A Book A Day Report: Enchanted Lion Books Visits West Philadelphia Schools
With the help of the Pine Tree Foundation of New York, A Book a Day Program hosted a visit of the publisher, Claudia Zoe Bedrick from Enchanted Lion Books in October 2018. A Book a Day buys eight books a month for two schools in West Philadelphia, Penn Alexander School and Henry C. Lea Elementary School, in order to provide exposure to high-quality books that focus on visual literacy. We were drawn to Enchanted Lion Books because of their ability through words and illustrations to “illuminate the way not just for children, but for all of us, through the questions they open and the manifold ways in which they show how beauty and truth-telling are able to find and form and remake the world again and again and again” (Enchanted Lion Books, 2018). Funding from The Pine Tree Foundation allowed our program to further our involvement and services to our schools. Through these types of visits, we can provide students with a more holistic view of the tedious process that leads to the creation of literature. We are exposing children to visual literacy not just through the illustration and text but via dialogue. Claudia Zoe Bedrick, the founder of Enchanted Lion Books, was the first to join us in this endeavor.
We hope that the Enchanted Lion Books visit will allow students to see a new side of the books they are reading and open their minds to different possibilities regarding art, design, occupations, etc. Our goal is to encourage students to think about these particular books and what goes into the production process. It is important to showcase a publishing company that started small and remains small in order to stay true to their mission to publish texts they believe in. Because they have been successful with this model, we hope that meeting Claudia will reassure students that the little things they do can lead to great movement and change. Enchanted Lion Books is a publishing company that translates books written in other languages to English so that children in the United States can be exposed to stories from various perspectives. Students in Philadelphia public schools come from all over the world and speak many different languages. In choosing a publisher who translates and values diverse experiences and has published books from Australia, Belgium, Germany, France, New Zealand, Japan, Switzerland, and the U.S., we hope to excite students and lead to inquiry about the process and importance of this aspect of publication.
2018 marked the 15th birthday of Enchanted Lion Books. Despite her busy schedule, Claudia took time to make this visit a priority. Our program had already donated about 40 books published by Enchanted Lion Books prior to this visit. With a portion of the funds provided by The Pine Tree Foundation, we were able to grow our schools’ collections with 60 additional Enchanted Lion publications. All books were ordered through Bindlestiff Books .
To prepare for the visit, we delivered promotional packages to teachers, sent by Enchanted Lion Books. With the help of school staff and a local non-profit, WePAC, we read some of the selections aloud to 4th and 5th grade classes.
During her two-day visit on October 17th and 18th, Claudia discussed the intricate process of creating the captivating children’s books published by her company. She presented at two west Philadelphia schools (Henry C. Lea Elementary School and Penn Alexander School), and at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Claudia also met Jon Bekken, the owner of Bindlestiff Books, which is a West Philadelphia local bookstore that supplies all books for A Book A Day. Claudia’s first stop was at Penn Alexander School where she presented and fielded questions from 140 students in fourth and fifth grade. The interview and discussion were led by Sibylla Shekerdjiska-Benatova, founder of A Book a Day. The students were extremely familiar with the titles published by Enchanted Lion and were eager to have a conversation. Claudia answered questions such as, “What is the first book you ever published?” “Why did you choose the name “Enchanted Lion?” “Do you have any books published in Bulgarian?” “Who decides who should illustrate the books?” “What should I do if I want to write books?” Claudia listened with great interest to students’ questions and encouraged them to read and write through her responses. The school librarian, Jayne Downing, and the teachers also asked Claudia questions regarding the publishing process. Several students stayed after the discussion to ask burning questions that the brief time allotted did not allow.
After the hour-long presentation, Claudia went to speak to a Children’s Literature course led by Professor Jessica Whitelaw at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Sibylla brought over 50 Enchanted Lion Books so that students could examine them during the discussion. Students came from various backgrounds and had different reasons for their interests in children’s literature. Claudia’s discussion of her background and road to becoming a publisher was extremely encouraging to them. The Pine Tree Foundation grant allowed us to expose elementary school students to new ways of viewing children’s books. Claudia was also able to share with interested undergraduate students her perspective on why particular books are chosen for publishing.
At Henry C. Lea School on the following day, Claudia met two 4th grade classes separately, with about 20 students in each class. Students sat around Claudia in a circle in the school library, which provided an intimate setting. They asked questions about the process of making the books, how she decided the size of each book, which font to use, and how the machines print and put the books together. The students also shared with Claudia the stories they were writing with their classmates. Claudia engaged with the students in a unique way, often squatting on the floor to point to a particular book to describe different aspects of their creation. She was extremely impressed by the line of questioning about how the books were made. The conversation with Claudia continued after the presentation with additional questions from students. They were excited to check out books published by Enchanted Lion following the discussion. There was not one Enchanted Lion Book left on the shelf and Claudia watched in amazement as children walked out with the books. Claudia showed great curiosity about the schools she was visiting and was extremely impressed by students’ ideas. She was excited to see their enthusiasm around the books that her company chooses to publish. It was truly a community effort on the part of both schools to make this visit from Enchanted Lion Books possible.
Years ago in the Philadelphia school district, most of the public school libraries were shut down and librarians lost their jobs due to budget cuts. In the past few years, local nonprofits and the University of Pennsylvania have been working together to rebuild these libraries and provide outside staffing so that our students have access to books like Claudia’s. With the help of the Pine Tree Foundation, A Book a Day is able to offer visits that highlight the importance of libraries and books in schools where this message has faded. In choosing Enchanted Lion as the first event in the series of speakers to come, Claudia’s presentation will lay a foundation regarding the extensive process of creating books that our students see on their library shelves. We hope we can continue to grow this program by inviting more publishers, authors, and illustrators to west Philadelphia public schools. A Book a Day also strives to continue to grow its partnership with Penn Alexander School and Henry C. Lea School in order to have more programming around the connection between books and the people behind them, where visual literacy is foundational and at the center of our book choices.
We are looking forward to our next visit from illustrator Rosa Chang who we hope offers an exciting and different perspective.