Spotlight On: Lantana Publishing
By Mollie Gregory-Clark, Priyanka Joshi and William Swift
With its name inspired by the lantana flower, which has petals of different colours on one stem, Lantana Publishing believes in a world where all children can see themselves in the books they read.
Founded by Caroline Godfrey and Alice Curry, who aimed to ensure her mixed-race nephew could grow up seeing characters who looked like him, Lantana Publishing explores social themes, promoting diversity, inclusion, racial justice, empathy, wellbeing and sustainability – to name a few. Established in 2014 and based in Oxford, Lantana Publishing have been giving new and aspiring BAME authors a platform for the past decade, collecting multiple awards for their titles, including the Blue Peter Book Award and Children’s Africana Best Book Award.
Winner of Small Press of the Year in 2019, Lantana Publishing is now continuing to work towards developing their outreach programme and expanding their work to authors and illustrators abroad.
Listening to the Quiet by Cassie Silva, illustrated by Frances Ives
Diving headfirst into the plot, Listening to the Quiet introduces a difficult change into the lives of Jackie, the protagonist, and her Mama when Jackie’s mother gradually starts losing her hearing because of a rare condition. In an effort to connect with her Mama, Jackie begins learning sign language with her and even tries to “listen to the quiet” as her mother likes to call it. This rare condition makes it difficult for Jackie to take part in Music Appreciation Days at her school. Not giving up, Jackie discovers a creative way to involve her mother in this part of her life as well. Silva and Ives have remarkably represented the turmoil and hope that Jackie feels through various mediums of words and vibrant images. This heartfelt story is the perfect way to explore the practical aids and small gestures one can do to increase inclusivity for people with hearing disabilities.
Letters in Charcoal by Irene Vasco, illustrated by Juan Palomino, translated by Lawrence Schimel
Set in the remote Palenque village of Colombia, Letters in Charcoal follows the journey of Gina as she discovers the brand-new world of letters and alphabets. Becoming increasingly curious about the letters received by her older sister, Gina yearns to know the meaning behind the letters. Since the majority of the population is unable to read, Señor Velandia comes to her rescue and helps her gain the ability to read and understand the contents of those letters. She shares this new-found ability with all the children as her curiosity transforms into a revolution. Combined with the history and context of the place, Vasco and Palomino paint a brilliant picture of a bustling Afro-Latin community that celebrates the freedom to read and the importance of education. This is a great read for someone who wants to examine the transformational impact of education and knowledge in remote places.
Lantana’s bestseller, by a margin of about 50,000 places in the worldwide book sales ranking, is My Mummies Built a Treehouse by Gareth Peter, illustrated by Izzy Evans.
This bestseller blends into their catalogue with a quiet representation that champions the utopic, truly inclusive society that does not need advertisement of the successes of marginalised people. Written by an LGBTQIA+ father of two, My Mummies Built a Treehouse not only represents these marginalised groups, but encourages children to develop planning skills and think through projects with care – a fundamental stage in their development – making it a valuable contribution to children’s literature in the early years of schooling. It is clear in the author’s attention to these mental processes that they have experience with children at this incredibly rapid developmental stage. Experience, in this case, is everything. Mummies uses a treehouse, something within the children’s visual experience, to illustrate home and conscientious team planning in a refreshingly diverse way.
In terms of illustration, Izzy Evans was the person for the job. Coming from an indie press that has championed representation of the true British experience, Mummies is also utopically sustainable. In combination with Mummies’ text, Evans’ artwork embraces naturalism into the manufactured structure, marrying them in the treehouse and contributing an ecologically sustainable image of the future, hopefully embedded in the minds of the curious youth readership. The artist’s naturalistic inspiration and North London background are stated in a short biography – and yet they are communicated so clearly in their imagery that this artistic statement becomes merely a recitation of what we were aware of.
Mummies, as well as every book listed in Lantana’s catalogue, is an example of the diverse, representative children’s books missing from classrooms. Their very existence is a hopeful reminder in a troubling time that the resources to teach our children positive and empathetic values exist already on the developmental level, without sacrificing the plot structure and critical thinking necessary for crafting children’s literature.