Children have their first encounter with the world through books. They have a bath together with the fairy, prepare for the new year with family, and go on an adventure inside a refrigerator inside books. This is one of the reasons why publisher Bearbooks Inc. has fallen deep into books for children. Making children happy through stories and diversifying the world they will live in are its goal. Let’s hear what Woo Ji-Young, the chief editor of Bearbooks has to say.
Logo of Bearbooks Inc.
The name is quite unique. What does “Bearbooks” mean?
The way the bear is sitting looks similar to how an editor is sitting stooped at the desk. How it looks from the front crouched is just like our children. The name “Bearbooks” came from the idea of hoping the stories of our simple-heartedly made books would be received well by children.
The motto of Bearbooks is “Connecting yesterday, today, and tomorrow with children’s books.” It is because the today melted into the book becomes yesterday with time. So the initial members of the publisher were quite interested in our culture. We thought that knowing ourselves is the foundation for building self-esteem, and what other than books would be able to deliver “being ourselves” to children. This is why the first book Bearbooks published is the picture book <Little Yeoni’s New Year’s Day> depicting the legend of 100 years ago. This is also the first volume of the series “Ongojishin (review the past and learn the new).” Following this, we devoted our time and effort in making a creative picture book series titled “I love picture books,” which is still ongoing until today. The 69th volume titled <Fridge Family’s Pizza> is set for release this month. We would like to contribute to making fine books that are sought as number 1 by our kids.
<Little Yeoni’s New Year’s Day>
<Fridge Family’ Pizza>
We would like the message of our simple-heartedly made books
to be received well by kids.
Could you please introduce us to some of the representative titles from Bearbooks?
There are indeed some that we would like to introduce to you. The first one is the picture book <You Are a Wonder> by Choi Sook-Hee, which a mom would love to read to her child. This is maybe why the book is steadily loved by moms. <Mom’s Mad!> is also a very meaningful book to us. It was in Dang Dang, a Chinese online bookstore’s list of children’s bestsellers, too. It made us dream of creating picture books that are universal enough to touch the heart of readers in other countries.
<You Are a Wonder>, <Mom’s Mad!>
<The Bath Fairy> is the first book that we worked on with author Baek Hee-Na and the one that won us the Korea Book Awards. It was quite a meaningful award as it enabled those specialists in the publication and cultural industry to get a better glimpse of picture books. What makes it more special is that a few editors and designers at that time jumped into the project and even worked as filming staff to finish the work. Another work of author Baek Hee-Na is <Magic Candies>, which is the most universal work among others that we published. It also earned us success as it was made into a kids’ musical.
<The Bath Fairy>
We also cannot leave out <Fridge Family> by author Yoon Jeong-Joo. She has drawn more than 200 books working as an illustrator for children’s books ever since she was a senior in the university. She also made her debut as a cartoonist through a comics magazine titled <Wink> in her 20s. But there was no work where she wrote and drew pictures at the same time. It is this <Fridge Family> that we tenaciously persuaded her to work on as we knew that she would be a good writer too. You know, it turned out to be an interesting book for kids that they read it over and over again.
Another book we would like to introduce is <Super Tortoise> by author Yoo Seol-Hwa. It was her first official publication and a steady-seller at the same time, where we find it very meaningful to be together when someone is taking his or her first step. As we had been together since the early establishment of the publisher, we feel like getting old together making books as partners. She has been steadily producing works, where <Super Hare> containing stories yet untold in the first book was published recently.
We’ve mostly mentioned creative picture books, but every single one of our books is important and precious. We make books thinking that each of them represents us.
<Super Tortoise>, <Super Hare>
Bearbooks has been producing many series. Is there a specific characteristic each series has?
There are more various series apart from the aforementioned “Ongojishin” and “I love picture books.” For example, “Jakeun gom jari (The Little Bear) Series” comes with an explanation that it is a “picture book series for global kids to think right and have a broad mind and live a fun life.” It is our wish for the series to include everything we would like to offer our kids through books from right thought, broad mind, and entertainment. Meanwhile, the “Keun gom jari (The Big Bear) Series” was created based on the idea to collect fine works for our “grown-up” kids. We are steadily adding children’s literature from home and abroad to the series.
