OneTree House directors Jenny Nagle and Christine Dale, who have 43 titles lined up for the new publishing house’s first year, talk to Mākaro Press publisher Mary McCallum as their first books hit the bookshops.
With 43 titles lined up for their first year and a nomination for Children’s Publisher of the Year at their very first Bologna Children’s Book Fair, it seems the only way OneTree House can go is up.
Jenny Nagle and Christine Dale say the stars were aligned from the start. They’re both Arians – ‘We’re amazed how like-minded we are’ – their birthdays are a day apart on 2 April and 3 April, and International Children’s Book Day is on 2 April too. That’s the day in 2017 that Christine and Jenny decided to form their own publishing company in the lee of Auckland’s One Tree Hill. Almost a year later, their first six titles are in the bookshops.
‘We’re amazed how like-minded we are’
Jenny and Christine say they’re also well aligned in terms of the 65 years combined publishing experience they bring to the table – Jenny in sales and marketing, and Christine in editorial and production, and both are currently on the Storylines Management Committee, Christine as Chair.
Neither had intended to start a children’s publishing house, but they were both saddened and frustrated by the reduction in the number of children’s books published in New Zealand.
‘It all seemed to be over,’ says Jenny, ‘the glory days of the 80s and the 90s with New Zealand stories coming out for the first time and the whole language revolution starting here and the world looking to us as leaders in that field. There were psychotic stories back then of teachers in the US burning their basal readers – their version of Janet and John books – in favour of our stories, real stories.’
‘And there we were in 2017 hearing of award-winning writers who couldn’t place manuscripts,’ says Christine, ‘and that seemed criminal. Jenny and I are in the same book group and we’d have a wine together after the meetings and say to each other, “We should do something – yes we should.” It was upsetting for both of us.’
‘… there we were in 2017 hearing of award-winning writers who couldn’t place manuscripts,’ says Christine, ‘and that seemed criminal.’
Then one day the stars started lining up. Christine got her hands on a manuscript that needed a publisher. ‘Jenny could see my enthusiasm for it,’ said Christine. ‘She said, “I’d like to start a publishing company with you.” And I said “Thank goodness!”.’
The two women sat down and did a mind map of what they wanted to achieve with OneTree House – they agreed they wanted to publish young adult fiction, junior fiction and picture books. They also agreed that their vision was to tell good stories by New Zealanders, wherever those good stories are set, and that all their books would be underpinned by a commitment to inclusion and social justice. Lastly they both believe in supporting the country’s art economy, which means employing local editors and designers, and printing locally where they can.
‘We realised that we were singing from the same hymn sheet,’ says Christine. ‘That the same things were important to us.’
‘We’ve both had a lot of experience in the education market,’ Jenny says, ‘and there were some gaps there that we wanted to fill. Tying in to our overall vision and philosophy, there’s a big need that we see for bilingual editions in a variety of community languages, as well as in Te Reo.’
‘Tying in to our overall vision and philosophy, there’s a big need that we see for bilingual editions in a variety of community languages, as well as in Te Reo.’
Their ambition explains the huge list of 43 titles OneTree House is launching this year. Eight are new stories or language books in Te Reo or bilingual versions in English and Māori, Hindi, Samoan, Korean or Simplified Mandarin.
A further twenty books take four separate stories by celebrated authors Pamela Allen and Kyle Mewburn that have been published previously and reproduce them in editions that pair the English text with one of five different community languages selected from Māori, Samoan, Tongan, Hindi, Simplified Mandarin, Punjabi and Arabic.
‘Our multilingual runs in English and Hindi, English and Tongan and so on are going to be smaller,’ says Jenny, ‘and they’re probably not going to drive any kind of profit initially, but they’re an important part of what we do so New Zealand stories can reach new sectors of the community. And we are promoting children’s literature and good children’s writing all the way along in preschools, schools, libraries, homes and bookshops.’
Jenny believes that there is export potential in the bilingual editions, given that there are millions of people learning English around the world, and she is hoping to prove this at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair this month. Her attendance is inspired in part by the fact that OneTree received an unexpected nomination in the run-up to the fair for Children’s Publisher of the Year, Oceania region. ‘We’re gobsmacked!’ says Christine. ‘In our inaugural year!’ Yep, the stars are definitely aligned.
Jenny says: ‘We have the two novels – Wedlock by Denis Wright and Make a Hard Fist by Tina Shaw – which are about girls surviving trauma and surviving male behaviour that has happened through no fault of their own. These books are coming out in a climate when women are en masse starting to call men out on entitled and unacceptable behaviour. I see those books as very strong for both girl and boy readers.’
‘These books are coming out in a climate when women are en masse starting to call men out on entitled and unacceptable behaviour.’
‘We also have two cracking adventures – the pig-hunting book (Sticking with Pigs by Mary-Anne Scott) and Cuz by Liz van der Laarse, which I think is a very special book. It’s set in Fiordland, and has been described as New Zealand’s version of Hatchet. It is high octane adrenalin, and really exciting.
‘Then we have our Te Reo picture books with their slightly retro look and the repetition of phrases for language learning, which I think are gorgeous. They are different to anything else that’s come out so far.’
Both Christine and Jenny see themselves as part of a revolution in publishing that has seen a number of indie publishers take off. And they believe the sky’s the limit.
‘We’ll never stop learning,’ says Christine. ‘We’ve both got a solid background in publishing and we’ve seen what can go wrong, but in this business you can’t be risk averse. If something touches you, you have to believe that it’s going to touch someone else. Really that’s the secret of it.’
That and a bunch of stars shining brightly in a line.
Mary McCallum founded Mākaro Press in Wellington five years ago to publish fiction, poetry, memoir and children’s books. She is also the author of Dappled Annie and the Tigrish (Gecko).