I’ve recently posted about the fabulous books published by Goosebottom Books that I found at JCLC. The postings included a video of their wonderful interact book, Horrible Hauntings and a review of Qutlugh Terkan Khatun of Kirman. I think it’s time to look behind the books and find out a little more about Goosebottom. I’ve reached out to Shirin Bridges, the Head Goose for just that purpose!
1. Your book Ruby’s Wishwas quite well received! Can you talk a little about what took you from writing to starting Goosebottom Books and entering the publishing world?
Well, the change in career was inspired by my niece. If you know my books, beginning with Ruby’s Wish, they have all been (until my recent ghost book, Horrible Hauntings) about girls who found ways to do their own thing and exceed expectations. So when my niece showed signs of getting caught up in the pink princess craze, I was a little alarmed. “You know that there were princesses who didn’t sit around waiting for a prince, don’t you?” I asked her. I knew, because I’ve always been a history buff. She didn’t know, but she was interested, so we went looking for the books. But to my surprise, we didn’t find them. I was so surprised by how few women find their way onto our children’s bookshelves, so I decided I needed to write these books myself. Then I decided that more than that, I needed to publish these books, in part to ensure that they would come out as a series—that the message would be that there were many of these princesses, across the world and throughout history; that they weren’t isolated aberrations. That’s how Goosebottom Books came about. We published our series “The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses” in October 2010, and followed it with “The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames” in October 2011 (this time with the help of many other authors), and have added to both series in 2012. Another series is now in the works for 2014.
2. From where did the name “Goosebottom” come?
I wanted a name that reflected our personality. “Goose” says we publish for children. “Bottom” says we do it with a sense of fun and a little attitude. And “Goosebottom” happens to be a kid-friendly English translation of a nickname given to me by a French-speaking ex-boyfriend, not because of any anatomical amplitude, but because of a certain mental attitude.
3. I’ve noticed that Goosebottom has its own staff of writers. How does that work? Are writers assigned projects? Do they create their own?
We’ve been very blessed with our authors—the geese, as we call ourselves. Many of them have now become personal friends, and there is a real collaborative spirit to Goosebottom Books.
The way we find and work with our authors is, I think, unique. We receive submissions all year ’round, and we file them for later reference. We don’t accept manuscripts—we accept writing samples. When it’s time to find writers for our next list, we review these samples and decide whom we’d like to work with. We then approach those writers with our idea for the next series, and with specific titles for that series. They are asked to pick the top two titles they would like to write, and also asked to suggest other titles for the series that they’d find interesting. We then decide on a final title list, and have so far been able to assign titles so that everyone has been able to write at least one of their top two picks, if not their favorite title.
4. Who has been the most difficult woman to research so far?
I’d say either Qutlugh Terkan Khatun of Kirman or Sorghaghtani of Mongolia. Both have left very faint traces in the historical record—or at least faint in the English language record that I can access. But the traces they left were so compelling, they begged for inclusion on our list. And in Sorghaghtani’s case, I thought that she really brought to light an often forgotten and fascinating point: that the administration of Genghis’ empire was often entrusted to women. Jack Weatherford, in his book The Secret History of the Mongol Queens, writes about Genghis’ daughters who inherited and ruled lands as his sons did. But at one point in history, most of those sons’ lands were also ruled by women. On the death of her husband Tolui, Genghis’ youngest son, Sorghaghtani was formally confirmed as the ruler of his lands (Eastern Mongolia and Northern China)—this despite her having a son old enough to inherit. Similarly, Genghis’ son Chagatai’s power passed to his wife Ebuskan (Central Asia), and Ogodei’s (named Great Khan after Genghis’ death) to his wife Toregene (Western Mongolia). That’s an impressive number of female Heads of State, ruling most of the largest contiguous empire the world has ever known. I don’t think that many people know that this seemingly macho culture had a deep respect for its women.
5. Horrible Hauntings is one of the most innovative books I’ve seen! How did you all ever come up with such a concept? Do you think Goosebumbs will continue to work in electronic formats?
Thank you! As I write, we have just learnt that we’ve won the Best Children’s Book Award given by the Halloween Book Festival. But the credit for the idea goes to our augmented reality partner, Trigger, and specifically to their President, Jason, who also happens to be my brother. He showed me a project they were working on using the technology and said, “Don’t you think this would make a great ghost book?” The answer was obvious, so we decided to create this experience together.
Whether the book will succeed financially is an open question at the moment. It’s still too early to tell. And the augmented reality component changes all the math, as you can well imagine.
But we’re very pleased to have been able to accomplish something so innovative, and I’m especially pleased that we found a way to make the latest technology bring readers back to the printed book.
After my nieces and nephew went through all the augmented reality ghosts, they actually curled up with the book and read the stories, so they’d know what they’d just seen. That was very rewarding for me, and I’ve spoken to reading specialists who are enthusiastic about this book’s potential when it comes to luring in reluctant readers. If this book has more kids reading, I’m happy. If it has more kids interested in history and nonfiction, I’m happier still. That’s what Goosebottom Books are all about: stealth education.
6. What are some of your upcoming releases?
We have something new in the works, a format we haven’t tried before. I’m not at liberty to disclose what that is at the moment, but stay tuned! Young readers have been asking for this, so we’re going to give them what they’ve asked for.
7. Because I met you at JCLC I have to ask: What does diversity mean to you?
For me, diversity just IS. Having lived and worked around the world, I’ve seen how diverse this world is. I believe that natural, existing diversity needs to be reflected on our bookshelves. Why? Because exposure is key. Only with exposure can we hope for understanding, and only with understanding can we hope for empathy and compassion. And only with empathy and compassion is there hope at all for the world.
Children have no frame of reference except what they’ve been exposed to. When they don’t see women on their book shelves, they think it’s because women haven’t done anything. When they don’t see certain ethnicities, they think those ethnicities haven’t accomplished anything worth publishing. It sets the boundaries for what they think is possible. It sets those boundaries artificially small. The celebration of diversity not only affirms, it empowers.
Shirin, thank you for such an insightful interview. I wish you many future successes!