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Publisher spotlight: Floris Books

Across 2022, the Year of Stories, we are spotlighting Publishing Scotland members, who will share their own story in their own words. Learn about children’s publisher Floris Books below.

What’s your story?

The year is 1976. The first commercial Concorde flight takes off, filming commences for the first Star Wars movie, the Apple Computer Company is formed, the Ramones release their first album, Jimmy Carter is nominated for U.S. president and The Muppet Show debuts on UK TV. Meanwhile, at Christian McLean’s kitchen table one rainy day in Edinburgh, Floris Books is born. Beginning life as a religious publisher, Christian’s energetic zeal soon sees Floris branching out into other strands of non-fiction and then, in the 1980s, comes the company’s first foray into children’s books with the English-language publication of books by Elsa Beskow (often referred to as ‘the Beatrix Potter of Sweden’). The ensuing years are good to Floris, and the company enjoys steady growth through the ’80s and ’90s, surviving the eras of hair metal and parachute pants relatively unscathed.

The first seeds of Floris’ Scottish children’s list are planted in 2002, with the acquisition of the Kelpies list from Canongate. This is already a great list, with classic books by Kathleen Fidler, Mollie Hunter, and Allan Campbell McLean to name but a few. The team soon realises, though, that there is a real need for new, original Scottish fiction for children. It’s time to start growing those seeds into something bigger…

The rest, as they say, is history. Floris has been publishing quality new Scottish children’s fiction on its Kelpies imprint for nearly 20 years, all the while continuing to renew our non-fiction offering and seeking out the best international picture books to publish in English. The Kelpies range has grown to incorporate our Wee Kelpies board books, our Picture Kelpies picture books, Young Kelpies early reader chapter books, Kelpies middle-grade novels, and KelpiesWorld children’s non-fiction. In 2011, marketing manager Katy Lockwood-Holmes took over from Christian McLean as publisher, and in 2016 Floris was crowned Saltire Society Scottish Publisher of the Year. We teamed up with Historic Environment Scotland in 2019 to publish some awesome educational children’s books (the latest of which is out this spring), and we are also currently in the business of taking America by storm with a glorious range of gorgeous hardback picture books, one of which was named on the New York Times‘ list of top ten Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2021!

Christian is still here, too, although he now likes to refer to himself as ‘The Ghost of Floris Past’. The rest of us think this is a little unkind, given that he’s still instrumental in the publication of many of our key non-fiction titles, and none of us would be here without him!

Tell us about some of your key stories.

Children of the Forest – Elsa Beskow | A key step in Floris’ development, and still a cornerstone of our list today, we have to start with a Beskow picture book. Children of the Forest (which we first published in 1987) is a stunning example of Elsa’s work, using gorgeous vintage illustrations and a sweet story to introduce us to the children of the forest – tiny woodland people that live in the roots of an old pine tree. Each season brings new adventures for the children: swimming and berry picking in summer; playing with fairies and harvesting mushrooms in autumn; sledging and feeding animal friends in winter. But spring brings the best surprise of all. Undeniably charming, this picture book is still beloved by readers young and old the world over, more than 100 years after it was first published in Sweden.

The Nowhere Emporium – Ross MacKenzie | Ah, The Nowhere Emporium. We fell in love with this astonishing riot of a magical adventure from Ross MacKenzie as soon as we read it. It’s a true celebration of the power of imagination, and it wasn’t long before everyone else fell in love with it, too. Scooping both the Blue Peter Best Story Award and the Scottish Children’s Book Award in 2016, The Nowhere Emporium has cemented its place as one of our best-selling children’s books and inspires a legion of young fans to this very day. When the mysterious Nowhere Emporium arrives in Glasgow, orphan Daniel Holmes stumbles upon it quite by accident. Before long, the ‘shop from nowhere’ – and its owner, Mr Silver – draw Daniel into a breathtaking world of magic and enchantment…

An Illustrated Collection of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales – Theresa Breslin & Kate Leiper | Slithering stoorworms, mischievous brownies, fierce kelpies and magical selkies – these are the creatures of Scottish folklore. Theresa Breslin (OBE) is the Carnegie Medal-winning author of more than 50 books for children of all ages, and a true master of her craft. So, when Theresa was looking to retell Scotland’s best-loved folk tales, we were delighted to get involved. Teaming her up with the endlessly talented artist Kate Leiper, we created a big, exquisitely illustrated hardback collection. Each story has its own individual style and the book presents funny, moving and enchanting folk and fairy tales that invite you to soar with the goshawk, dive with selkies and battle with the stoorworm. A beautiful gift, An Illustrated Collection of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales is found in bookshops up and down the land and has been translated into several languages – including Russian, Chinese, Korean and Lithuanian!

