How Books Are Made

Publishing with purpose

Few people have helped to publish as many children’s books, in as many different ways, as Alisha Niehaus Berger.

Her career has spanned New York publishing, the Girl Scouts of America, and publishing programmes in over a dozen countries. As we find out in this conversation, she’s seen that there are many, many ways to make a children’s book. And many ways to define ‘quality’. What matters most is that each book has a purpose; and that, as book-makers, our jobs get richer and more rewarding when we know and love what our books will do in the world.

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This episode was published on 16 February 2021.
Supported by Electric Book Works: publishing reinvented for the digital age.

Transcript

Arthur Attwell 0:03
Hello, and welcome to How Books Are Made, a podcast about the art and science of making books. I’m Arthur Attwell.

Arthur Attwell 0:20
My first full-time publishing job was for Oxford University Press. On my first day, I picked up a glossy hardcover history of the press, all photos and gorgeous typography, and I was filled instantly with a deep belief that I had arrived in a great temple of publishing and that everything here was as it should be. I’m sure every great company has its own way of inducting fresh acolytes, and that is wonderful in its own way. The price, of course, is that it can take years to realise that there are many different ways to make a book. There are many different business models, technologies, and workflows. Something that would have shocked young Arthur, there are different ways to define quality.

Arthur Attwell 1:13
Two decades later, I’ve come to understand that what matters is that every book has a purpose, and that that purpose informs the way you should make it, the way you should judge it’s success, and that the more diverse your book-making experience, the broader your toolset becomes, both for making the right books and for knowing what matters most about them. If all that sounds a bit vague, my guest today will make it a whole lot clearer.

Arthur Attwell 1:43
Alisha Niehaus Berger is one of my favourite book-makers. She leads publishing for one of the world’s largest literacy nonprofits, Room to Read. Before that, she had my dream jobs at Penguin and Dorling Kindersley, publishing some of the most acclaimed children’s books in the world. She brings so much joy and energy into a room that books practically sprout from the tables. As you can tell, I’m excited to share this conversation with you. Alisha, it is so lovely to talk to you and to catch up again. It’s been quite a year and I’m really so pleased that you could take some time to talk with me today. Thanks so much.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 2:27
Oh, you’re so welcome. I’m so honoured that you asked me.

Arthur Attwell 2:29
You know, you’ve worked in so many different parts of the publishing world. In thinking about this conversation, I really didn’t even know where I would start. You’ve edited award-winning books at Dorling Kindersley and Penguin, for the last few years you’ve overseen publishing operations in over a dozen countries around the world, and I’m fascinated about what that’s been like. We’re going to get to that. What I’m hoping we might be able to do is talk through some specific books you’ve worked on and how they were made.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 3:00
Sure.

Arthur Attwell 3:01
From there, I know we’ll get to talk broadly about the big picture as well. Just to kick off, in prepping for our conversation, I set myself a little detective challenge. I read at Dial Books, which is a Penguin imprint, you edited a book that won a Newbery Honour, which is a big deal in children’s books. But I don’t know which book that was because publishing houses never say exactly who actually worked on a given book. So I did a little sleuthing. Let’s see, was it Savvy by Ingrid Law?

Alisha Niehaus Berger 3:30
It was indeed.

Arthur Attwell 3:31
Yes!

Alisha Niehaus Berger 3:34
That was such a wonderful book, and the experience was, was fantastic. Basically, you know, what happens when you’re an editor at one of the sort of bigger publishing houses in, in New York and other places, is, you know, you’ll get a manuscript in one of two ways. Either an author will send it to you, unsolicited, and it goes into what’s called a slush pile. I don’t know where that term came from, but the term … Yeah, and, and so sometimes people will get together and kind of read those things. Or you’ll get it from an agent.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 4:08
I actually got Savvy from an agent, someone that I knew called me and said, I have this book, and it’s set in sort of a magical United States and, you know, the kids all have what’s called a savvy, it’s a power, they get on their 13th birthday. And, you know, kind of went on and I, I just loved it. Like he sent it to me, I think, I don’t know, five o’clock or something by email, and I stayed up all night to read it and sent him a note at two in the morning and said, I love this book, I want to work on it. It turned out that by the following morning, everyone else had read it as well and also wanted it but I think my midnight enthusiasm really, really helped with that, of course, and the massive advanced that Ingrid got for this book. [LAUGHS]

Arthur Attwell 4:53
Good. That’s fantastic. Do you have a favourite project from your New York publishing days?

