by Sam Hutchinson, b small Publisher
In a country full of people whose idea of speaking a foreign language is to shout slowly in English, you might think there isn’t a huge market for foreign language learning books for kids. And you’d be right! So why have we published in this area for nearly 30 years now? Our business was set up, back in the early 90s, by a busy mum raising a bilingual family (English-Italian) so there was definitely a lot of personal interest behind the decision to create children’s books for language learning.
But you can’t fund a publishing programme on hopes and dreams! Luckily, we found a publishing partner in the US, Barrons Educational Series, who were just as interested in language learning books as our founder, Cath Bruzzone. For them, it was English-Spanish books and for us, back then, it was English-French. In 2018, our Spanish titles actually outsell our French titles as this language becomes more and more popular with parents and kids. Barron’s underpinned our print runs, giving us a profitable way to bring bilingual books and language learning books to UK bookshops, book clubs and readers. Since our books are designed for learning at home, we mostly sell in bookshops or, these days, online. A large number of our titles also sell very well through The Book People, where teachers can get hold of our books for their classrooms at affordable rates, often having to buy them with their own money since languages fell off the primary curriculum.
In 2011, I joined b small as Publisher and I’m just as passionate as Cath was about keeping the language learning list going. I grew up going to French classes in the local library (does anyone else still know the words to Frère Jacques?) and went on to study French and Italian at university. So for me there is still a personal interest behind publishing these books. I find that knowing another language helps you better understand your own language. And there are all these studies about how knowing other languages makes you better at maths or more employable. But we publish books for 0 to 12 year olds and they aren’t often that fussed yet about their job prospects! So ultimately, the reason why we work so hard to publish profitably into this small market must come down to the same reason why we publish our other books: we want to share our passion for discovering new things.
Just like we would with a book about science or ancient Rome, we speak to experts, find talented illustrators and then bring the subject to life in a way that taps into children’s natural curiosity. There’s definitely a perceived value in being able to speak another language but it often falls down the list of priorities when parents are trying to keep their kids interested in reading, in science, in maths. My goal now is to focus on the soft skills that language learning gives you and communicate this to our readers and the book-buying population. We read a lot about the growth mindset and how failing is the best way to learn – well, trying to speak another language is FULL of failure! It’s a brilliant way to build confidence, build resilience and help your brain forge those useful pathways and other skills that will enable you to solve problems throughout your life.
So join us! Recognise that learning a language is about much more than being employable, showing off to friends or being able to order the food you actually want when on holiday; it isn’t about discovering other cultures or being open to the world around us; learning a language is, at its core, a great way to find out more about yourself. And what’s more interesting to us than ourselves!
Visit the b small website to find out more about the Hello Languages series published this month:
Hello Spanish https://www.bsmall.co.uk/books/series/hello-spanish
Hello French https://www.bsmall.co.uk/books/series/hello-french
This is a guest blog from Sam Hutchinson and the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG.