"Today the greatest challenge in publishing is distribution and discoverability. As a result, sites like [PictureBooksReview] are more important than ever to discerning readers, new authors and independent publishers."
-Steve Floyd, chief executive officer of August House books

"The interview is so amazing! I appreciate you picking up on all these aspects of what I've been doing. It's always great to talk with someone who understands what goes into these things."

- Jose Lucio, self-published author of Heave Ho!
Showing posts with label August House. Show all posts
Showing posts with label August House. Show all posts


The Little Moose Who Couldn't go to Sleep (2013)

Written by Willy Claflin

Illustrated by James Stimson

August House

This is a Maynard Moose book, so of course it begins with a warning: "This book contains Moose grammar, spelling and usage, all of which has been known to scrumble up the human brain."

This is the fourth Marynard Moose book - a trilogy no longer - and the fourth I've reviewed, and again the boundaries of the tale get pushed further back, this time as far as the outer reaches of space, where Mother Moose makes her home amongst the constellations and things get a trifle on the metaphysical side.

There's a creation story at play, which sets the tone of what is to come: "The whole universe come from the kitchen of Mother Moose," says Maynard, hovering over the non-sleeping form of Little Moose, his favorite cousin. "Is one thing to make a universe out of Thick air. But to make a universe out of Thin air, you got to stir and stir and stir."

In the world of Maynard the Moose and Willy Claflin's imagination, counting sheep is not just an excercise in self-induced monotony, but the ticket to an adventure, as the insomniac-laden Little Moose is transported out the window and through space, "up and up into the dark night sky, where the warm winds blow and the stars all sporkle and blink," and then from there to the house of Mother Moose, floating above the cosmos and filled with a wood burning stove and all the accoutrements of coziness, the place where the stories come from.

I like the unpredictable quality of the Maynard Moose books, and I feel that with each book the narrative gets more and more loosened up, freer to go in any direction Maynard feels like taking it. Most of the book is taken up with a more conventional back-and-forth between Little Moose and her parents and teachers, then suddenly, apropos of nearly nothing, off we fly on the back of a sheep wearing a football helmet!


A Conversation with Steve Floyd

I've always noticed August House books whenever I'm searching through bookstores or libraries for children's books on mythology or folk tales. The distinctive label always stands out. So it was pretty cool when I got an e-mail last year from Steve Floyd, the president of August House, asking if they could start sending me free stuff. I thought it would be interesting to pick his brain:

How did you get involved in publishing?

Unlike most other publishers, I came from decades of work in developing media using new communications technology. I'd co-founded and sold three multi-media technology companies, but knew little about the print business or the challenges of distributing books.

After 9/11, I felt the need to do something more meaningful with my life, to somehow make a lasting contribution.

I'd grown up as a voracious reader myself, and found myself frustrated with the state of children's content – in print, television, online, etc.- which was available for my young sons. Most stories seemed devoid of a substantive plot line, and lacked any meaningful content. Sometimes they were fun, but the majority were nothing more than junk food for a young child's developing mind.

I'm not sure I share your disdain for the overall state of children's literature, though I only became a father in 2005, so perhaps I wasn't as attune to it before then.

It wasn't disdain. It's more like I was frustrated with the sheer numbers of books and other media vs. the quality of children's literature, especially since we were "bookaholics" and our children's bookshelves were full of many of the same titles that my wife and I had loved as kids.

At the same time, the number of independent book stores was decreasing rapidly and the large chains were stocked with "safe" products with high turnover and staffed by too few people who neither cared about books nor had the time to guide thoughtful customers.

It was during that period of discovery that I ran across Howard Gardener's groundbreaking work in Multiple Intelligences and stories. I was captivated by his theories and the important role that stories play in developing young minds.

One day, I had lunch with a successful actor friend, Rob Cleveland, with whom I had worked with before producing corporate sales video for Coca-Cola. He told me how he had extended his professional repertoire by performing Bible stories at Churches and Synagogues. First, he did it as a stand up routine, and then as the congregation was having fun, he would explore some of the deeper meanings behind the stories with them.

As Rob was telling me how much fun he was having reinvigorating these classic stories, it hit me that folktales could have a huge impact on children if they were authentic and offered in multiple formats: animated, online, in books, on television, performed live and recorded for audio.