Alisha Niehaus Berger 5:00
It’s like asking a parent to pick their favourite child.

Arthur Attwell 5:02
Yeah.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 5:04
Um, I think one that really stands out to me is a book called The Vast Fields of Ordinary, which was a YA book. Really sort of high YA we would call almost, like an adult book. It was written by a man named Nick Burd and he’d been working on it in his MFA program. When I received it, you know, it’s was a, it’s a book about a gay coming of age story in Iowa, you know, so, the language is beautiful, everything was really just fascinating about the story, but it has some really, really tough, tough things in it. You know, my publishers asked me what, you know, what do you think makes this a young adult book as opposed to an adult book? I really realised in the process of working on that, that I see children’s books or what makes a children’s book as a book that has hope in it, you know, at the end. It’s not a book where you feel like, wow, the state of the world is truly awful and, you know, let’s just get stuck in our, in our angst for a while. Even though there is an angst in, in young adult books, I think there’s always a feeling at the end of what makes you know, a good children’s book to me that there’s possibility, there’s hope, there’s redemption, you can, you can make of the world what you want it to be in a small or a large way.

Arthur Attwell 6:21
Yeah.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 6:22
That book really helped me realise that hope is the key.

Arthur Attwell 6:26
Yeah. That’s so interesting. Yeah, I feel very similarly about pretty much any media I consume, if the hope isn’t there I, I struggled to stick with it. That’s, that’s really cool. What would have been the typical process for publishing a book at a big New York publishing company like that?

Alisha Niehaus Berger 6:42
Yeah, yeah. I mean, after you get the manuscript, it sort of comes in one way or another, and you either win it at auction, which I did with Ingrid’s book, or, you know, you get in touch with the agent of the author and say, I’d really like to work on this. Usually, there’s a very long sort of lag period, two to three years, usually, while you’re going back and forth and there’s more than one kind of editing. So the first kind of editing you do is developmental editing, where you’d be looking at the really large picture of the book. So, you know, what are the scenes, sort of in the right place? Do we need all these scenes? How about the characters? Are they, you know, do we need all the characters? Are they really interesting? Could they be more interesting in one place, or do something a little bit more engaging? Kind of look at all of those things, then you get into the nitty gritty of the sentence-level editing, and what we call line editing.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 7:29
Then after that, it will go through a copy edit, where you’re looking at grammar, and you know, continuity and things like that. Eventually make it to production where you’ll get usually advanced copies that go out to reviewers and bookstores and different places, and you’re trying to sell a number of copies. Then you know, eventually, the pub date and the marketing and the publicity. It’s always very funny, because when you’re working you know you’ve got some books that are coming out right then, some books that you’re still at infancy stage, some books that you’re in the middle of, you know, by the time a book comes out, wait, I worked on that a year and a half ago, and now it’s out?

Arthur Attwell 8:04
Yeah, that’s interesting. When I was doing the sleuthing to see if it was Savvy that you’d edited I have to take that into account, right? I had to figure out when was she at Dial Books? And when did it win the prize?

Alisha Niehaus Berger 8:14
Totally.

Arthur Attwell 8:16
I imagine there many wonderful things about working in that part of the publishing world, and I suspect, like with all jobs, there are some downsides. For those of us thinking that those are publishing dream jobs, in what ways are we right? And in what ways are those not quite the dream jobs that we think they are?

Alisha Niehaus Berger 8:35
Oh, books all day. That’s the first part that makes it wonderful. If you’re, you know, if you grew up as a, as a bookish child, as I myself did, and I think a lot of people who go into books have that background, you’re working on the things that you see at the libraries and bookstores that you loved as a child. For me, going into my very favourite bookstore, where I grew up in California, and seeing a book that I had worked on, or having the children’s book person who had really helped me kind of curate my reading growing up have books that I worked on, was just beyond magical.

