Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Fans of Lerner Books are in for quite a year of incredible, new books with its upcoming slate of releases geared towards young readers! As the editor of Lerner Books, what can you tell us about your overall approach to this year’s titles?
Greg Hunter: I’m Lerner’s acquiring editor of graphic novels, and in that category, the approach is eclectic by design. Across its different imprints, Lerner publishes books for early readers through the upper end of YA, and the graphic novel imprint, Graphic Universe, includes comics across that range. So, the approach is about balance—making sure that we’re publishing graphic novels or graphic non-fiction for young readers of different ages, and that the books reflect a range of perspectives and visual sensibilities, too. I’ve been a comics reader since around the time I learned how to read, well before I was a publishing person, so another goal is that the books help introduce readers to what cartooning can do, and for the imprint to be welcoming to all sorts of storytellers.
BD: Why do you feel that these projects were a perfect for Lerner Books, and what defines a Lerner Books title?
GH: In the case of The Hunt is On and Seekers of the Aweto, it was a combination of things. The environmental consciousness stood out to me—it’s very much a fantasy story about what we take from the earth and the consequences of that. Nie Jun’s mix of linework and watercolors also results in some of the most gorgeous cartooning you’ll see anywhere. And I know that for him, it’s quite a personal project, too. He’s from Qinghai, in northwestern China, and has set parts of the story in that area as a way of staying in touch with it and encouraging readers to learn more about the region.
In terms of what defines a Lerner graphic novel, ideally we’re successful in sharing a wide range of stories. I can point to some advantages of being a smaller publisher, though. Sometimes, we’ll step beyond the usual boundaries of middle-grade or young-adult graphic novels if we think a work outside those definitions has value for young readers. Some past examples of that are I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached, which has a very stark, poetic approach to graphic memoir, or Marie Curie: A Life of Discovery by Alice Milani, which is a distinctive, sophisticated graphic biography. One upcoming title, this October’s Glorious Wrestling Alliance: Ultimate Championship Edition, is not a YA book in a rigid sense, but it has a sense of humor and an engagement with anxiety and identity that still make it a great fit for a lot of 17-year-olds.
BD: One of this year’s releases will be Seekers of the Aweto by award-winning cartoonist Nie Jun which will be the first in a series of graphic novels. For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you share with us about the premise of this story, and which age group(s) is the series geared towards?
GH: The first volume of Seekers of the Aweto, The Hunt Is On, comes out this March, and it’s the start of a series set in a fantastical version of medieval China. It follows a young boy, Xinyue, who’s one of the story’s “seekers”—people chasing a rare, plantlike treasure (“aweto”) rumored to grant eternal life. We learn that aweto is a product of massive supernatural earth-creatures, and that harvesting it can be a destructive process. Xinyue feels guilty about this, deep down, which makes him a good fit for what happens next. After he and his family raid one of these huge earth-creatures, Xinyue discovers it has a baby, and he becomes this tiny earth-deity’s reluctant caretaker it.
We have a suggested reading level of ages 12 and up for The Hunt Is On, simply because there’s some swordplay and a bit of blood near the end. (The stakes are high!) But really, it’s a story I think could also resonate with some readers younger than that, and with adult readers too. It’s a transporting experience, reading Jun’s work, in a way that lots of people can respond to.
BD: Are there any other fiction or non-fiction titles that you would like to highlight from this year’s releases?
GH: The month after The Hunt Is On comes out, in April, Lerner will be releasing The Spy Who Raised Me by Ted Anderson and Gianna Meola, which is a YA espionage satire about the expectations parents impose on their kids. Great twist in that one. That April also features The Winter of Walking Stone, book 3 in the A House Divided graphic fantasy series by Haiko Hörnig and Marius Pawlitza. The two of them do a wonderful job of balancing mystery, humor, and character moments. And in May, Lerner’s releasing Brontë—as in Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë—by Manuela Santoni, an Italian cartoonist who has come to specialize in sweeping, evocative comics about the lives of writers.
Later in the year, the Lerner edition of Glorious Wrestling Alliance is one, for sure—I was already a fan of Josh Hicks as a writer and cartoonist, but his coloring in the new edition wowed me. Artie and the Wolf Moon by Olivia Stephens, which is coming in September, is another. It’s an upper middle-grade werewolf story, as well as a story about family, community, and coming of age in a way that’s really moving. She’s done amazing work with the book and is someone who’s going to continue putting out amazing work.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about Lerner Books, and what is the best way to purchase Seekers of the Aweto and your other books?
GH: Well, all the books I mentioned, and a lot of others, can be found at www.lernerbooks.com, and you can also get a hold of them through your nearest independent book store, a site like bookshop.org, or by putting in a request at your library. This is the specific link for The Hunt Is On, which I’d encourage everyone to check out!