Trickster Takes: Forty Folk Stories from Around the World

That must be the same Rob Cleveland who wrote How Tiger Got His Stripes.

At the same time, I was also looking at how to launch a business with another friend, Graham Anthony, that could not only be meaningful but also have an impact by leveraging the power of Flash technology to position a product or a company.

After all, these timeless stories had originally been passed along orally, so they should be relatively easy to package for other media. And if they weren't great stories, they wouldn't have survived for the centuries. Plus, they were originally used by tribes or villages to pass on important life lessons and character values, so they clearly had a purpose.

My quest of meaning went into overdrive! We could do the something similar for children's stories as I had for Fortune 500 corporate clients. Just as I had put together sales materials and marketing information in multiple formats using a range of media, we could likewise package these folk stories with lesson plans and learning activities.

So Rob, Graham and I started looking for folktales that we could adapt and package in multiple formats. We spent about a year researching, prototyping stories and testing them with children and educators in different formats and with different support materials. We wanted to provide stories that could be experienced actively by young children in any format.

A strategic aspect of our business plan was to create a series with PBSKids. They patiently explained how Public Broadcasting worked, that we needed to line up corporate sponsors and then produce the program with a local PBS affiliate. So we contacted YAHOO, Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola and Wachovia. Each company gave us almost an identical response: we love the concept but why would we risk an established brand on a start-up?

So, back to the drawing board. But we were still convinced that we were on to something worthwhile.

We contracted with an investment bank to help us plan our next steps. As we researched stories from the oral tradition, we kept running across books published by August House; the collection was filled with a wide range of award-winning picture books, resource books and CD's recorded by leading storytellers.

In a meeting with bankers, someone raised the point that, "Its always easier to buy something and build on it, rather than start from scratch." We immediately gravitated back to August House.

August House not only focused on publishing authentic folktales from the world's great oral traditions, it had also built a very credible and trusted brand with librarians and educators. We recognized that they could serve as a corner stone for our model of publishing great stories in multiple formats.

East African Folktales

Was August House for sale at the time you made the offer?

Not at the time. Our Investment banker called the original owners out of the blue.

Six weeks later, we signed the purchase agreement and suddenly found ourselves in the publishing business, an industry that contrasted dramatically with the rough and tumble chaotic world of technology start-ups and that didn't operate at the whirlwind speed of internet businesses.

Because the company had its roots in storytelling and the oral tradition, 90% of the authors since the founding of the company were also professional storytellers. The fact that these stories were great performance pieces that had been honed by professionals meant that when we went to market, we could be confident that we had a set of stories that had already been beta tested with the toughest group – young children. 

Then if children were actively engaged with the stories, the stories could also be useful as reading supplements, they could be used in social studies to learn about other cultures or shared to explore character values, etc. We loved the flexible nature of these great, timeless stories that can still be used in so many ways and for so many different purposes.

Since that dramatic moment, almost 9 years ago, we've evolved and learned a lot through our mistakes but fortunately, the industry is now embracing our original business model of distributing titles in multiple formats: in print, as digital books, ebooks, animated stories, audio books, in video with leveled reading and lesson plans aligned to education standards, etc.

If money were no object, what do you fantasize about the ultimate August House multimedia product being?

The ultimate product would be cross media or integrated platform beginning with an animated PBS series featuring Maynard Moose hosted by Willy Claflin that was supported by a highly interactive web site with all kinds of entertaining ways to explore and experience the story.

In addition, a supplemental online educational component would include interactive learning activities (for children in 2nd thru 4th grade) based on their skill levels and correlated to the Common Core Standards.

In addition to that, a writing and storytelling contest for kids to make their own Maynard Moose fan fiction and invent their own versions of his exploits in the Piney Woods. The event would include online as well as regional story festivals featuring Willy and Maynard celebrating the creative work of young writers in 3rd-5th grade – the Maynard Moose Story Project Hosted by Willy Claflin. Complemented by a series of 50 Maynard Moose adventure books available in print and as ebooks.

All of these components would use the same assets or objects - they would be tagged and integrated across media formats - in different ways for different stories with different purposes (entertainment, education, reading skills, games, etc.). 

So, an integrated platform with great entertainment and educational value – for kids of all ages 8 to 80. We would offer multiple opportunities for kids to experience and explore these stories in any way they wanted to develop their own relationships with Maynard.

