To celebrate the launch of a new collaboration between Barefoot Books and The White Feather Foundation, we spoke to Barefoot Books co-founder Nancy Traversy about her journey as an entrepreneur and pioneer in the publishing world.
TWFF: Where did the idea for Barefoot Books come from?
NT: My cofounder, Tessa Strickland, and I were both drawn to the idea of starting a business making beautiful books that introduced children to wonderful stories and art from all over the world. Back then (and still today) we believed in the power of stories to break down walls and cross boundaries. We wanted to teach our children about different ways of life, traditions and cultures. Most of all, we wanted to raise our children to be open-minded and open-hearted global citizens.
TWFF: Tell us about some of the highlights of your journey in publishing—what have been your proudest moments?
NT: In 2017, we were on the Forbes list of 25 Best Small Companies in America, who said we had “defied conventional wisdom and created a publishing brand that parents and grandparents recognize, trust, and buy.”
We won the Indie Publishers’ Diversity Award in 2012 and 2020, a validation of our thirty-year commitment to opening children’s hearts and minds with diverse and inclusive books.
Our app, Barefoot World Atlas, had over 4 million downloads, our YouTube channel has over 400 million views and 500k subscribers and we have a social media following of 65K across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
And, of course, we are thrilled to be partnering with Julian Lennon’s White Feather Foundation to promote our Planet Protector Pack.
Our proudest accomplishment is to still be standing after 30 years and to have put nearly 30 million books into the hands of children around the world.
TWFF: As a mother, you also consulted with your children about some of the Barefoot Books content decisions. Do you think they will someday want to go into the publishing business as well?
NT: I started Barefoot Books from my home in London back in 1992 when my eldest daughter was 3 weeks old. I had three more children over the next few years so Barefoot’s beginnings were a lovely blend of family life and entrepreneurial mission! My kids have all grown up Barefoot, actively involved in testing stories, picking artists and generally helping out in our little business. They are all wonderful grownups now, pursuing their dreams and passions as global citizens. I would love for them to get involved in Barefoot one day, but right now I am happy and proud to watch them spread their wings!
TWFF: Like every business, I’m sure the global pandemic impacted Barefoot Books. How did you and your team adapt to our changing world in the face of that crisis?
NT: We are lucky to sell our books through many different sales channels, so when libraries and schools closed and stopped buying books during the pandemic, we actually saw a boost in sales from parents seeking quality books to read together at home. So many families were at home with either remote schooling or no schooling at all. Our team focused on equipping parents and caregivers with resources to keep children engaged in reading and creative play. A lot of our books feature easy-to-follow recipes and global games, which lend easily to independent learning at home which we were able to offer, for free, on our website.
TWFF: How did you first learn of The White Feather Foundation and what was it about our charity that made you want to partner with us?
NT: I resonated with The White Feather Foundation’s multifaceted mission, particularly to conserve and sustain our environment and give access to clean water. Sustainability is a key value of Barefoot Books: from sustainably sourced paper to carbon offsetting, the materials that make up our books are ones that our customers can feel good about having in their classroom or home. Partnering with the WFF felt very natural for Barefoot, especially with the release of Barefoot Books Water and Planet Power which both introduce children to topics related to renewable energy and conservation.
TWFF: Our two organizations have collaborated on a beautiful new “Planet Protector Pack” for kids, which focuses on earth-friendly content and activities. How important is it to offer books and materials in this day and age that address climate issues?
NT: In light of the recent UN report on climate change, it is critically important. We believe that children already have the passion to protect the planet; we just need to equip them with the tools to take action. The contents of the Planet Protector Pack provide books and activities with easy-to-follow steps for helping little environmentalists raise awareness and combat climate change.
TWFF: Tell us about the Barefoot Books which are included in the pack.
NT: We’re so excited for little planet protectors to get their hands on our interactive World Atlas Sticker Book, our beautiful new STEAM books Water and Planet Power and our award-winning Global Kids activity deck. The sticker book is a companion to our award-winning World Atlas with over four-hundred-fifty stickers to help children strengthen their global literacy. Water blends global fiction and fact-packed nonfiction in a comprehensive yet accessible exploration of water and was just named by Kirkus as one of the 150 Most Anticipated Books for Fall. Planet Power introduces children to six renewable energy technologies that are used around the world. Lastly, Global Kids is a pack of fifty cards, each one featuring a game or activity from across the world. It was developed by global education expert Homa Tavangar and it’s designed to help parents and caregivers raise global citizens.
TWFF: What’s next for Barefoot Books in this upcoming school year?
NT: We are excited to see where the next year takes us as we begin our 30th year of living Barefoot. In addition to our focus on sustainability, we are also celebrating food, family and connection with both our new books and bestselling backlist. In particular, Dumpling Day is a new book that shows a multicultural neighborhood gathering together for a dumpling-themed potluck. It has recipes from ten different countries and cultures in the endnotes. Then there’s our picture book Dinner on Domingos which tells the story of a first-generation Ecuadorian American girl who tries to speak Spanish with her abuelita so that they can deepen their bond. And there’s so many other stories that we’re excited to share!
As always, we have plenty of wonderful projects brewing in our Barefoot creative cauldron and lots of exciting plans to spread the word and reach more families and educators. With our publishing, we will continue to stay true to our core pillars – global awareness, diversity & inclusion; early learning & concept building; social-emotional learning; sustainability & STEAM; health & wellness; creativity and compassion.
Having just moved into our colorful new Barefoot home in Concord, MA after 20 years in Cambridge, MA, it feels like we’re starting a fresh new chapter in our story. Our books and our mission are no longer on the fringes, finally! We have an amazingly talented team and a wonderful community of creators and customers. And we are very much looking forward to celebrating our 30th Anniversary in 2022.