The Tale of Tam Linn – Lari Don & Philip Longson | One of Floris’ most prolific authors, Lari Don’s stories are often steeped in folklore and legend. It’s impossible to pick a favourite, but The Tale of Tam Linn was one of the first books published in our Traditional Scottish Tales range of Picture Kelpies, and was instrumental in establishing the TSTs (as we refer to them in-house). This dramatic retelling of a traditional Scottish Borders tale, brought to life by Philip Longson’s atmospheric illustrations, is set on Halloween. It tells of Janet, who is forbidden from visiting the woods near her father’s castle because legend says that long ago a local boy called Tam Linn was stolen there by the Fairy Queen and never returned. But Janet isn’t afraid of fairy stories… Deep in the woods, by a well, she meets a fairy knight – the famous Tam Linn, forbidden to leave by the evil queen’s spell. Janet decides to save him, but when the queen and her army appear, fairy magic turns Tam Linn into a whole host of Scottish creatures. Can Janet hold on long enough to rescue him?

The Night Walk – Marie Dorléans | Sometimes a foreign-language book comes along and it’s just so obviously special that you feel absolutely certain in your decision to publish it in English. Such was the case with The Night Walk, the Prix Landerneau-winning picture book by Marie Dorléans, originally published in French. This luminous, dreamy, delicately written story follows a family on a night-time journey through sleepy streets and rugged, beautiful countryside. Stepping outside into a beautiful summer evening they enter a night-time world that is quiet, shadowy and filled with fresh smells and amazing sights. Dorléans’ evocative, affecting illustrations are distinctive in their elegant detail and rich colour palette, awash in pools of yellow light and dark nocturnal blues. We were lucky to acquire the English language rights, and have been particularly delighted with the book’s reception in the US, where it has received no fewer than four starred reviews and was in the New York Times‘ top 10 illustrated books of 2021 (we know we mentioned that already, but we’re still beaming about it).

What draws you to a story? What makes a good story? 

A good story needs to grab the attention and draw you in but, more importantly, once you are there it needs to reflect something familiar back to you whilst also presenting something new. The best stories teach us something about ourselves or the world around us. They build empathy, compassion and an understanding of different perspectives and life experiences whilst also feeling relatable. They can make us laugh or cry – they can thrill us, move us or even scare us, but ultimately we want a story to leave a lasting impression on the reader. We want readers to feel that they have experienced something they would never otherwise have been able to, and we hope to have broadened their horizons, even just a little. This is the privilege and the challenge of publishing for children: we have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to tell stories that can shape a young person’s perception of the world in a very real way.

We’re really committed to finding and telling the best stories, using both images and words to communicate them as effectively as possible. An instrumental part of this process for us is our Kelpies Prize for Writing and Illustration. First launched as a writing prize in 2006, the Kelpies Prize has helped many Scottish writers to pursue their writing career and has helped us discover stories from the likes of Janis MacKay, Lari Don, Mike Nicholson, Lindsay Littleson and many more. The illustration prize was launched separately in 2014 but now runs alongside the writing prize, and we are delighted to have worked with many talented illustrators, including Darren Gate and Nataša Ilinčić, as a direct result.

The Kelpies Prize for Writing and Illustration is open to all writers and illustrators based in Scotland, and submissions are currently open for the 2022 prize.

What stories should we look forward to or check out this year?

