British indie publisher Greenhill Books is to make its first foray into children’s with Green Bean Books, a new imprint of Jewish-interest titles.
Greenhill publisher Michael Leventhal (pictured) said the impetus for Green Bean was personal frustration at the lack of quality Jewish children’s books in English, particularly in the UK market. He said: “I have two young sons and have been really disappointed by [Jewish-interest] kids’ titles in the UK, most of which aren’t remotely inspiring or engaging. There are more books from the US market, but many of these aren’t quite right for Britain and are rather ham-fisted. In Hebrew or Russian [languages], there are some wonderful publishers doing great work. A canon of Jewish folk literature has been largely forgotten: I want to resurrect these stories.”
Kicking off the list are picture books aimed at readers aged four to eight: Shoham Smith and Vali Mintzi’s Signs in the Well; Shlomo Abas and Omer Hoffman’s The Sages of Chelm and the Moon; and Ori Elon and Menachem Halberstadt’s A Basket Full of Figs. The last two are new takes on classic Jewish folktales, while Signs in the Well is about first-century scholar Rabbi Akiva.
Greenhill is a military history specialist, and Leventhal noted the children’s imprint “was a certainly a change from the Battle of the Bulge and books about snipers”. He added: “We were going to focus solely on picture books in translation, but I’ve just bought some YA and commissioned some English-language titles.”
It’s always wonderful to hear about new publishers that are passionate about bringing meaningful stories to life for young readers. Green Bean Books, based in London, is a new, independent publishing company. They have select titles available, including translated works from some of Israel’s “best loved authors and illustrators.” I find it fascinating to view the publishing process from through the lens of a publisher. Lucky for me, I had the chance to learn about Green Bean Books from Michael Leventhal, head of Green Bean Books. Welcome, Michael!
How did you get into the publishing business?
I’ve been publishing history books for more than twenty years but, after become a father myself, I became more interested in books for children. I was blissfully naive about how challenging it can be publishing books for children and I’ve had to learn a great deal in a short space of time.
You are based in London. Are you specifically interested in stories based in London and/or Europe?
The short answer is no. Although I’m happy to be in London I think that any publishing companies could be run from anywhere in the world – ideally a hammock on a desert island. I work with freelance editors and designers who happen to be based in England but very rarely live in London.
I can’t think of any books that I’ve published or commissioned that are based on stories from England or Europe. I want to publish books that have a universal appeal. I would want to read books about important events in British-Jewish history – the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 for example – but it’s more important – and also more commercial – to publish books that will be enjoyed by readers in Auckland, Atlanta or Aberdeen.
What kind of list do you hope to create in the coming years?
I want to publish a list of books that I’ll be proud to read to my children, relatives and friends for years to come. One of my authors, Shoham Smith, has said that some books have a shorter shelf life than yoghurt. I want to publish books that will pass the test of time and be in print for decades not months. That’s partly because I want my books to sell and generate income but mostly because I want to be building a library of books that people can enjoy for years.
Can you tell me a bit about the books Green Bean has published thus far?
All the Green Bean Books that I’ve published to date are translations from Hebrew. I’m in touch with a lot of Israeli publishers and I look at both their brand new books and books they’ve published over the last twenty years. For newcomers to publishing I think it’s quite common to start out with translations so that you can see the story and artwork from the word ‘go’. There are incredible authors and wonderful illustrators in Israel that do not have the international recognition they deserve: I want to change that and bring their works to a wider English-language audience.
I am looking at publishing more translations and selecting not just Hebrew language works for translation but also Russian and French stories that have Jewish content. I’ve also now commissioned two brand new books with Israeli writers and illustrators. It’s nerve-wracking but tremendously rewarding to see a project develop from an idea to a final book.
Are you open to submissions from authors or only agents?
I’m open to submissions from anyone with a work that fits the Green Bean criteria: books that have meaningful Jewish content but are original, creative and inspiring. Children’s book publishing is a terribly competitive and overcrowded field: books really have to be outstanding to get attention and I think that authors have to work harder than ever.
This week's Jewish Chronicle newspaper has a wonderful review of Green Bean's new book, The Heart-Shaped Leaf. Angela Kiverstein descibes the book as, ‘Mesmerizingly-illustrated…. A comforting fable about parenting, loss and love’.
Green Bean Books is delighted to announce that later this year we will be publishing the first English language edition of Rinat Hoffer’s The Shoebox. The book is a beautifully-illustrated story of a young girl who explores the year’s Jewish festivals through the prism of a shoebox that her father gives her. Rinat Hoffer is one of Israel’s best known and admired children’s writers and illustrators. The book has been translated by Noga Applebaum and it is the first of the new Green Bean Books list.!
We will occasionally be posting information about our new releases, as well as articles of interest to the blog. If you’d like to be told in advance when this information will be posted, or if you'd like to contribute to the blog, please enter your details below. By joining our mailing list you’ll also hear first about special offers from Green Bean Books!