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Publisher Profile: READERS to EATERS

The CBC asks Philip Lee, Publisher and Co-founder, questions about the publisher.

How did your publishing house start out?

READERS to EATERS has a mission to promote food literacy through stories about our diverse food cultures. My wife, June Jo Lee, and I started in 2009 as a pop-up bookstore at farmers’ markets and other food events selling related adults’ and children’s books. Parents especially showed interest in books about what we eat and food culture with their children, yet the selection was limited. I’ve been a children’s book publisher for many years as the co-founder of Lee & Low Books, and June Jo is a professional food ethnographer, so it was natural for us to launch our own publishing program. Our first books were published in 2012.

What is your publishing house most known for?

Our focus is on telling stories about people through food. Be it STEM education, social studies, climate issues, immigration, social justice, LGBTQ, there is always a food connection. Our most popular titles include the “Kids Garden Club” series with Sylvia’s Spinach and Zora’s Zucchini by Katherine Pryor and Anna Raff, for younger readers on growing and tasting new foods. 

We also have our award-winning “Food Heroes” series—including Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table, Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious, Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix, and most recently, Sandor Katz and the Tiny Wild—picture book biographies on a diverse group of pioneers growing a better community through food, written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin with the last two books co-written with June Jo Lee. The Thing About Bees: A Love Poem, written and illustrated by Shabazz Larkin, brings attention to ecology, mindfulness, fatherhood, and diversity, which all connects through pollinators and the food we love to eat!

Where in the country is your house based? What do you love about being based there?

We started our company in the Seattle area and relocated to San Francisco in 2018. The Bay Area is where I began my publishing career, working at different independent bookstores, so it feels like a homecoming. Every day we’re inspired by the area’s beauty, diversity, literary community, and good food!

What conventions and conferences does your publishing house usually attend?

We regularly exhibit at ALA and many state library conferences. We also attend regional bookseller events such as CALIBA and PNBA with our trade distributor, Publishers Group West/Ingram Content Group. We are also frequent exhibitors and presenters at food, gardening, and nutrition conferences, such as farmers markets, Farm to School, Agriculture in the Classroom, and Women, Infants, & Children (WIC).

What has been the biggest change your house has made and retained since the pandemic started?

Our publishing program remained the same, but we’ve been able to work with new marketing partners during the pandemic. While many booksellers, schools, and libraries scaled back on activities and orders during COVID, we were able to partner with food organizations such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture to connect nutrition education and early literacy. These partnerships have created new opportunities for us and new editorial projects, too.

How many books does your house aim to publish per season/year?

We publish 1-2 books a year, which include hardcovers, paperbacks, and Spanish editions.

Which genres does your house prefer to publish?

Many of our books are non-fiction, especially biographies. We are also interested in fiction and poetry. While our lens is food culture, our focus is on the people behind the food.

Which formats does your house prefer to publish?

The majority of our titles are picture books, with a few aimed at middle/high school students. We plan to add board books soon! 

What are some of your house’s publishing priorities over the next few years?

We slowed down our acquisitions during the pandemic years, so we’re excited to be adding more titles in the coming years. It is also important that we continue to develop new channels of distribution. There are so many ways to reach new readers! 

Which title has your house recently rallied behind?

Our most recent book is Sandor Katz and the Tiny Wild, part of our “Food Heroes” series about the renowned fermenter and James Beard Award food writer, making ‘cultured’ connections through food such as sauerkraut and kimchi. It is also an LGBTQ story about the New Yorker who came across a mysterious virus in the 1990s—HIV—and moved to a rural queer community in Tennessee, where he learned to make krautchi, a cross between sauerkraut and kimchi (because who likes to eat just cabbage for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack?). It has earned terrific reviews, best books honors, and support from LGBTQ parents, yet the recent book challenges have limited this title from many parts of the country. Please help us get the word out! 

Which upcoming titles is your house buzzing about?

Our coming spring 2024 book is Farmer Eva’s Green Garden Life, the fifth “Food Heroes” title by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, about a New England farmer who has introduced Boston area chefs to new tastes and greens for over 50 years. Eva’s farm is an ecology story that connects agriculture, nature, beauty, and flavor. We’re especially excited for this title as there are few children’s books that recognize women farmers. 

Which of your titles would be great for a school or public library?

All our titles are a good fit for schools and libraries. School libraries can share our books with school garden and cafeteria programs, as well as STEAM and social studies. There is a growing interest in food at public libraries that promote good health and food access. (See “Libraries and Food” Facebook group.) 

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix is a Sibert Honor book, and the Spanish edition was recently published; Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table and A Moose Boosh are ALA Notable Books; Sylvia’s Spinach and The Thing About Bees have been featured many times at library Storywalks.  Author June Jo Lee has been doing a series of krautchi-making and tasting workshops at libraries for Sandor Katz and the Tiny Wild

Which of your titles would be great for a classroom? Which grade?

All our books are widely used in classrooms. Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table is used in science programs on aquaponics and hydroponics. Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix, an NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Book for Social Studies, is also used in art classes for illustrator Man One’s graffiti art. Both books are good use for upper elementary classes on discussion of social justice and food access. Sylvia’s Spinach, Zora’s Zucchini, Our School Garden! and The Thing About Bees are popular books for younger students in school garden programs. 

Which of your tiles would be great for an at-home library?

See all our books! The Thing About Bees is a favorite for home libraries. While introducing young readers to pollination and outdoor activity, Bees is a love poem from a father to his young sons. Also popular for home readers is Feeding the Young Athlete, our only recipe book for active families, now available in an eBook edition. 

Diversity is foundational to our publishing program, so we hope all readers see themselves reflected in our books. 

What else would you like to tell us about your house and the amazing work you all do?

We are especially proud of bringing new voices to children’s publishing. Many of the writers and artists we work with are new to children’s books and often weren’t even looking for work in books. We’re excited to find talents from other fields and bring their fresh perspectives in storytelling and art-making to engage kids and families. 

Diversity is also central in our work as we explore cultural connections through food. Through stories about food culture and traditions, as well as basic knowledge of flavor and texture, we can all gain greater cross-cultural understanding. 

Finally, we want our stories to provide agency to young readers. We hope readers will read our books and feel empowered to make changes, whether it be adding their own dazzle to make food on their plate taste better or cooking their own, creating food access by growing and sharing food, or being mindful of nature and tiny critters to care for our earth. Through our food choices and actions, we can make a difference for ourselves and our community. 

September is Food Literacy Month—officially recognized in California and Washington and celebrated in communities across the country—and October is National Farm to School Month. These are among our favorite times of the year to connect young readers and eaters in understanding the impact of their food choices on health, community, and the environment. They are also wonderful opportunities to connect food education with the school garden, cafeteria, and the library. Contact me at philip@readerstoeaters.com for more information. 

Thank you, everyone, for connecting good reads and good eats!

Thank you, READERS to EATERS!

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