That pretty well sums up why we got into this business and where we would ideally like to go with Maynard Moose and - in fact - all of our folktale properties. We would love to develop these timeless stories across the board in multiple formats. You can see the archetype for this model at  http://www.storycove.com and selecting "Sample Story." 

The challenge is securing financing with sponsorships which we have attempted over the years with a variety of corporate entities. Everyone loves it, but no one has bitten. 

The Emerald Lizard

Do you still feel frustrated by the overall state of children's content, or do you think it's evolved over the years as well?

Now I'm able to appreciate how difficult children's publishing is as a business. Creating a good book is one thing, but getting people to care about it and want to buy it and then share it is another issue that offers it's own set challenges, especially in today's increasing volatile market place.

Since there really wasn't much of a children's publishing industry until the 1950's and 60's, I actually think that we are seeing more good writing and illustrating in the last 15-20 years than ever before. 

Today the greatest challenge in publishing is distribution and discoverability. As a result, sites like yours are more important than ever to discerning readers, new authors and independent publishers.

The metadata about a book, including author bios, BISAC headings, page count, etc. is also more important than ever, as are online aggregate review sites like Netgalley and Goodreads. They all play an increasingly important role for people who want to discover meaningful, engaging content, regardless of the genre.

But there are also more distractions than before and the sheer volume of books in any genre is overwhelming, not to mention the ease of access and availability of other media like apps, iTunes, video-on-demand, games, etc. Whether we're talking about discovering an Indie rock band or a launching a new author, discoverability is more challenging for educators, parents and content publishers than ever before. 

Another challenge for both readers and publishers is that customer reviews on Amazon are just as credible - if not more so - than "professionals" who review books, such as librarians or reading teachers who bring a depth of perspective and years of experience to their reviews. For example, if you had 5 reviews from highly respected professional journals, it might not be nearly as impactful as 25 reviews (positive or negative) posted by consumers. Consumer posts are very helpful but they can also be misleading and sometimes it is hard to judge the experience or perspective of the person who posts the review.

Since publishers are also playing the role of curator, it is a challenge to present a product in the best light to the target demographic.  As publishers we are also biased about the quality of a product that we have invested in financially and with many hours of work when it is finally released in the market. 

Children's publishing is a combination of intuition, quantitative analysis of data and subjective opinion since the decision makers and influencers are ultimately only part of the sale process. Ultimately, whether I like a book, an expert reviewer likes a book or a librarian loves it, a professional book buyer thinks it will sell, etc., it doesn't really matter since we really aren't the audience that counts.

Depending on the target market, if a 7 year-old doesn't like the illustrations, or a 5 year-old thinks the story is boring, then our analysis and opinions are meaningless and we failed at some level. As a very insightful mother told me years ago when we were test marketing some folktales for Story Cove, "I'll buy the first one, but if my son doesn't like it, then that's it." So the challenge is we have to be discovered by librarians, teachers and parents serving as gate keepers and then the book will have an opportunity to bring pleasure and enjoyment to a child.

So it is a complicated and challenging business, to say the least.

Part of the Conversations with Storytellers series.


The Baker's Dozen (1988)

Retold by Heather Forest

Illustrated by Susan Gaber

August House

This is an older book which was just recently re-issued by August House. It has a real nice feel and look to it. I remember the illustraot, Susan Gaber, from her work on Raisel's Riddle, but in this one the colors seem warmer, the scenes in the bakery itself are filled with cookies and cakes and pies. The subtitle is "A Colonial American Tale," and its Christmas theme is just subtle, a tiny Santa Claus hanging in the window of the bakery, and a few flakes of snow.

Van Amsterdam is the most popular baker in Albanytown. He is rotund and jouyous and wears a toque the balloons from his head like a mushroom with elephantitus. His most famous creation of all is the St. Nicholas cookie which brings him much prosperity. But this is a cautionary tale! Late one night, in a very Ebeneezer-ish frame of mind, Van Amsterdam stays nawake counting his gold coins.

"If I use just a little less butter, no one will know. If I use just one less egg, they will scarcely be able to tell. If I use just a little less honey, then there will be more money for me!"

That dark turn of mind then manifests itself in the guise of a mysterious, cloaked woman, who appears in his store and demands a dozen of his cookies... or else!