Arthur Attwell 9:11
Amazing.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 9:11
Yeah, yeah. I think just being a part of ‘the book’ is, is the dream, right? If only that were the only part of the job. [LAUGHS] I think, you know, people get surprised when you start out as an editor, that, you know, so little of the job is actually sitting there reading manuscripts, working with authors, kind of holding their hands creatively. Really, it’s a career about advertising your opinion, you know, saying, I love this book, and this is why it’s wonderful, and this is why I’m right about it, and this is why you should love it. And you know, you do that in your publishing house, you come up with a sales sheet. I mean, marketing does some of that, but before you even get to marketing, you know, they’re sort of looking externally, right, how do we market this to consumers? You’re the advocate in-house. You have to market it against all the other books that all the editors have acquired, and try to get marketing dollars for that book. So I think I’m kind of an overly-sensitive perfectionist in a career about selling your opinions, you know, I’d find times when I started to doubt them, and it can take you to kind of a dark place.

Arthur Attwell 10:17
Yeah. I’m just terrible at understanding what people will like. I would never survive in that environment.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 10:23
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s so hard to know, right? That’s the thing about publishing is that we act as though we understand what people are going to like, but if you look at what’s published, like a book that was really popular when I, when I was working at Dial was, that’s when Stephenie Meyer’s, oh my gosh, no, I’m not gonna — Vampire books.

Arthur Attwell 10:37
Twilight.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 10:37
Thank you! Twilight came out. You know, that one people really liked right off the bat, you know, and but it came out and suddenly there’s, you know, werewolf books and a million other vampire books and that’s the most popular thing. They do sell, I mean, those copycat books sold in droves. You know, publishing is … acts as though it’s finding the next great thing. And it is, but it doesn’t know what that is, right. So they always call them the sleeper hits.

Arthur Attwell 10:40
No one saw it coming.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 11:01
It’s fascinating, because we didn’t know beforehand that it was going to be popular.

Arthur Attwell 11:06
About 10 years ago, you left the New York publishing scene for a series of very different adventures.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 11:13
I did.

Arthur Attwell 11:13
Not all in books. Today, you lead global publishing for one of the world’s biggest nonprofit children’s book publishers, at Room to Read, and I’m sure that story could fill a podcast on its own. What were the key moments that took you away from New York publishing and all the way to Room to Read?

Alisha Niehaus Berger 11:34
Oh, my goodness, in some place, now it feels like fate.

Arthur Attwell 11:37
Yeah.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 11:38
You know, one of the things that’s always been really important to me is learning about other places and other people. You know, I was an anthropology major in college. People always thought that was so strange, like, how did you get into books, you weren’t an English major? I’m like, well, anthropology is the study of why people do the things that they do, right. That’s what a book is, to me, helping you understand different, you know, different parts of the world and different ideas that are not your own. So, I always kind of had that in my mind, and sort of a wanderlust that I satisfied through reading, but also really want to travel and my father, he kind of had this seminal story growing up.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 12:17
He had hitchhiked across the United States when he was kind of mid-college, this is, right … I think right after Vietnam, or at some point when he didn’t, you know, he wanted to kind of not be around that part of the history of the US which I can understand. He, so he hitchhiked across the United States and sort of found his way onto an airplane and started going across Europe and the Middle East and you know worked in a banana plantation in Israel, and drove a tractor in Turkey and all sorts of things. And, you know, he always talked about other places, and, you know, if you hadn’t seen the other places, then you are really missing out on what it means to be a human. I was really lucky enough to have the money, you know, and the privileged background to be able to make that happen for myself.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 13:05
So sort of when, when the dark place of publishing, and my feeling like, I don’t want to be selling these books anymore, and house them you know, I want to go back to enjoying walking into a bookstore, not seeing it as like a battleground of like, who won that auction and like, I didn’t get to work on that book. And, you know, I thought, I want to go around the world. I met a man in New York, who was willing to quit his job and travel around the world with me. We kind of made it our our honeymoon, we called it.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 13:32
You know, put on a backpack and three changes of clothes and just went out for about 18 months. So, so lucky to go to just so many places, you know, it turns out even the world is a huger place than you can get to in a year, which is very American to have imagined that I might be able to really see a lot of the world in a year. But certainly saw a lot of a lot of things. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I got back, I knew I wanted to come back to California where I’m from, there’s a … There’s a few publishing houses, but not a huge kind of children’s publishing field really, if you want to work in, in publishing, you’re in New York, or I guess, in the sort of fanciest, most known part of publishing.

