McSweeney’s brings irreverent style to children’s books

"Because expectations are so low with the genre, you can be experimental and have  wild, creative fun with it," says Brian McMullen, the editorial and artistic director of the children's book imprint, McMullens. Credit: Katie McMullen
“Because expectations are so low with the form, you can be experimental and have wild, creative fun with it,” says Brian McMullen, the editorial and artistic director of the children’s book imprint, McSweeney’s McMullens. Credit: Katie McMullen

A funny thing happened to the publishing company McSweeney’s: Children began to appear. Just as their fan base started to think about procreating, so did the tight-knit staff, which publishes the quarterly literary journal “Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern,” the monthly magazine “The Believer,” an assortment of book imprints and other upscale, stylized publications.

“We’re a small staff, and a lot of us were in our early 20s when we started working at McSweeney’s,” recounts Brian McMullen, who started working for the operation in 2002 as an intern. “McSweeney’s has always been eclectic; it’s always been open to publishing any kind of book irrespective of genre. The only real qualifying thing (to have us publish it) is that it’s interesting to us as editors and as readers.”

And what slowly became interesting to the full-time staff of nine were children’s books. “We found ourselves saturated in children’s literature more than we used to be,” McMullen remembers. Since its launch, McSweeney’s would publish an occasional children’s book here and there, but once they saw the commercial and artistic appeal of them, they decided to devote an imprint solely to publishing creative, interesting kids books. And so, under the guidance of McMullen, the McSweeney’s McMullens children’s imprint was born. Its first book came out in the summer of 2011 and as of next month, it’ll have published 12 picture books and three novels.

As the editors soon discovered, children’s books are very fitting with the McSweeney’s brand. “There’s so much potential with a picture book,” says McMullen, who notes he has an invaluable, in-house marketing focus group for his books: his two sons, ages 5 and 3. “I’ve always been an editor and a designer, so I’ve always loved working with the push and the pull of the editorial and the art and design side of the book; I love being able to see the whole thing at once, thinking about the shape and the size and how the story should go and what the art should be all about,” he says.

Below, McMullen, now the editorial and art director of the imprint, discusses some of his favorite books, all of which are available at your favorite bookstore or online.

 

“The Night Riders” by Matt Furie

"The Night Riders" by Matt Furie.
“This is a wonderful, wordless picture book. Furie took an entire year to draw it by hand with colored pencil. I think half the customers of that book are people who bought it as a coffee-table book because they love the art so much. They’re treating it almost like a monograph. There’s a lot of slippage sometimes between what’s an art book and what’s a book for kids. I think a lot of the books we’re producing get classified as both.”

 

“Crabtree” by Jon and Tucker Nichols

"Crabtree" by Jon and Tucker Nichols.
“Crabtree” by Jon and Tucker Nichols

“This is probably our best-reviewed and best-distributed book yet. Tucker Nichols is a gallery artist in San Francisco; he worked with his brother Jon on this, their first kid’s book together. Tucker uses his style that he uses for all of his artwork, which usually hangs in galleries, on this book for kids. It’s very funny, witty and so re-readable. It’s just a beautiful book all about a guy who is an intensive collector and he has to go through all of his belongings and try to find his missing false teeth. At a glance, sometimes our books get misconstrued as being primarily art books, and it can be enjoyed on that level, but our first goal is to please the children in our lives and be able to hand them something that we’re proud to sit down and read with them or give to somebody who can sit down and read with their child.”

 

“Hang Glider and Mud Mask” by Jason Jägel and Brian McMullen

"Hang Glider and Mud Mask" by Brian McMullen with art by Jason Jagel.
“Hang Glider and Mud Mask” by Brian McMullen with art by Jason Jagel

“This is a book I wrote with art by Jason Jägel. It’s a book constructed in a Z shape; it has two spines. It’s essentially a book you can start reading from either end and has a looping narrative. You can start from one end and get one character’s side of the story or you can start from the other side of the book and get the other character’s side of the story. The characters meet in the physical middle of the book; it’s a very sweet narrative and you can keep reading it in a continuous loop with your child until they get tired of reading it. We try to be very playful with our formats. With picture books, you can be so inventive and playful. It’s probably the best form of any kind of book for visual storytelling. It’s a fantastic art form, and I think we’re only going to see more and more of an appreciation of it as the years go by.”


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

'Barack Obama cheats on Michelle' claims Japanese politician…

A senior Japanese politician has marred Barack Obama's official visit to Tokyo with bizarre claims that the President cheats on his wife Michelle. Kazuyuki Hamada,…

International

British Royal family devastated by freak NY death…

The British royals have been left devastated by the death of Mark Shand, younger brother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, after a freak fall in…

Local

DA: Homeless man severely beat by men in…

Two former college football players pleaded not guilty to the alleged severe beating of a homeless man in Allston earlier this year.

National

Hamas, Abbas's PLO announce reconciliation agreement

The Gaza-based Islamist group Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agreed on Wednesday to a unity pact.

Television

‘Survivor: Cagayan’ recap: Episode 9

It was only an hour-long episode, but there's a lot to cover this week. The drama of Survivor strikes again as the identity of the…

Going Out

Thursty: Revamped Audubon is back in action

Having been a long time fan of Trina's Starlite Lounge in Inman Square, one of my only complaints about the place is that there's only…

Entertainment

Here's what to do in Boston this weekend

MUSIC Huun Huur Tu Friday, 8 p.m. First Church in Cambridge 11 Garden St., Cambridge $28, 617-876-4275 www.worldmusic.org This group comes from the tiny nation…

Television

TV watch list, Wednesday, April 23: 'Suburgatory,' 'Modern…

'Suburgatory' The men of "Suburgatory" go camping and Tessa mentors a social outcast in a Miss Chatswin contest, which brings her, once again, into conflict…

NFL

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24…

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24 version

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox top Yankees, 5-1

John Lackey shines, Pineda ejected in Red Sox win

NHL

Bruins - Red Wings Game 4 preview: Boston…

Bruins - Red Wings Game 4 preview: Boston greedy for more dominance

MLB

Fantasy baseball: Searching for early season prospects

It’s relatively rare for a mediocre 30-year-old hitter to suddenly go nuts offensively for 162 games. That’s why minor league prospects are so exciting.

Style

Pippa Middleton's Etsy pick: Golden Thread Jewelry

Get a look at the jewelry Pippa Middleton loves and find out how you can buy it too.

Parenting

What every parent needs to know to get…

Mom and author of "Small Talk," Tracey Blake, shares her five practical tips to help you develop your children's language skills.

Sex

Subway crush: Meet your soulmate on your commute

Read about a couple who has been 40 years after meeting on the train.

Tech

Happy birthday, Game Boy! The handheld console turns…

Nintendo's Game Boy turns 25 this week. To commemorate, we look at some of its better games, like "Tetris" and "The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening."