The Kids’ Own Publishing story began thirty years ago when, as a young, idealistic teacher, I was confronted by a child’s refusal to read a book that had just one word in it: 'Mummy'. The mummy depicted was blond, aproned, dressed circa 1950s Britain, while the young reader was dark-skinned, from the Gujarat, India. That light-bulb moment taught me that children need to see their culture reflected in the books they encounter.
Then an opportunity through the Brent Young Writers Project to publish one of our class-made books opened my eyes to the power of the publishing process for young readers and writers, which sparked a passion for making books by children for children that endures to this day.
I am married to an artist — a printmaker — so it was not long before we had a project up and running where children in schools created and published their own books in small limited, hand-printed editions. That was in 1987 — long before we had access to desktop publishing! It took another ten years before Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership was born in Ireland, with its mission to raise the status of young people as writers and illustrators. Then, in 2004, Kids’ Own Publishing was established in Australia.
Since then, the technology has caught up with our dreamings. Moving from small, quirky, hand-printed editions to glossy and hard-to-finance hardcover offset (commercially) published editions, we have settled on a method of production that allows us to print on demand. Now we can truly turn publishing convention on its head to respond to community needs. For while Kids’ Own often supports individual children to create and ‘publish’ their own books, it is the collaborative approach of working with artists to harness the creativity of children and their carers to share a community story, celebrate culture or publish in community languages that makes it unique.
In the next few months we will publish our 100th book through partnerships, with an ISBN — immortality for a book! All books are deposited in the state and national libraries. In the past year, we have published books as diverse as Shapes and Patterns are Just Beautiful and Donkeys Can’t Fly on Planes with partners from local government, state libraries, community groups and the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. We have published books in twelve different languages — including several world ‘firsts’: a book in Cant, the language of Irish Travellers; Chin, a Burmese dialect; and Fataluku, one of the minority languages of East Timor, among them.
In the last three years, in response to a huge surge in demand, Kids’ Own in Australia has grown from a home office to a dedicated team based at the Abbotsford Convent managing diverse projects and a stable of committed artists — going everywhere …