Arthur Attwell 14:10
Sure.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 14:10
That’s really where the kind of transformation happened. I got back here. Literally the day I started looking for jobs, I saw this posting. A Global Children’s Publishing Officer and I was like, what’s that? That sounds interesting! For an organisation called Room to Read in San Francisco, and I’m like, What are you kidding, like in San Francisco? So I started to do some research and you know, really found that here’s this organisation, you know, helping new authors and illustrators publish books around the world and be able to kind of tell their stories and try and you know, serve that audience of kids who didn’t have any books.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 14:42
I mean, I think that that really struck me in my privileged state as just the most tragic of possible things. That you wouldn’t have books. You know, that you couldn’t just travel from your corner of wherever you are. Then of course, as I’ve gotten more into the development issue, learning that so many children can’t read, even if they do have one or two books. You know, it’s been really amazing to kind of be a part of helping change some of that to the extent that, that it’s possible to help from the outside.

Arthur Attwell 15:16
Sure. Shortly after you started at Room to Read, you’re been working with publishers in southern Africa. Zambia, Tanzania, South Africa. In 2014, you wrote a lovely post, explaining how at Room to Read, as you put it, every book is a small miracle. Can you tell me more about that?

Alisha Niehaus Berger 15:36
Yeah, yeah, you know, I think, um, I’ve described my background and kind of the, the flashiest, showiest of children’s publishing, like, you know, but where you have all of these resources, you’re an editor who has a force behind them of production and copy editing, and just the capital that comes into, to making books. I remember I first picked up a book from Zambia, and you know, I looked at it and the art is really like, I don’t know, doesn’t look that exciting to me and you know, the paper that’s printed on I just like the design, oh, the design, like, I didn’t even mention design, you have a whole art and design department in publishing houses.

Arthur Attwell 16:15
Yeah

Alisha Niehaus Berger 16:15
I thought, hmm, you know, I need to do something about this. In my, you know, colonialist way or however you wanna put it. [LAUGHS] And then when I first got to Zambia, I saw a little girl in the library that Room to Read had built, which was mostly full of English books, because there just weren’t ever books in her language, in Nyanja. The teachers were very excited to show me that she could read this book, and she picked up one of these books that I had dismissed, and just was reading it to me and I, I just saw like, this is the only book she has in her language, you know, there’s maybe 10 and Room to Read has published all of them, right.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 16:51
The reason that it doesn’t look like the books that I’m used to is, you know, that the author may not have had the opportunity to read books growing up, probably didn’t, doesn’t have a sense of, you know, this visual narrative and the interplay between text and art, and the artists, right, people are lucky if they can find materials. Those are expensive. So trying to find, you know, nice paper or a nice paint, or even to have the opportunity. I mean, there’s very few places in in Zambia, and certainly Tanzania, where we work as well, where you can even go to art school, right? That’s not, it’s not really a thing. And if you could, you’re probably looking to be able to make a little bit more money than that is going to provide you, you know, I mean, you have to have so many structures in place to be able to be, or to have so much air to be a creative person, right?

Arthur Attwell 17:35
Sure.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 17:36
So this book that you can overlook, in this context of what books look like in the developed publishing world is actually like, that it came together, that one person at Room to Read who also had no kind of back or anything, like found a printer and got it, you know, all those things scanned at the local, like scan shop on the corner, and, you know, and put the text in and designed it and there’s a picture of the author and the illustrator and all the things that allowed that to happen, are really a small miracle. It really humbled me to realise that and I think … I’m glad that that was the one of the first trips I did in my job at Room to Read because, you know, I think without that perspective, I would not be able to be in service to the people who, who need it.

Arthur Attwell 18:15
Yeah, absolutely. It’s always extraordinary to me, the way people can create the books they do with so few resources. Yeah, makes me feel really spoiled whenever I get to work on a book.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 18:26
But it’s so magical to be able to be a part of helping bring that possibility to other kids and artists and illustrators. I mean, it’s just, I’m so honoured to be in my job every day.