The Sky Beneath the Stone – Alex Mullarky | The first of many books we’re super excited about this year – this is the debut novel from Alex Mullarky, a bold new voice in children’s fiction. Thirteen-year-old Ivy North is an adventurer. She can pitch a tent in four minutes flat, knows the local landscape like the back of her hand, and she’s an expert map reader. There’s just one problem – she’s afraid to go outside. But when her little brother is transformed into a kestrel by a powerful sorcerer, Ivy is the only one who can rescue him. Following him through a mysterious hole in the garden wall, she emerges in Underfell – an enchanted realm that seems like the Lake District she knows, but is dangerously different… It’s safe to say that the world-building, character development and rollicking good adventure packed into this book gave left us somewhat obsessed, and we’re certain it’ll grab you, too. Publishing 24 February 2022

Velda the Awesomest Viking and the Ginormous Frost Giants – David MacPhail and Richard Morgan | Beginning life as a character in the Scholastic LOLLIES-nominated Thorfinn the Nicest Viking series from David MacPhail and Richard Morgan, Velda found herself setting out on some adventures of her very own last year. Alongside her misfit crew, she’s living her best Viking life, sailing the seas in her very own longship and teaching anyone who thinks she’s ‘just a little girl’ a lesson.  The second in the series, this early reader chapter book sees the gang tangled up in a raid on the vault of the treasure-obsessed Count Stollenberg. When the job goes wrong, Velda is forced into a deal to bring him the legendary Frost Hammer. The only teensy tiny issue is that it belongs to the Frost Giants, who are anything but teensy tiny. Velda and her crew must trek across snow and ice to break into the giants’ mountain home, but it seems the Frost Giants are happier to see them than they expected. A bit too happy, in fact… Publishing 24 March 2022

There’s a Hole in my Bagpipes, Wee Hamish, Wee Hamish – Kate McLelland | ‘There’s a hole in my bagpipes, wee Hamish, wee Hamish, There’s a hole in my bagpipes, wee Hamish, a hole! Then stitch it wee Lachie, wee Lachie, wee Lachie, Then stitch it wee Lachie, wee Lachie, stitch it!’

We love a Scottish twist on a classic children’s rhyme here at Floris, and this one is a right hoot – or at least it would be if the pipes weren’t in dire need of repair! In this surreal and hilarious picture book, Wee Hamish tries to solve his bagpiping friend’s difficulties with ever-more brilliantly bizarre solutions involving a hungry stag, prickly thistles, lumpy porridge, a dirty broadsword, a nervous red squirrel and a sleepy Highland cow. Kate McLelland (illustrator of the best-selling There Was a Wee Lassie Who Swallowed a Midgie) brings this whimsical and characterful story to life with her signature bold and colourful style, certain to engage wee ones from Scotland and beyond! Publishing 17 February 2022

A Billion Balloons of Questions – Amy B. Moreno and Carlos Vélez | Coming in the summer, this original hardback picture book from Amy B. Moreno and Carlos Vélez is a funny and heart-warming story that inventively captures the joy and busyness of young children’s minds. Six-year-old Eva wakes up and her day is full of questions. Her Peruvian Papá says she has billions of questions, but really Eva has balloons full of questions that she carries around until she can find the answers. She has big questions like ‘What can I do about all the plastic in the ocean?’ and small questions like ‘Dónde está Peru?’ She has bright questions: ‘¿Los unicornios existen?’ and confusing questions: ‘Why are oranges orange?!’ Sometimes Eva’s bunch of balloons grows so big that it feels overwhelming, but she’s learning that it can take time to find out all the answers, and that’s OK. Coming from a bilingual family, Amy gives authentic insight into how Eva communicates, with a lively story told in English with Spanish words and phrases. Mexican illustrator Carlos Vélez’s wonderfully vivid artwork is full of warmth and humour. Publishing 19 May 2022

Illustrated Legends of Scotland’s Kings and Queens – Theresa Breslin and Elizaveta Tretyakova | Our final pick for you to look out for in 2022 is particularly appropriate for Scotland’s Year of Stories. This landmark anthology from Theresa Breslin presents historical legends of Scotland’s Kings and Queens specially told for primary-aged children, and sumptuously illustrated by Elizaveta Tretyakova. Stretching right back to the reign of Kenneth McAlpine in 843 AD, Illustrated Legends of Scotland’s Kings and Queens tells us dramatic stories of Queen Gruoch (Lady Macbeth), King David I, King Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots and many other monarchs through the ages. Filled out with Viking Warriors, travelling princesses, jousting knights and true friends, Breslin’s storytelling has never been more potent as she brings almost 1200 years of Scotland’s emergence as a place and a nation back to exciting life. This astounding collection is sure to be a treasured addition to many children’s bookshelves by the end of the year. Publishing 21 July 2022.

Learn more about Floris Books at @FlorisBooks and