"A dozen means twelve!"

"A dozen means thirteen, and you're a greedy man!"

"How dare you call me greedy! Get out of my store!"

I suppose I'd never thought about the origins of the phrase "a baker's dozen," before, and I was surprised when that's exactly when this story turned out to be. Apparently, Van Amsterdam is an historical figure, a colonial baker living in Albany, New York, who "inspired an American custom that, in some places, persists even today."

I'm not sure how much of this story is from the author's imagination, and how much of it is the actual tale as it has been passed down. Looking up the phrase myself, I found a few different versions, some setting it back in medieval England. Regardless, this one certainly felt authentic.


The King with Dirty Feet (2013)

Retold by Rob Cleveland

Illustrated by Tom Wrenn

August House

This is a silly one - so silly I was at first skeptical as to its origins. It doesn't seem like an Indian folktale, it reads more like the kind of story the dad who thinks he's the funniest dad in the universe would tell his children, right up to the punchline, a pretty groan-inducing pun. But I like groan-inducing puns, and I happen to think I am the funniest dad in the universe, and I realize my own xenophobia as I write this. Puns and silliness are far from being inventions of western civilization in the 21st Century, after all.

The King has dirty feet, it is true. And he is racking his brains - and the brains of every man, woman and child in his kingdom - to figure out just how he can possibly take a bath in the river, get all cleaned up, but then keep his feet clean upon exiting the river. It is a conundrum of dire porportions! The premise is ridiculous, but from there everything builds like a well-told joke, until, lo and behold...

"You can all go about your business and stop making so much fuss," says the old man. "Go on home now. Shoo. I said shoo!"

Rob Cleveland
The author of the book, Rob Cleveland, is a storyteller himself - and actor. I see That Darn Cat listed among his credits. I'm sure this is one he enjoyed telling!


The Bully Goat Grim (2012)

Written by Willy Claflin

Illustrated by James Stimson
This is the third Maynard Moose book I've reviewed, and it's the best of the lot. With each book, the world of Maynard Moose becomes more fully realized. It's really interesting to see how the look of this book contrasts with - for example - The Uglified Ducky.

There’s no formula for what a Maynard Moose tale might involve. With just three books, Willy Claflin and James Stimson have covered a variety of artistic territory.

In this outing, Maynard the Moose tells the story of a mean, vicious bully of a goat who terrorizes a poor family of bridge-dwelling trolls. But the story doesn't just rely on this reversal of archetypes for its punchline, but in the various ways in which the troll family attempts to outwit this mean beasty.

The two-headed patriarch of the troll family can't stop arguing with his other head about which tactic to take, eventually coming to blows, and knocking himself, Maynard tells us, "unconshable as a muffin." Meanwhile, the triple-headed momma troll begins discussing the situation with herselves over tea, debating and discussing  and re-thinking endless propositions until sleeps takes hold, "because the effect of too much process is soporific." But it is the single-headed baby Troll who is able to think the most clearly about the situation, leading one to presume that two heads is decidedly not better than one - much less three.

What is it that the Bully Goat says everytime he crosses the bridge?

The Troll Family
"Beware, beware, the Bully Goat Grim! Nobody better not mess with him!"

This is fairly typical vocabulary for a Maynard Moose book, but the baby troll dissects the sentence structure, realizes the presence of a double-negative in the Bully Goat's speech, and thus deduces that what the Bully Goat must actually desire is for everybody to mess with him!

This leads to a plan involving a pillow, a parachute, a case of Random Hostility Syndrome, and an extremely clever turning of the so-called tables.

There are a lot of nighttime sequences in this book, and I think James Stimson really enjoys playing with light sources and shadows, giving everything a full three-dimensional feel to it. The troll dwelling is especially marvelous, worth an extra glance after the story is over. He doesn't just illustrate the text of the story, but gives an insight into who the trolls are and how they live. The Bully Goat is genuinely fearsome, yet the two-page spread in which the animals of the forest drift "slowly down on the morning breeze, saying Good Morning to the birdies and buggies and busterflies" is filled with all the whimsy that the narrative describes.

At the end, it is Maynard the Moose who once again delivers the moral: "Learn to recognize a double negative!"