Arthur Attwell 18:36
How do you work with those, those teams? Perhaps just sketch how Room to Read is structured. Who is on the ground in those countries, and how they are part of the Room to Read network.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 18:47
We have, you know, country offices in most of the places where we work. There’ll be a team whose job it is to help gather authors and illustrators, to work with them, to deal with all of the printing and you know, we often have one person, like, maybe two people, not the publishing house of hundreds, right, so they’re doing everything. They’re all people from the country where Room to Read has an office, so they very likely haven’t had much of a background in children’s books either, you know, like, doesn’t really exist there.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 19:17
Even the the sort of idea of the picture book and this early level book that’s super engaging, and fun, like the idea of a fun book doesn’t really exist in a lot of places, right? Like children have maybe seen their textbooks. There’s not a history of being read aloud, to there aren’t really books that you would read aloud. If there are children’s books, they may be folktales and much longer sort of stories, but not things for early readers. That’s really the gap that Room to Read is trying to help fill. If you haven’t learned to read I think by fourth grade, you basically are not going to really learn. That’s kind of what the data says, right.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 19:53
That time, early elementary school, when you could be exposed to books, when you could find what’s in the pages of … You know, in between the cover very motivating, yeah, that’s when we need to capture readers. Not just to experience the magic, but to be able to read for education, right, of course, to get a job and be able to change their circumstances if they want to get more education. I think that period is so important. Anyway, I wandered a little bit there, but back to …

Arthur Attwell 20:25
That’s great.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 20:26
How Room to Read works is, my job and kind of the job of our global regional staff, so there’s some people who have had more exposure to children’s books, or who have gotten it themselves or who have had more training with, with me or people that I’ve been able to bring into training. Instead of just saying, oh, here’s this kind of book that doesn’t really exist where you are, but here’s a way that it can be really beneficial and so let’s help people in your, in your context, try to write and illustrate these books. And so we bring in people who can help with that and try to mentor authors and illustrators and show them books. I mean, I think the hugest bit of it is exposure, right?

Alisha Niehaus Berger 21:02
That’s where I’m, you know, you don’t even think about being so spoiled. But if you’re going out to write a children’s book, in a more developed contexts, like you just have it in the air that you breathe. You’ve seen books, you’ve seen how they’re used, you have an idea of what art might look like and visual narrative, and you just don’t you know, if you haven’t seen that. So we try to bring lots of books, you know, and talk about what they are and help people make them. Of course, we do it in a week, right? Here’s the book that you may not have had much exposure to. Just write one of your own. So yeah, it’s, it’s quite intense. But I mean, that that goes into that kind of miracle thing, right, that these books happen and, and then they go back into the community.

Arthur Attwell 21:40
Last year, you wrote about an Indonesian book from Room to Read, called Sirama-rama, about a little girl waiting for her father to come home from a job in a foreign country. It was really interesting, what you were saying there about diversity, but also about the fact that that book would have come out of something like the process you’ve just described? Can you tell me a bit more about that book and what books like that mean for children?

Alisha Niehaus Berger 22:07
Yeah, so that book came out of a partnership that Room to Read did with some publishers in Indonesia. That’s kind of the new way that we’re looking to work, you know, we had been really working directly with authors and illustrators, and a lot of the places where we work there really aren’t publishing houses, but there are a few. And, you know, I’ve really realised in my now eight-year tenure at Room to Read and thinking about sustainability, which is this huge theme, of course, in international development, you know, everything we do must be sustainable. Which in a lot of ways is a big joke.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 22:42
If you really look at how most things happen, especially with publishing where you come in, and you’d skip publishing houses, you’d make some books and then they just go nowhere. You say what happened to those books? You’re going to reprint them? What’s reprint? So they really need to get into the whatever system there is in the country for those resources to be available. We started really trying to partner more with publishers, and really make that the way that we work, that we are looking more at ecosystems, and how do we help an industry grow?

Arthur Attwell 23:12
Right?

Alisha Niehaus Berger 23:13
This was the first time that Room to Read had worked directly with commercial publishers. Like, commercial, how can we do that as a nonprofit? [LAUGHS] We’re making books, you know, it’s not like, there’s, it’s a very low margin, low margin industry anyway. I think we can do a commercial here. And I think the idea that sustainability has nothing to do with commercial things is utterly ridiculous, you know, kind of like, oh, you’re at some sort of place where we’re all above people making money, which is obviously fallacious, right. So helping authors, illustrators, get paid, get paid fairly, and having their work stay available. Sirama-rama was one of the first books in that first cohort of books. My colleague, Alfredo was working with the author and illustrator there and really playing visually with the teak in Indonesia. If you look at that book, which you can find on Rome to Read’s free, online library, literacycloud.org, just a little pitch.

Arthur Attwell 24:12
I’ll put the link in the show notes.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 24:13
Thank you. Yeah, it’s beautiful and some of those patterns are a little bit like butterflies. It turns out that a butterfly in Indonesia, I don’t know if everywhere, but at least where this authors from if you see a butterfly, it means that someone you love is coming home sooner or is coming back to you soon.

