publishers to create a website, and in 1998 we opened an office in Manhattan. In 2001, Nancy moved with her family to Concord, Massachusetts, relocating the US business to Cambridge.
In 2006, we decided to stop selling directly to the big book chains and focus instead on taking a more grassroots approach to distribution, working closely with independent bookstores, gift shops, schools, libraries, literacy organizations, and other carefully selected partners. We also turned our attention to growing our global network of home-based Ambassadors (more on that later).
Over twenty years, we have created more than six hundred books for children and think of Barefoot Books as more than just a publisher. We are a global village of people connected by a shared love of storytelling and creativity, and committed to raising happy, healthy, engaged children.
How has being mothers of young children influenced your business practices?
Our children were definitely our biggest inspiration for starting Barefoot. As new mothers, we were having a hard time finding books that would nurture their imaginations, introduce them to different cultures, and inspire their creativity with artwork that conveyed as much as the words on the page. Believing in children’s innate good taste, we aim to make high-quality books that appeal to both children and parents. Our children have grown up Barefoot, surrounded by creativity and hard work, reading manuscripts, choosing illustrators, and generally helping out. The message that you can live your life on your own terms, and in accordance with your values, is one that we are proud to pass on, and we hope we have raised seven independent kids who have a strong work ethic and who are not afraid to take risks!
Your books are beautiful. Do you have a special relationship with your artists?
If you love something, you look after it. We love and believe wholeheartedly in the transformative power of art as well as story-telling. So, we take great care with every aspect of the development of our books, from the seed of an idea, to the quality of the language and illustration. We also devote a lot of attention to the production process. We have worked with some of our contributors for nearly two decades.
Who are the Ambassadors and why are they successful?
Barefoot Books Ambassadors are a diverse community of parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, artists, and storytellers who run their own home-based businesses, marketing and selling our books at farmers’ markets, school fairs, fundraisers, festivals, home events, and online. Some Ambassadors run arts and crafts projects that tie in to the books, some use storytelling, some simply love to sell. They provide direct market feedback on our books as well as projects under development. Ambassadors also help us raise awareness of the Barefoot Books brand and the pivotal place of verbal and visual literacy in children’s lives.
On a practical level, the poor economic climate means that many Ambassadors are looking for ways to supplement their income. Others use the opportunity to raise funds for a cause that is important to them. Ambassadors make friends and share ideas about parenting, education, running a small business, creative family activities, and much more in our dynamic and supportive online community. It’s very viral, very grassroots, and very rewarding.
What are the Lifestyle Studios?
Our Barefoot Books Studios in Concord, Massachusetts, and Oxford, England, are real-life hubs showcasing our entire collection, places where children and adults can play, paint, explore, make friends, look at the world from different points of view, and discover new talents. There’s a full program of events and activities, including storytelling, arts and crafts, African drumming, puppet shows, yoga, and even a Storyteller’s Café serving healthy and organically produced food. We also use the Studios as laboratories, trying out new products and getting feedback.
What new projects are you excited about?
We are particularly eager to expand our new Independent Readers series, all gorgeously illustrated. New titles this fall include Never Trust a Tiger from Korea and The Tortoise’s Gift from Zambia. We also have the exquisite Twelve Dancing Princesses by French artist Miss Clara. And, as part of our Classics series for advanced readers, there’s The Adventures of Achilles and Robin Hood.
Also exciting is the launch of a new multilingual version of the Barefoot World Atlas app inspired by our bestselling World Atlas. The app builds on our iPad app, which was an Apple® App of the Week when it first launched and was also featured on The Today Show as a top education app. It feels particularly appropriate for us to make our entrance into the digital arena with a world atlas for kids.