Go to Sleep, Gecko! (2006)

Retold by Margaret Read MacDonald

Illustrated by Geraldo Valerio


The interconnectedness of all things! Buffalo poop! High brow and low brow, all at once!

This Balinese folktale concerns a gecko who cannot for the life of him get to sleep because the infernal fireflies which are "blinking their lights on and off... on and off..." He goes to find the ruler of the jungle, Elephant, and demand that action be taken!

A simple request, perhaps, but little does either animal suspect, in the tapestry of life, one thing is connected to another. The fireflies absolutely cannot cease their blinking ways, for if they did, someone might accidentally step in the buffalo poop left in piles all over the road.

Fine then. Elephant finds Buffalo.

Some things you just have to put up with.
"Is it true you have been dropping poop all over the road?"

"Oh, yes. Rain washes holes in the road every afternoon. I just fill them up the best way I know how. If I didn't do that, someone could stumble in the holes and get hurt."

Well then. If Gecko is to be satiated, then it is to the Rain that Elephant must appeal.

Eventually, events wind full-cycle, as both Gecko and Elephant come to understand that if one doesn't allow the fireflies to blink at night, then after a series of cause-and-effect, there might not be any mosquitoes for Gecko to eat at night. Or, as Elephant puts it, "This world is all connected. Some things you just have to put up with. Now go home and go to sleep."


The Uglified Ducky: A Maynard Moose Tale (2008)

As told to Willy Claflin

Illustrated by James Stimson

August House

Maynard Moose again, telling his Mother Moose tales about  the campfire, surrounded by all of his wildlife buddies, leaning in close for another good story. In Rapunzel and the Seven Dwarfs, I noted one of the big jokes at the end was that Maynard was not certain what the moral of the story was. In this one, not only does he know the moral, but he even leads off with it:

Do you ever feel like maybe you have been borned into the wrong fambly? Like maybe you feel like you are a little porcupine being raised by a fambly of kangaroos... Or maybe you feel like you are a little bunny rabbit being raised by a fambly of rhinoceroses... Well, this is the story of a poor moose who was raised by duckies.

The uglified duckling is not a duckling at all, but a young moose who inadvertently wanders into a nest of duck eggs just as they are about to hatch, to the incredulity of the returning mother. "Boy, that's the most uglified ducky I never see!" she exclaims.

The uglified duckling attempts to quack.
It might be nice if she loved the young moose regardless, but that is not the case. She has a job to do, and that's to teach these baby ducklings to survive in the world. She doesn't have time to spend on this grotesque duckling covered in brown fur who can't even master a little waddling. "This is waddle practice! This is not practice for trip and stumble!" she tells him.

Most of the story is comprised of these lessons, and the moose's inability to keep up. He can't waddle, he can't quack, he can't swim, and - most depressingly of all - he can't fly. He can only stare all forlorn as his adopted brothers and sisters fly off, leaving him "all d'abandoned and left alone."

It is only at the end, after he has wandered alone through the wilderness, that he comes upon a family of actual moose, and realizes his true nature. "And he is bounding joyfully through the forest ever still, happy to be the moose that he would be!"

The book is beautifully illustrated by James Stimson, and includes a glossary of "Moose words and their English equivalents." My favorite is "Quadrapedagogy: the state or condition of having four feet."


Rapunzel and the Seven Dwarfs (2011)

By Willie Claflin

Illustrated by James Stimson

August House

Not just a fairy-tale mashup, but also a story-within-a-story. We begin in the Northern Piney Woods, and are told that every full moon, all of the animals come out to hear the 'old Mother Moose Tales,' as related by Maynard Moose. James Stimson depicts the scene with much lushness, the flames of the small campfire glowing against Maynard's antlers, the full moon shining down from above, I could have spent the whole story out in these environs. Yet soon enough, we venture into the world of the tale.

Her hair was so long that it drag out from behind of her along the ground. It get dragged through mud puddles, and kids run over it on their bicycles, and it becomes distremely filthified - all full of sticks and twigs and little nastified wudgies of glop.

Poor Punzel
The whole story is told in this strange vernacular, what we are told it was translated from the original Moose. Certain words are listed in the glossary, should the context prove unclear. Filthified means, "repulsively and disgustingly unclean." Glop is, "mysterious, disgusting, foul-smelling sticky stuff."

