“We’re filling a gap in children’s literature by giving young readers and their parents and educators the chance to encounter smartly written, beautifully illustrated, and handsomely produced books exploring the people, places, events, and themes that have helped define South Carolina’s experience and that continue to shape our shared future.” – Jonathan Haupt, Executive Director, University of South Carolina Press
Founded in 2011, the Young Palmetto Books (YPB) serves as the Children’s Book Series created in conjunction with The University of South Carolina Press and the South Carolina Center for Children’s Books & Literacy. Geared toward younger readers in and around South Carolina, the first titles in the YPB collection were published in 2013. In the following interview, USC Press Executive Director Jonathan Haupt provides information about this exciting series for children.
Jasper: Why did you decide to publish a new series?
Haupt: Since 1944 USC Press has been committed to publishing books about South Carolina that broaden our understanding and appreciation for the complexities and wonders of our home state. Young Palmetto Books was an opportunity to expand that mission to the benefit of younger readers, and to do so in a way that also highlighted a group of immensely talented writers and artists in, from, or otherwise of South Carolina. We’re filling a gap in children’s literature by giving young readers and their parents and educators the chance to encounter smartly written, beautifully illustrated, and handsomely produced books exploring the people, places, events, and themes that have helped define South Carolina’s experience and that continue to shape our shared future. We’re growing young minds with great books, and given that we’re the publisher of our state’s flagship research university, that educational mission is as much as a responsibility as an opportunity.
Jasper: Who are the key players in the publishing process?
Haupt: Young Palmetto Books is a partnership between USC Press and the South Carolina Center for Children’s Books & Literacy (SCCCBL), which in turn is a unit of the USC School of Library and Information Science. SCCCBL director Kim Shealy Jeffcoat serves as series editor for Young Palmetto Books and works with a dedicated editorial board of educators, writers, artists, and librarians to guide the direction of the series. I serve as the sponsoring editor for YPB at USC Press, and the Press’s expert staff of editors, designers, and marketers publish and distribute the YPB books alongside the nearly 1,500 other books currently in print from USC Press.
Jasper: How are the authors selected?
Haupt: Young Palmetto Books has two open submission periods each year, announced on the series website, www.youngpalmettobooks.com. The series editor and editorial board vet those hundreds of submissions for quality and fit with the educational, place-based mission of YPB, then recommend the best of those submissions to the Press. Those recommended manuscripts are then reviewed externally by expert peer reviewers selected specifically for each project and, assuming those reviews are supportive, then also by a 12-member faculty editorial board. All throughout this process, authors are given feedback to improve their work. Our rejection rate is very high, but so then is the quality of the books that do make it through this lengthy review and approval process.
Jasper: Do authors have to come to the Press with an illustrator, or does the Press acquire the illustrator?
Haupt: Picture books are not required to have completed art or even an artist in mind when being submitted for consideration, although we are open to that possibility. Of the picture books we’ve published so far or have under contract now, very few came to us with completed art at the onset. We’ve been really fortunate to get to work with some remarkably talented South Carolina artists on our picture books and our graphic novella, those of course in addition to all of the exceptional writers with whom we also work.
Jasper: What do you hope to accomplish with the Young Palmetto Books?
Haupt: We’re a humanities publisher, and the real goal of anyone working in the humanities is to help people become more informed, more inspired, more engaged, more empathetic, more responsible, more understanding of each other and of the world we share. That’s true of every book published by USC Press and it’s certainly true of our books for younger readers. We’re in this together, and that’s a valuable lesson to learn and relearn at any age.
Jasper: What honors have the Young Palmetto Books achieved thus far?
Haupt: We’ve only published twelve books to date, but I’m pleased to say that many of them have garnered honors already. Katie’s Cabbage by Katie Stagliano is perhaps our most award-winning YPB title so far, having been selected as the 2016 Together We Can Read book for Richland School District One and winning the 2015 Carol D. Reiser Children’s Book Award, a silver medal in the 2015 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for best book by a youth author, and a 2016 Christopher Award for books for young people. USC First Lady Patricia Moore-Pastides’ YA and family garden-to-table cookbook Greek Revival from the Garden: Growing and Cooking for Life also won a gold medal for cookbooks in the 2013 Mom’s Choice Awards, a silver medal for cookbooks in the 2013 Living Now Awards, a 2014 Eric Hoffer Book Award in the home category, and was a finalist in the cookbooks category of the 2014 International Book Awards. Our other book awards and starred reviews are listed on the YPB series website at www.youngpalmettobooks.com.
Jasper: Are there any other children’s series like this in the Southeast?
Haupt: In part because of our very high rejection rate, we’ve gotten to be very good at recommending other children’s book publishers to authors, and there are no shortages of publishers in the Southeast—Arbordale, Peachtree, and Algonquin Young Readers, to name just three.
Jasper: How do the Young Palmetto Books answer the diversity needs that our culture so desperately requires now?
Haupt: Regardless of their authorship, we aim for our YPB titles to be as diverse as possible in their representations in text and art alike, but still in keeping with the context of their narratives. It can be a challenging balance to strike, but it’s a powerful moment when a young reader can identify with a character in a story, and an equally powerful moment when a character’s representation, when different from that of the reader, can expand a reader’s perception of self and of others. Increasingly, themes of diversity, inclusion, and empathy have become lens through which we assess the potential fit of new submissions for the series.
Jasper: Where can people go to read or purchase these books?
Haupt: Our goal with all USC Press books, Young Palmetto or otherwise, is that they be available to readers wherever they would normally go to engage with any other book, be that a local library, a local or chain bookstore, a museum gift shop, the major online booksellers, or any ebookseller. So the answer to your question of where can people go to find Young Palmetto Books—is everywhere. And we hope they will have a look at what we’ve done with the twelve books in the series so far and with the half-dozen more now under contract and coming soon, including a new edition of Louise Meriwether’s Freedom Ship of Robert Smalls illustrated by Jonathan Green and two more volumes in our Writing South Carolina series, highlighting the winners and finalists of the annual South Carolina High School Writing Contest, our partnership with the USC Honors College.
For more information about the Young Palmetto Books series, please visit www.youngpalmettobooks.com.
“… it’s a powerful moment when a young reader can identify with a character in a story, and an equally powerful moment when a character’s representation, when different from that of the reader, can expand a reader’s perception of self and of others. Increasingly, themes of diversity, inclusion, and empathy have become lens through which we assess the potential fit of new submissions for the series.” – JH