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Publisher Profile: Emerald Prairie Press

The CBC asks Kelly Brakenhoff, owner/founder, questions about the publisher.

2024 marks our 5th anniversary as a publisher! In our five years as publishers, one of our most wonderful lessons has been that publishing is indeed a marathon, not a sprint. As a slow, steady runner in real life, I’ve learned that each step forward—guided by our purpose to elevate voices and enrich narratives through the power of storytelling, with a spotlight on ASL and Deaf Culture – demands persistence, resilience, and unwavering commitment. This guiding principle has steered us through challenges and opened doors to opportunities we could never have imagined. It’s a constant reminder that purpose-driven work is not only fulfilling but can also make a significant impact.

How did your publishing house start out?

Emerald Prairie Press was born out of my passion for creating engaging stories for children and young adults that entertain while also promoting diversity and inclusivity. My professional background as a certified ASL Interpreter informs every aspect of the content we produce, featuring deaf characters in relatable plots with captivating storylines. We strive to give those stories authenticity by collaborating with deaf and hard-of-hearing educators, illustrators, and creators to shine a light on the vibrant world of ASL and Deaf Culture. Our picture books use accessible illustrations, as well as linked ASL videos, to help bring these stories to life in an entertaining way.

What is your publishing house most known for?

Our publishing house is most known for two series: our diverse and inclusive children’s picture book series, the Duke the Deaf Dog ASL Series, which introduces children aged 3-9 to ASL, Deaf culture, and the experiences of the Deaf community. The Cassandra Sato Mysteries, which are appropriate for ages 12 and up, will keep readers on their toes with thrilling mysteries set in small-town Nebraska. 

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

We’re based in Nebraska, aka “the good life,” nestled between corn and soybean fields, which gives us a unique perspective on life in small towns. We’ve got all the fresh air and slow-paced life (and even slower internet) a Midwesterner could dream of. After all, nothing says rustic countryside living like a buffering YouTube video! 

What conventions and conferences does your publishing house usually attend?

Many of our purchases come from schools and programs geared toward children who are deaf or hard of hearing. In addition to state and regional conferences in the special education fields, we are always looking to connect with parents and educators who want to give their children and students access to early bilingual education. 

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

We are a small house, so we aim for 4-6 books per year. 

Which genres does your house prefer to publish?

In addition to the picture books and mysteries, we will add an Early Chapter Book series featuring the Duke the Deaf Dog character. 

Which formats does your house prefer to publish?

We publish in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audio formats. 

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

We have lots of fun and exciting things in store for the next few years! We’ll be ramping up our Duke the Deaf Dog series with classroom aids like an ASL sign-matching game, flashcards, and an Early Chapter Book series. And we’d love to eventually publish books written by Deaf authors. Our main goal remains stability, so while we want to crank up the speed, we’re also mindful of making smart decisions along the way. 

Which title does your house feel deserved more love than it got?

Sometimes I Like the Quiet is an inspiring story about giving children their fair say in when and if they use technology like hearing aids and cochlear implants. But it also draws attention to the fact that deaf and hard-of-hearing kids often work hard to process their environment, making them more susceptible to feeling overwhelmed. That’s why it’s important for these kids to be able to take a break from all the noise in their lives, whether it be at school or home. It’s a story we can all relate to – who doesn’t need some peace and quiet once in a while?

Which upcoming titles is your house buzzing about?

We are still thrilled about two recent releases in the Cassandra Sato series: Death 101: Extra Credit begins with the Morton College search committee tasked with hiring a new president teetering on the brink of chaos. A student production of The Three Musketeers devolves into a bloody sword fight. Unraveling the tangled web of secrets and lies, Cassandra Sato and the students in a Death 101 course quickly put their detective skills to the test as the college’s very future hangs in the balance. And Halloween Hustle, a spooky fun novella about a charity 5K fun run gone horribly wrong. It’s a spine-chilling race to the finish line that promises thrills around every corner.

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

All our titles work well in educational learning environments! The Duke the Deaf Dog ASL series is particularly popular as it solves an age-old problem: kids can sometimes lack exposure to diverse perspectives, including those of the Deaf community. Our books offer a relatable way to introduce young readers to Deaf characters and culture, encouraging understanding and empathy from an early age. They become more aware and appreciative of diversity, language, and communication, equipping them with a better view of the world.

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

All our books are widely used in classrooms. Kids ages 3-9 can pick up signs from images in our books and then watch our videos, where they’ll be taught by a college professor who’s also deaf. We’ve got lesson plans, worksheets, activities, and more to give students in 1st and 2nd grade an even deeper understanding of what it’s like to grow up deaf or hard of hearing. It’s educational and fun—just the way learning should be!

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

Death by Dissertation is the first in the Cassandra Sato series and picks up about three months after Cassandra leaves her home and family in Hawaii to take a new job as a college administrator for a small private college in rural Nebraska. When a student dies, she discovers what the “other duties as assigned” part of her job description is all about. It’s perfect for middle or high school kids (and adults!) who want to learn a little about what it’s like being on a college campus, all the while solving the mystery of who killed a student! 

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

For the holidays, we are launching a special charitable initiative to match corporate sponsors with classrooms that serve deaf or hard-of-hearing students. We are working to identify enough sponsors to donate Duke the Deaf Dog books to those children in need as holiday gifts.

Thank you, Emerald Prairie Press!

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