Arthur Attwell 24:30
Okay.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 24:31
There’s so many families, you know, all over the world for different reasons who have a parent, or both parents who are not at home. In this context, you know, oftentimes a lot of families from South Asia have a parent who goes to work somewhere in the Middle East or you know, somewhere quite far away and so she’s waiting for her father to come home and she sees this, this butterfly that takes her on a journey through all the places she thinks he might be. On the boat on, on the train, and you kind of see her riding this butterfly in this very mystical way and coming back and getting a hug at the end, which I think, you know.

Arthur Attwell 25:07
Oh, special.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 25:08
A hug from a parent, right, who’s been far away .

Arthur Attwell 25:11
That’s wonderful.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 25:12
Touches everyone.

Arthur Attwell 25:14
You know, to see those kinds of books getting published is really exciting. Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed and I’m sure for many years before, we’ve seen a growing movement, to see more diverse people and stories in books published, but also published for the US and UK markets, which are predominantly stories about white children. To see that become more diverse is exciting. It’s really interesting to see Room to Read now contributing to that, even at home in the US. Can you tell me more about the Peace and Equality Book Collection project, which I think is a recent part of that?

Alisha Niehaus Berger 25:50
Yeah. So I, I’d just come back from maternity leave mid last year, about October. Room to Read was just starting to think about trying to do some work in the United States. Of course, this was the time in mid 2020, where the country and the families of some Black Americans were really experiencing the murders of George Floyd, Briana Taylor Ahmaud Arbery, and just that terrible part of the political workings of this country, were really in the spotlight. We wanted to try and do something to respond, well, how can we help respond with books? We wanted to kind of back out of maybe making books super, super political for like this very early age group that we’re looking at. In fact, you know, the themes, obviously, that need underscoring here are this idea of peace and equality. We put out the call for authors and illustrators through some networks for authors and illustration of diverse books. We Need Diverse Books is a fabulous organisation that started, I want to say, six or seven years ago, here in the US, and people of color and publishing, there’s different places that we kind of put this call, hey, you know, please come join us to make some books.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 27:15
You’ll appreciate the way in which we did this, Arthur, because I happen to know of an organisation in South Africa, called Book Dash, who as, as it’s intrepid founder, once told me, squeezes the air out of the publishing process that takes two to three years. I thought, that’s what I need. I need, I need a month. A virtual month, to just be able to make these books. This was really new to people here just to say, all right, you know, we’re gonna, we’re gonna take this process, usually takes so long, we’re gonna do it in a month.

Arthur Attwell 27:47
I assume some of them will know that the New York publishing scene takes those years here we’re talking about. A month must seem completely bizarre to those who have done it.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 27:55
Yeah, exactly. Totally. I think the the bit that really made it work was the, you know, the sort of other innovation of Book Dash, which was having people make books in, in really focused teams. So it was not just an author and illustrator, but also an editor and an art director, who we had working on these books. Those, the editors and art directors were sort of more experienced in the industry and we’re kind of there as mentors for the new authors and illustrators. Kind of help hold their hand through this process, and also really be a cheerleader, right, like, you can do this.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 28:30
But well, but everyone was really working together. I mean, that’s the amazing thing that I’ve seen at the Book Dashes I’ve had a chance to go to is just how when you have all these creative brains focused on, you know, one goal in a short period of time, it’s really amazing what can happen. The books, we just actually launched them on Friday. And you can find them on Literacy Cloud as well. I think they’re magnificent, and you know, huge kudos to those creative teams who, who made them happen.

Arthur Attwell 29:00
Yeah, I had a chance to look at them the other day, so I must have been looking just after they launched. They are just so beautiful, and so brilliantly produced. They’re such a contribution. I’m super excited to see if maybe one day I’ll even get copies and print them out.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 29:18
Well I think you will because I believe our some of our South African team wants to adapt some of them.

Arthur Attwell 29:22
Wonderful.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 29:23
Places in South Africa next year. Yeah.

Arthur Attwell 29:25
Fantastic. Yeah, definitely be getting those and I’ll put the link to those specifically also in the show notes, because they are really, really worth visiting. Just before we wrap up, you’re a parent of young children. So you have like me the best reason to collect and read lots of gorgeous children’s books. As a as a book-maker, who knows what goes into making these things, what have been your favourite discoveries recently? What are the books we should also look out for?

