Founded in 2019, Scallywag Press has wasted no time in making an impact on the children’s book world. Publishing everything from picture book classics and poetry, to environmentally-savvy narrative non-fiction for the youngest of readers, books published by the fine folks of Scallywag Press have variously won the Queen's Knickers Award, an English Association Award, and two Teach Early Years Awards.
Add to that two White Ravens, short-listings for the Waterstones Prize, long-listings and a short-listing for the Klaus Flugge Prize and nominations for the Kate Greenaway and Carnegie Medals, and that amounts to an impressive feat in their five-year history.
Talking of which, given that the Scallywags are celebrating their fifth anniversary through 2024, we recently caught up with Sarah Pakenham, Publisher of Scallywag Press, to find out about their journey so far, and what bookish treats are in store for the coming year. Over to Sarah…
Describe Scallywag Press in three words.
Nimble, Optimistic, Independent
How and why was Scallywag Press founded, and what’s the story behind your charming name?
Scallywag was founded out of a desire to return to what we see as the good old days, when authors and illustrators had a more personal connection with a small publishing staff, and publishing decisions could be arrived at in a less commercial and more altruistic and experimental environment.
It was Scallywag editor Janice Thomson who came up with our name as with many other clever ideas – it’s a term associated with children who are spirited and liberated, as we hope is the case with our press (and she was determined to get my initials in there somewhere). And then Jonathan Farr produced our logo, and Scallywag Press was born.
What’s the editorial ethos of Scallywag Press? What makes a Scallywag Press book a Scallywag Press book?
That’s easy, our books have to pass the EEK test – Emotion, Empathy and Kindness – values and skills we feel are the most important to learn about and remember, because we do want children to remember Scallywag books into adulthood. We also love humour and the surreal.
And now onto the exciting news! Do you have anything special planned for your 5th anniversary?
Indeed! Lots of celebrating, but where to begin? We have a second book in our new poetry imprint – On Poetry Street by Brian Moses, illustrated by Mark Elvins. It’s about helping the reader to get creative and enjoy words and ideas and pictorial interpretations.
We have a debut text, One-Button and the Sea by Sara Stanley and illustrated by Viviane Schwarz, about living through a time of crisis but getting through thanks to community.
We have more Ivy Newt in Miracula chapter books by the wonderful storyteller Derek Keilty, illustrated with cuteness and quirkiness by Magda Brol.
Can you share some highlights from across the five years of Scallywag Press?
As well as nail-biting moments there have many exhilarating ones - from the first ever book we signed up which was Me and My Sister by Rose Robbins, which went on to be short listed for the Waterstones Prize, to the first time we threw ourselves onto the international scene at Bologna and started selling language rights.
Being taken on by Bounce Sales and Marketing to sell our books into the trade was pivotal. Hosting Jon Agee on his two trips to the UK was huge fun, throwing a party on the occasion of Satoshi Kitamura’s last visit from Japan was wonderful as we were able to invite some of our supporters and raise a glass to When Creature Met Creature – his latest picture book with a text by John Agard. And any evening with John is such fun, including one where the young bouncers of the club we were trying to get into with him remembered his poetry from their schooldays, and let us in free and with genuine awe and delight!
Which books from the Scallywag Press backlist should everyone read? The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld is rapidly becoming a modern classic, it helps anyone experiencing grief or loss. The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee is one of the cleverest picture books ever and can bear any number of re-readings, as can any of his books. Hat Tricks and Umbrella and The Tale of the Whale and A Gallery of Cats are all backbones of our back list.
Give us an elevator pitch for some of your recently published or upcoming books.
The Bear who had Nothing to Wear is joyful book about a bear trying out and discarding lots of outfits but in the process finding out who he really is.
A Passing on of Shells by Simon Lamb is a debut collection of ﬁfty luminous poems, each written in exactly ﬁfty words, with subjects ranging from family, identity and growing up, to the need for hope, the wonder of nature, and the very concept of poetry itself – all gorgeously illustrated by Chris Riddell.
And look out for Elki is Not My Dog the moving story of a stray dog who finds a home within a community.
Who would you invite to your dream literary party?
Trying to stick diplomatically to those no longer able to take up the invitation: Edward Lear for the sheer joy of his sense of the surreal and the absurd. H.H. Munro for his satire, black humour and pithiness. Arthur Conan Doyle for his storytelling and ability to build excitement and atmosphere… Beatrix Potter and Agatha Christie who had so many talents and interests beyond their wonderfully engaging and successful writing. And definitely Edward Gorey in his fur coat with all his cats, and Oscar Wilde in his fur coat, along with Naomi Lewis, Hans Christian Andersen and David McKee.
Tell us a secret about books…
I don’t think it’s a secret, but they live on in your mind and become part of who you are, so the more you can read the better.