“Jisik (Knowledge) Gomgom” and “Saenggak (Thinking) Gomgom” are also other series we have, which mainly consist of liberal arts content for children. Plus, we have a little series that we made whenever we thought certain content was necessary for kids. “Safety for Children 365” which was created when we thought children’s safety was being threatened, “The Value of Living Together” which was born when we thought conflicts between generations and the so-called social classes were aggravating each day, and “Healthy Bear (Tuntun Gom)” that features stories about the healthy minds and bodies of children are the best examples.
Is there something that Bearbooks most cares about when publishing picture books? And we would also like to hear about the achievements you have made as you have been creating them.
Well, the biggest achievement would be that we made readers remember the name of picture book writers. When we first began publishing, there were not many readers that remembered the names of picture book writers. We were frustrated as on the other hand, many people could recall the names of novelists. So ever since we announced the first creative picture book <You Are a Miracle>, we tried to advertise the names of our writers. When we promoted books, we made a catch-phrase for the writer, and our marketing team really did a great job to get a shelf or a stand with the writer’s name displayed prominently. As about 10 years have passed, readers began to remember their names. Now it has become common to advertise picture books as “a new work of this writer.”
We also tend to look for a publisher that can promote the work and the writer at the same time when we are exporting our books. We were so thrilled when we heard Chinese editors whisper to themselves looking at our booth “Choi Sook-Hee” or “Baek Hee-Na” when we participated in the Beijing or Shanghai book fair. Of course, it was also thanks to the increased number of writers that set up their own identity as a picture book writer.
Personally, the greatest fruit of Bearbooks is that we create “well made books that children find interesting.” When we participate in a book fair or a book-related event, we can easily see children flipping through the pages standing in front of our booth. We are incredibly happy to see them indulging in reading books. It is my personal idea that life is a tragedy, and the power to live through that tragedy is usually derived from a happy childhood. If our books can be a little help in having a happy childhood, could there ever be a more fulfilling thing?
As this world has become tougher for children to live,
we want to make them at least find fun in reading books.
What is the standard or value that Bearbooks holds when it comes to selecting authors or works?
What we find important when choosing a work is indeed the completeness. Whichever topic or source a book covers, if it is high-quality and can be easily digested by children, there is no reason for us to reject it. Yet, we prioritize “children” a bit more than completeness. In particular, for picture books, we try not to forget that they are for readers aged 0 or above. As this world has also become tougher for children to live, we would like to help them at least find fun in reading books.
Also, we believe that we should continue taking personal ties with partners. It is also one of the reasons we established Bearbooks – to become an editor that ages with writers as we publish more books. We also wanted to create a “field” for our juniors to age like such an editor as well. Bearbooks usually matches an editor with a writer. This helps them to come up with an idea for the next work in their daily conversation. As our major readership is little kids that usually have not learned how to read, we prioritize communication. Wouldn’t the communication between writers and readers through books be better carried out when it is first done well between the writer and the editor?
What kind of publisher does Bearbooks want to be?
When we first had an interview with a media agency after Bearbooks’ establishment, our CEO declared that we will keep publishing the “Ongojishin” series until it releases its 100th volume. As it took us 13 years to publish the 22nd volume, we’d better live long enough to publish all 100 books. :) We need to have a broader reach in the field of children’s books, and we are hoping to see more writers winning the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for Literature, the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and the Ragazzi Award. But first, we would like Bearbooks to be a publisher in which its members can long work together. Our CEO told me about the story of her experience in Japan during her business trip in her mid-30s when she first suggested me to start a publisher together. It went like this. When she visited one of the publishers, editors close to the age of 60 greeted her and told her about books they made. As it was common to see aged editors that failed to become supervisors leaving the publisher half-willingly, I told her that it would be good if our publisher is not like such a place. It is such an upsetting thing that the experience of seniors cannot be passed down to juniors. I have a similar idea for writers, too. No matter if it is a writer or an editor, I believe that books made in one’s 20s and 50s would be different. I want to keep on publishing books that deliver our readers the things that only those that reached a certain age can experience. And I also hope that Bearbooks can become a publisher that does so for its members and writers.
Organized by Hwang Jin-Ah