How Many??

I’ve finished creating my 2020 multicultural children’s books catalog. I really thought I’d been a slacker in 2019, but—HOLY GUACAMOLE—turns out, I created 17 new products this year (for a total of 130 since 2004)!

Publishing sure has changed! It used to be that getting books to readers required the vast resources of a major publishing house. Today, technology has almost leveled the playing field. While I currently reside and work in (practically) unheard of Midvale, Utah, my books are found as far away as the Philippines and Africa.

The big publishers still have muscle behind their promos. But, with 15 years’ experience, I’ve managed to not only survive in (perhaps) the most competitive genre, I’ve carved out a nice multicultural niche with distribution on par with the book publishing giants. Even top reviewers, like Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal have voiced approval.

Some new products are Spanish/bilingual picture books with pronunciation guide; many are hard cover editions of previous titles. I’m especially pleased with the audiobook release of my western novel, To Swallow the Earth, which won an International Book Award.

So how do I get my books noticed? I’ve considered bribery (but I have some standards). Really, it’s persistence. After ensuring I had quality, professionally edited products, I hounded the major wholesalers used by New York publishers—and got signed contracts for global distribution. My books even found their way onto Walmart’s and Target’s web sites (and I’m not sure how that happened).

It is not as simple as signing with a big distributor. It’s always work. You always have to find ways to make a kid’s book funny, to stand out to parents, teachers, and librarians. My target audience is always aging out. I constantly have to publicize to new readers. My company, Premio Publishing & Gozo Books, has also donated hundreds of books to needy kids around the world.

Inclusion is actually critical to success. My children’s books feature black, white, Hispanic, American Indian, Islander, and Asian characters. I grew up in a cosmopolitan part of the country; I speak Spanish and am learning German. My books simply reflect the world as I know it. These diverse kid’s books also have twists and online secrets.

It is time well spent. It’s always a thrill when a library system or school district includes your books. Amazon sales don’t hurt either. I’ve started using Amazon ads and sales there have doubled.

Family Stories As Multicultural Kid’s Books!

My mom was an avid genealogist. As a child I found the dry dates and names boring (and I certainly didn’t want to look for them on ancient microfilm reader machines!).

But in 2007, a publisher asked me to write a children’s picture book about an immigrant child. I remembered that my great-great aunt had immigrated as a ten year old from Sweden and had a remarkable experience when she arrived. Her story was found in her short autobiography and in my great grandmother’s journal. The hybrid book, Anna’s Prayer, was the result (beautifully illustrated by Shari Griffiths).

I became hooked on family stories and digged up/cobbled together biographies on about seven generations of my ancestors. I’m Swedish, South African, English, Irish, Scottish, Swiss, and French. (We hope to learn soon whether there’s American Indian in the mix.)

It has taken ten years, but I finally have published my great grandmother’s part of Anna’s story as an illustrated book/ebook. It’s called Ida’s Witness. I grew up hearing Ida’s account as read on occasion by her son, Vernard Beckstrand, my grandfather. Ida was the first of her siblings to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sweden, quite vocal about Christ’s gospel, and fearless in the face of religious persecution.

Because of chronic illness, Ida was often confined to her bed (or hospital beds) and had time to study the Bible as a girl. When Ida’s mother tried a poultice from a local plant on Ida’s arm as a remedy, Ida’s arm suddenly became swollen and useless.

Fearing Ida would lose her arm, her mother took her to the city to find a doctor, but it was apparently Sunday afternoon when they got to the city and a doctor wasn’t likely to be found until Monday. The ladies ended up in a conference of the Church of Jesus Christ, where Ida received an overwhelming conviction that this was Christ’s church restored to the earth.

She was baptized that evening and given a priesthood blessing. The next day, her arm was completely back to normal. From that time Ida told everyone she could about living prophets, continuing revelation, and priesthood authority. Such declarations brought fierce opposition from peers and authority figures. But Ida would not be silent.

When Ida and Anna had the opportunity to come to America, they left their mother and brother—hopeful that they could be reunited again in the United States one day. Because Ida had been contracted to work in Idaho and Anna had to stay with an aunt in Salt Lake City, the sisters had to separate. They each had harrowing experiences as strangers unable to communicate in English.

But my great grandmother was a determined woman. She worked to be able to communicate her testimony in this new country. I’m so grateful for her courage and grit. She concluded her autobiography with this message:

“Even though I have had a lot of pain during my life, I have had a wonderful, happy, pleasant life. … I made a resolution many years ago that I would bear my testimony every time I had a chance. … I want to [tell] my children, grandchildren … and all of my descendants—and to the whole world—that I know I am a member of the *true Church of Jesus Christ. I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, that Our Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, visited him. … I [am] very thankful to my Father in Heaven for protecting me; that through the inspiration of his Spirit I was able to bear testimony of the true Gospel, restored to the earth through the Prophet. … May God bless you all that we may all be together in the hereafter.”

It’s a thrill for me to be able to make her witness available “to the whole world.”

[Note: *Because of the phrase “true church,” some people have erroneously concluded that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is exclusive. In reality, Church doctrine states that all people (except a handful of enlightened, but rebellious, Latter-day Saints) will be saved in glory. Contact me for information on why we search for our ancestors and “seal” them as eternal family units.]