Small Press Profile: Ripple Grove Press

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Oregon-based Ripple Grove Press aims to publish beautifully illustrated and well-told children’s picture books that kids and adults will want to read again and again.

Ripple Grove Press logoIn 2013, the Broders decided they wanted to start a business that would allow them to work from home so they could care for their newborn daughter. Rob Broder was a preschool teacher and Amanda Broder had an art history background, so the idea of starting a children’s picture book publishing company had obvious appeal.

“We wanted to start a business that we really had a passion for, and this is the first idea that really stuck with us,” Rob Broder said. “We had to learn the business, so we started reading books about publishing and buying picture books and talking about them and analyzing them. About a week after we put up a post calling for submissions, the submissions started coming in.”

Broder said Ripple Grove, whose name stems from a tale about a fairy forest he created to entertain his preschool students, receives roughly 300 submissions a month, which he and Amanda go through to find the next story they want to publish. A fair amount of submissions do not come with art, said Broder, so they usually pair the story with an illustrator from a list of artists with whom they regularly work.

Graduation Day coverWhen evaluating submissions, Broder said, “We’re always looking for that book a child will want to grab over and over and over; we also want the parent to want to read it over and over and over. We’re looking for a book that really captures that timeless feel, but we’re also looking for something that is unique and has a sense of humor.”

When a book is done, Ripple Grove sometimes works with an outside editor to get a fresh set of eyes on it, said Broder. “But when we are creating the book and creating the story, Amanda and I are the only ones doing the work,” he added. “I’m pretty much the art director; I speak with the artist and go over every spread, every corner of the book.”

The company’s first book came out in October 2014: The Gentleman Bat, written by Abraham Schroeder and illustrated by Piotr Parda, follows a sophisticated bat on a midnight stroll as he meets up with his lady friend to enjoy the evening. That first title was followed in April 2015 by Schroeder’s Too Many Tables, illustrated by Micah Monkey, about a restaurant’s chaotic opening day.

Ripple Grove Press will publish three new books by the end of 2017. In March, Ripple Grove published its first wordless picture book, Graduation Day by Piotr Parda, which, Broder said, “is basically about taking some negative circumstances and changing them into something beautiful.” Graduation Day is the story of a girl bullied by classmates who spit sunflower seeds at her, but she collects the seeds and at the end of the year unveils a beautiful garden to the class.

Mr. Tanner cover“We’re also trying to do a sunflower challenge where we have schools plant sunflower seeds throughout their school yard and send us a picture at the end of the summer; then we’ll send that school a copy of the book at graduation,” said Broder. Graduation Day is one example of Ripple Grove’s conscious effort to publish books about diverse characters, Broder said, adding that he and Amanda will often ask illustrators to consider diversity when creating their characters.

On May 9, Ripple Grove will publish its second book of the year, Mr. Tanner, illustrated by Bryan Langdo with words by Harry Chapin, the writer and singer of the famous folk song “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Ripple Grove acquired the rights to Chapin’s 1973 song “Mr. Tanner” and turned it into a children’s picture book about a bear that works at a drycleaner and goes to New York to become a singer. A portion of the book’s proceeds will go to WhyHunger, the charitable foundation co-founded by Chapin in the 1970s, said Broder.

Ripple Grove’s third book of 2017, coming out August 29, is Grandmother Thorn, written by Katey Howes and illustrated by local artist Rebecca Hahn. Based on a Japanese folk tale, Grandmother Thorn tells the story of an old woman who tries to tame her unruly garden.

Grandmother Thorn coverAll Ripple Grove titles are distributed by Small Press United/Independent Publishers Group (IPG); the publisher also has a foreign rights agent to help sell their books overseas. Ripple Grove’s top-selling book to date is Monday Is Wash Day, written by MaryAnn Sundby and illustrated by Tessa Blackham, which received a starred review from Kirkus when it was published last September.

The 2015 book Mae and the Moon, written and illustrated by Jami Gigot, tells the story of a young girl who chases the moon as the phases change. It has been one of Ripple Grove’s most successful and most reviewed books to date. In 2018, Gigot will publish a complement to Mae and the Moon; the new title, Seb and the Sun, is about a boy living in a dark coastal town who goes searching for the sun. Also coming from the publisher in 2018 are Iver and Ellsworth, written by Casey Robinson and illustrated by Melissa Larson, and Cat Eyes by Laura Lee.

Ripple Grove was one of seven children’s book publishers participating in the new publisher consultations at this year’s Children’s Institute in Portland.

“Independent bookstores are an extremely important channel for us,” said Broder. “It was our first time at Children’s Institute so it was nice to get face time with booksellers and show them our books.”

To promote its titles, Broder said Ripple Grove sends catalogs to stores around the country, uses social media, and solicits reviews from such publications as Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Shelf Awareness. Ripple Grove writers also promote their own books through social media and do story times or signings at their local bookstores and schools.

Mae and the Moon cover“I always tell our writers and illustrators that our heart and soul goes into every book,” said Broder. “The person who wrote it, their heart and soul went into it; our heart and soul went into it just as much, so it becomes part of our press and part of our family.”

The Broders’ vision is to continue growing their company and to keep coming out with gorgeously illustrated picture books as often as possible.

“We want to continue making beautiful, timeless picture books that find that cozy spot in someone’s room, someone’s home, someone’s school, someone’s library,” Rob Broder said. “We really just want to find those stories that make those beautiful books everyone enjoys reading.”