There are so many ways to get your stories out to readers – from self-publishing to publishing with one of “The Big Five,” to everything in between.
This spring I had the pleasure of meeting Cynthia Kreilick, who writes picture books and also runs a small, local press in Philadelphia that falls into that “in between” category.
Morning Circle Media occupies a unique niche on the publishing spectrum. Its website explains that Morning Circle “…publishes beautiful, bilingual children’s books that feature the diverse communities of Philadelphia. We collaborate with the best writers and illustrators in our region to promote an appreciation of culture, language and art.”
I’m delighted to welcome Cynthia to Eastern Penn Points today to talk about Morning Circle Media and her work there.
Anna Forrester: First off Cynthia, can you tell us a little bit about how Morning Circle got started?
Cynthia Kreilick: A midlife crisis. That’s how Morning Circle Media was born. I was really bored with what I was doing, despite a good salary and great colleagues. I was at an age when I knew it was “now or never,” so I took a leap (thanks to a very supportive husband, who could finance my new business).
I had been working in early childhood education for over 20 years before I took this leap. I had a good network and lots of experience reading picture books to children. I had also been writing creatively all my life. This network has paid off. It’s much easier for me to get my books into the hands of early childhood educators because they know me and trust the quality of my work.
AF: Boredom is definitely a powerful – and important motivator! I’m imagining that your background in Early Childhood Education must have also contributed to Morning Circle’s mission—and that your midlife crisis coincided with some sense of a need in the children and communities where you worked. Could you tell us a little bit about Morning Circle’s focus, and where it springs from?
CK: Morning Circle Media sprang from a desire to write about the things that matter to me: language, culture, and the nature of being human.
I was visiting a lot of early childhood programs, in both urban and rural areas, doing technical assistance and quality improvement consulting. There were lots of books about numbers and shapes and colors and jobs that people do, but I was not seeing books for little children that prepared them for the complexities of life or the gray areas that we grapple with on a day to day basis. Authors and publishing houses were skirting the really vital topics that invite children to experience their emotions…their humanity: aging and death; sexuality; violence; love; faith; sacrifice; betrayal; reconciliation; the quest for identity. And there were very few books that showed people of color in an authentic, meaningful way. Many of my books deal with universal feelings and aspirations. The fact that they are bilingual helps people of various cultures talk about common themes.
AF: Do you feel like the #WNDB movement is beginning to address any of your concerns? (If yes, how? And how is what you’re doing also different?)
CK: Wow! What a great organization! We have similar missions. Morning Circle Media, however, focuses exclusively on creating and publishing children’s picture books. We also feature mostly Philadelphia-area authors and illustrators. Because Philadelphia has so many art schools and so many talented writers, we have an endless supply of fantastic local talent. We love promoting our homegrown authors and illustrators!
AF: As a small, local publisher, what strategies do you use for distributing your books and getting them out there to readers?
CK: We have two main ways of distributing our Morning Circle Media books: teacher workshops and story visits. I have a special certification in the State of Pennsylvania that allows me to do professional development for licensed early learning programs. 75% of our books are distributed at these early literacy and cross-cultural understanding workshops. Each participant receives a free book when they attend a workshop. Our bilingual children’s books are the focal point of most of these trainings. Teachers take the books and the extension activities directly to the classroom.
Our Morning Circle Media Story Visits are popular with Philadelphia early learning programs, the Free Library of Philadelphia and local public and private elementary schools. Programs are required to purchase a minimum of 10 books per Story Visit. Often, programs order many more than 10 in order to give a book to each child in a given classroom or school. Each Story Visit includes a bilingual reading of a particular book and an extension activity that goes deeper into a concept introduced in the book. We do not spend a lot of time putting our books in bookstores or on Amazon. If you’re not actively promoting your books, they’re not moving!
AF: Morning Circle Media’s work feels more relevant than ever with the current political climate growing more complex for immigrants. I wonder: are you interested in hearing from writers, illustrators or educators who might want to submit work or otherwise get involved with Morning Circle Media and its work?
CK: This is an easy answer: Yes! Morning Circle Media would love to collaborate with Philadelphia authors and illustrators interested in publishing children’s picture books about our local immigrant communities. We are particularly interested in working with immigrants themselves.
We are also starting to reach out to investors who want to help fund our books and our educational outreach. We are looking for people who are interested in promoting bilingual early education and cross-cultural understanding. My mother, for example, just funded a cross-cultural understanding event, sponsored by the Free Library of Philadelphia, for Kindergartners at Jenks Elementary School. My daughter and I read one of our early books, Lucha and Lola, took the kids to a Mexican monarch butterfly sanctuary via Skype, and did a monarch butterfly art project—all in a one-hour class! This event would not have been possible without the generous donation of my mother. 50 children received a copy of Lucha and Lola, met the author and illustrator, and learned about a very unique, endangered insect.
Thanks so much for this interview!
AF: Thank YOU Cynthia – I look forward to seeing what comes next at Morning Circle Media!
Anna Forrester’s debut picture book, BAT COUNT (illustrated by Susan Detwiler), was published by another “in between” publisher – Arbordale Publishing– in February 2017. Arbordale publishes picture books with science and math themes to ignite a passion for reading and learning.
Connect with Anna through her website or on twitter @annaforr.