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Publisher Profile: NorthSouth Books

The CBC asks Gelsey White, Marketing Coordinator, questions about the publisher.

How did your publishing house start out?

NorthSouth Books began in 1989 as the English-language imprint of Swiss-based NordSüd Verlag. Initially a family-owned company, NordSüd was founded in 1961 by Dimitrije Sidjanski, who was raised in the former Yugoslavia, and his Swiss-born wife, Brigitte. The two met in Zurich in 1945, where Dimitrije was living in a refugee camp following his escape from a German work camp. After a stint living in California, the couple returned to Switzerland and launched NordSüd with a single title, The Clown Said No (written by Dimitrije under the pseudonym Mischa Damjan and re-published in 2022 with illustrations by Torben Kuhlmann), and a mission to publish books by authors and illustrators from different countries. The Sidjanskis soon became known as pioneers in the practice of co-producing books in multiple languages and for licensing translation rights to partner publishers internationally. It was these economies of scale that helped the company to grow. Many of the books on the NordSüd list were written by Dimitrije, who also had a knack for discovering up-and-coming authors and illustrators like Janosch, Ralph Steadman, David McKee, Max Velthuijs, Binette Schroeder, Bernadette Watts and Jozef Wilkon, to name but a few.

In 1979, the couple’s youngest son, Davy Sidjanski, purchased the company from his parents and, in 1982, began to distribute English-language editions of NordSüd books in the U.S. through Faber & Faber, later switching to Henry Holt & Co. In 1989, Marc Cheshire, Holt’s editorial director, became publisher of the company’s new English-language imprint, NorthSouth Books. Under Davy Sidjanksi’s aegis, NorthSouth became a significant player in the children’s market with the publication of Hans de Beer’s Little Polar Bear series and, more significantly, Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish in 1992.

In 2004, NordSüd was saved from bankruptcy by a group of private investors led by the Oetinger Publishing Group. In 2016, it switched over to W1 Media, which is run by Jan Weitendorf von Hacht, previously of Oetinger. Herwig Bitsche has been publisher since 2011, overseeing the company with associate publisher Andrew Rushton. Both are based in Zurich.

What is your publishing house most known for?

NorthSouth Books is best known as the publisher of Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish and Hans de Beer’s The Little Polar Bear, which have been translated into over 60 and 30 languages, respectively. We are also continuing to build a list of modern classic picture books, both from international and US-based authors and illustrators. NorthSouth titles have been named Batchelder and Pure Belpré Honors in recent years. Many of our English books have been equally successful and receiving of praise, including: Surf’s up by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Daniel Miyares; The Field by Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara; and Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra. 

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

We were working remotely way before COVID hit and have been virtual for the past 14 years, but New York City remains the spiritual home of NorthSouth Books.

What conventions and conferences does your publishing house usually attend?

Back in person last year, we attended ALA and NEIBA. We normally attend ALA, USBBY, and a changing second show. We also attend many international book fairs such as Frankfurt, Bologna, Shanghai, and Guadalajara.

How many full-time employees does your house have? 

We have 3-4 staff members in the US, mostly working on editorial or sales and marketing. Our publisher, associate publisher, the foreign rights, design, and production teams are based in Switzerland. We are distributed by Simon & Schuster here in the US.

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

Around 30 a year. This number includes paperbacks, Spanish editions, or redesigns of classic NorthSouth titles. As of 2024, we will be changing from three to two seasons.

Which genres does your house prefer to publish? 

We publish high-quality picture books for mostly 4-8 and 5-9. 

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

We’ll stay true to our roots, publishing picture books with international appeal and high-quality illustrations. Inclusion and diversity continue to be a priority as well as identifying fresh new fiction and nonfiction picture book projects to inspire, support, entertain, and stretch the imaginations of young readers. We are expanding as well with more titles in Spanish and bilingual editions.

Which title has your house recently rallied behind?  

One of the benefits of being a smaller publisher is that we can rally behind all of our frontlist books as well as offer individualized attention to our authors and illustrators. This year we’re especially excited about these Spring titles: Jitterbug by Kai Lüftner, illustrated by Wiebke Rauers; The Forest Keeper by Rina Singh, illustrated by Ishita Jain; Hooray for Spring! by Kazuo Iwamura; Let’s Build a Dam! written by Daniel Fehr, illustrated by Mariachiara Di Giorgia. 

We just published Genius Noses by Lena Anlauf, illustrated by Vitali Konstantinov, as well as Ludwig and the Rhinoceros, written by Noemi Schneider, illustrated by GOLDEN COSMOS, who are well known for their editorial work for The New York Times, coming out this fall. 

Name a few of your favorite backlist titles that people should check out.

All the Mouseadventures by Torben Kuhlmann, which include Lindbergh, Armstrong, Edison, and Einstein; Peace by Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul, illustrated by Estelí Meza; our series of books by Kazuo Iwamura; and our books by author/illustrator Bernadette Watts, who has collaborated with NordSüd for over 50 years and still illustrates new stories for us.

Thank you, NorthSouth Books!

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