Alisha Niehaus Berger 29:55
Yeah, you know, this is always such a hard question. You know, books are just falling out of everywhere in my house. I mean, it’s, it’s a little bit insane. You know, the books from the, I have a crate that’s just books from the library because I can’t keep track of like the 30 books in the library that I have at a time. And then, you know, all the ones that I haven’t ever, I get books from this wonderful place called Better World Books, and you can get those books from anywhere. They ship them, you know, used books around the world and I, I get a book like every day in the mail, my husband’s like, really, here’s your book from today, do you need this one?

Alisha Niehaus Berger 30:25
So trying to zero in on one is, is a little tough, but it made me think about the fact that my, my son has just started to read. It’s been phenomenal to watch this happen, just having worked in, obviously, you know, books and reading and literacy for so long and then to see kind of the magical take off of like doing your phonics and kind of making words fit together, and then suddenly having meaning and just being able to read them. There’s a there’s a book that actually was really popular. I don’t know if it made its way to South Africa, but I think it’s probably from about 10 years ago, a little bit less, in the US called Pete the Cat.

Arthur Attwell 31:05
Yeah.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 31:05
‘I love my white shoes.’ Do you know this book Arthur?

Arthur Attwell 31:09
Yes, I love Pete the Cat!

Alisha Niehaus Berger 31:14
Pete — you know, oh my — okay. The first time I saw this book, oh, right. The first time I saw this book, I looked at it, and I just had my like, dismissive. I don’t know, hoity toity editor reaction, like, oh, you know, like white shoes that then you step in strawberries, and they become red, stepped in blueberries, they become blue. You know, it’s like, oh, come on. I just, I don’t know, for some reason the art didn’t appeal to me. I was getting like, you know, sold all these copies and was like, Pete the Cat, Pete the Cat. And I’m just like, no. This is why I know it was definitely before I had kids, like 10 years ago. I said this to a librarian friend of mine, she looked at me, she goes, that book is the greatest like, and I read it to kids, they just love it.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 31:20
I think you know, what’s so funny about being an editor, especially an editor who doesn’t have children yet is you don’t, you’re not really in the world of kids and kind of seeing … Like, you remember what it’s like to be a kid. So you can kind of go back there. My internal age is 12. That’s where I always go back to, like, you know, so I can I can access my inner 12 year old. My inner six year old or like, a four year old? Not as much. When I watch my son now, he just picked up this book and now he started to read Pete the Cat for himself. He does all these voices, and he’s singing this song, I mean, it has so many things, like the repetition.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 31:50
Also when I was reading it to him, I just see how brilliant of a book it really is. I’m so like, ashamed of my, you know, my reaction when I think you know, see, this is my opinion, right? My opinion is not always right. Like, thank goodness there’s lots of opinions in what makes a good book. It’s just so immediate, you know, it’s so funny, and the kids love, you know, recognising the things that the cat steps in and then it has this, you know, it’s all good, like, you know, sort of hippie moral at the end. It’s just wonderful. It’s magical to see him enjoying it and I yeah, I feel so thankful to work in books myself, but also that there are so many other people who do and can create books that speak to their like places and you know, their backgrounds as well.

Arthur Attwell 33:06
Yeah. Yeah. It’s like, really working in a community of magicians.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 33:11
Yes, that’s a great way to put it. That’s a great way to put it.

Arthur Attwell 33:15
I’m gonna, I’m gonna go and get a copy of Pete the Cat for Aidan. I think that’ll be really, really great.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 33:19
[LAUGHS] Awesome.

Arthur Attwell 33:22
Alishia, thanks so much. This has been such a delight of a conversation. I really, really appreciate you’re getting up early on a San Francisco morning to chat to me. Thank you so much.

Alisha Niehaus Berger 33:33
No problem. Thank you, Arthur.

Arthur Attwell 33:36
Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed this, i would be such a help. If you’d take a moment to share that with a friend or on social media. You’d be amazed at the effect that every share has on our downloads, so thanks for that. You can point people to howbooksaremade.com where I’ll also post links to things we talked about today. We’ll also have a transcript of this conversation there.

Arthur Attwell 33:59
How Books Are Made is supported by Electric Book Works, where my team and I make books all day, every day, in sunny Cape Town, South Africa.