In this story, she is locked away in a tower by a wicked witch, and when the handsome prince attempts to mount Punzel's golden hair - being a bit chubbified - he instead yanks her from the tower and sends her flying into the forest, where she meets the eight or nine seven drawfs: Clumsy, Snoozy, Cheerful, Fearful, Hyper, Hungry, Grizelda, Ambidextrous and sometimes Bewildered.

Once in the care of the eight or nine Dwarfs, her head is shaved clean as a bowling ball in order than she may best untangle herself form the clutches of the wooded branglebush, which also doubles as a keen way to disguise her identity (in my opinion), but more plot-pertinent, allows for some cranial nueromancy on the part of the dwarfs, who crowd around the shorn noggin and inquire,

Mirror, mirror on Punzel’s head
Is the witch alive or dead?

Clumsy, Snoozy, Cheerful, Fearful, Hyper, Hungry, Grizelda, Ambidextrous and sometimes Bewildered.
From here, the story fairly gives way to Snow White, albeit with Rhinocerous costumes and poisoned watermelons and the creation of the Sleeping Punzel Museum and amusement park to house her camotose self. Only 75 cents to see her! And is it the handsome yet chubbified prince who will thus awaken her with a single kiss and prance on off into the sunset? Is it?!

Nope. It is a moose, of course.

And the moral of that story is, if you have long, long goldie hairs that drag out from behind of you along the ground, then you should always... um… The moral of the story is… there ain’t no moral to some stories at all!

Thus sayeth Maynard.


When Turtle Grew Feathers (2007)

When Turtle Grew Feathers
Retold by Tim Tingle

Illustrated by Stacey Schuett


August House

I remember way back when, when I had first become interested in storytelling, a Texan girlfriend gave me a set of "audio cassettes" - a bygone device upon which sound is captured on thin strips of tape - of stories by Choctaw storyteller Tim Tingle. He's been around for a long time, and so it was great to find this beautifully illustrated, vibrant edition of one of his tales, "When Turtle Grew Feathers."

Of course, it's not really his tale. The last page of the book includes a list of his sources in rendering this here telling. David Bushnells's Myths of the Louisiana Choctaws from 1909, very nice, followed by this entry: "Jones, Charley. Oral interview. August 1992." Following that, "McAlvin, Jay. Tape-recorded interview. November 1992." Wow. Lest no man audit Tingle's cultural memory!

I looked up this Charley Jones, curious to find out who he was. The best I could find was an interview with Tingle, in which he refers to Jones as being both a Choctaw tribal storyteller and his mentor. "Charley Jones says, 'Tell the stories,'" says Tingle. "But make sure the origin is acknowledged."

And so it is.
When Turtle Grew Feathers

"Most everybody knows about the race between Turtle and Rabbit," the story begins. "But the Choctaw people tell the story differently..." which immediately got me wondering, was this an actual response to the old fable, and if so, when exactly did Aesop make its way over to those Choctaw? Or, was this yet another example of synchronous stories evolving independent of each other? Even good ol' Uncle Remus tells a story about a tricky turtle outwitting Brer Rabbit.

There is a fast, boastful rabbit, a slow turtle and a proposed race. After that initial set-up, however, it careens in wildly divergent ways, thanks to the interference of a oblivious turkey stepping on Turtle's shell, accusing him of "sleeping too low in the grass," and finally gathering together all of the ants to sew together Turtle's shell using the silk from the cornfield, yes indeed. What does that have to do with the race? Only that then Turkey decides to take up residence in the cozy, newly-sewn shell, and is thus mistaken for Turtle when he becomes the object of Rabbit's boasting:

"I feel real fast! I'm ready to race. Who wants a little mud in his face?"

When Turtle Grew Feathers

Rabbit is in for a surprise, and Stacey Schuett does a great job illustrating that magnificent transformation, along with the various expressions of shock, bewilderment and shame on poor Rabbit.

Doesn't really have the same lesson as Aesop's Tortoise and the Hare, though, does it? Slow and steady definitely did not when the race this time around. Fortunately, Tingle enunciates the moral quite clearly:

Turtle learned you don't have to be the biggest, or the fastest, or the best. But it sure is nice to be friends with those that are!

In this video, Tim Tingle talks to a group of children.
I like that he addresses the difference between telling a story
and writing a story. Adjectives.

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