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Since 1980, the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been systematically collecting children's books published by alternative presses. For the purposes of acquisition, the CCBC has defined "alternative press" as a small, independent publisher, unaffiliated with national or multinational corporations or organizations, whose major function is book publication" (Griffith & Seipp, 1982, p. 29).
By June 1992, the CCBC Alternative Press Collection contained more than 1,500 titles published since 1970 by 317 alternative presses in the United States and Canada. This noncirculating collection includes all in-print and out-of-print titles identified by the Special Collections Coordinator at the CCBC, making it the largest collection of alternative press children's books in the United States.
In addition to collecting the books, the Cooperative Children's Book Center also maintains information files for each alternative press. The publisher file typically includes catalogs, booklists, and promotional material generated by the press; photocopies of book reviews; articles about the publisher; and correspondence between the publisher and the CCBC Special Collections Coordinator. These files are available to anyone engaged in research at the CCBC.
The CCBC Alternative Press Collection is as rich and diverse as any collection of children's books. It includes all genres--picture books, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, folklore, and drama. Quality ranges from poor to outstanding, just as it does with the books from corporate publishers. What makes many alternative press books distinctive is their point of view. Within the CCBC Alternative Press Collection, one finds a variety of perspectives and ideas, as well as types of information otherwise unavailable to children. This is especially true in the area of multicultural literature, where publishing by and about people of color is markedly different from that of corporate publishers. While the latter strive to appeal to general markets, alternative presses of ten aim for a smaller more cohesive audience publishing with a strength of purpose.
A COMMITMENT TO MULTICULTURAL LITERATURE
One of the oldest children's alternative presses still in existence, Children's Book Press was founded in 1975 in response to the dearth of multicultural materials. While visiting her son's Head Start classroom in the San Francisco Mission district in 1973, Harriet Rohmer was surprised to see that, although most of the children were Hispanic, none of the books in the classroom reflected their lives or cultures. In an interview with Beverly Slapin (1987), Rohmer said, "I remember listening as the teacher read the book to the kids. It's a nice little book but certainly had nothing to do with the reality of these children, even the few of them who were white. So I felt I had to do something about it" (p. 7).
Rohmer delved into folklore archives looking for suitable stories from Central and South America which could be retold for children in Spanish and English. She worked with teachers and community members in the Mission District, asking them for their versions of the folktales. Once the stories had been written and rewritten in the two languages, Rohmer employed a collective of women muralists in San Francisco, Mujeres Muralistas, to illustrate the stories in bold vibrant colors. The result was a collection of ten brightly illustrated bilingual picture books in a folktale series called "Fifth World Tales." The stories were from diverse cultures, such as the Aztec of Mexico, the Taino of Puerto Rico, and the Yahgan of Chile. Not only did they provide much needed literature from Native American and Hispanic traditions, they also served a need for bilingual and Spanish-language materials for children.
Rohmer soon branched out and published contemporary stories such as My Aunt Otilia's Spirits=Los Espiritus de mi Tia Otilia by Richard Garcia (1978), as well as folktales and original stories from African-American, Asian American, and Native American traditions. Perhaps most distinctive, within the context of children's literature as a whole, are the stories Rohmer has published from Asian and Asian American sources. For example, two bilingual stories feature refugee children in the United States. Tran-khanh-Tuyet's (1977) The Little Weaver of Thai-Yen Village is based on the true story of a Vietnamese girl whose family was killed in the war and who was brought to the United States for medical treatment. Said one reviewer: "The heroine's experiences are not the type that American children are generally exposed to in literature, but her agonizing reality is broadening without being harsh" (Ecklund, 1987, p. D-1). Aekyung's Dream, by Min Paek (1978), features a Korean immigrant girl frustrated by English and tired of classmates who call her "Chinese Eyes." More recently, Children's Book Press has published the folktale Nine-In-One Grr! Grr! by Blia Xiong (1989), the first children's story published in the United States from the Hmong people of Laos. Prior to coming to the United States, the Hmong, a minority culture within Laos, had no written language. Nine-In-One Grr! Grr! is a story Xiong recalled hearing her elders tell when she was a child in Laos. For Children's Book Press, it was adapted by storyteller Cathy Spagnoli and illustrated by Chinese American artist Nancy Hom who based her illustrations on the traditional style used by Hmong women in their intricate needlework known as "storycloths."
In 1992, seventeen years after the establishment of the publishing company, Children's Book Press has twenty-five titles in print, seven of which are also available with bilingual audiocassettes. Not only has Harriet Rohmer accomplished her goal of providing culturally meaningful picture books for children of new immigrant groups, in many cases the Children's Book Press titles continue to be the only titles available in the United States for young children which deal with a particular cultural group.
Several other alternative presses established in the United States by white women take a special interest in publishing multicultural literature for children, of ten as a natural outgrowth of the publisher's commitment to feminism and social change. Ruth Gottstein, who founded Volcano Press in 1976 with a special focus on women's issues and the Pacific Rim (Horning, 1988, p. 65), began to publish children's books in 1989. The first original children's title she published, Berchick by Esther Silverstein Blanc, featured a Jewish homesteading family living in Wyoming at the turn of the century. While there are many works of historical fiction for children about homesteading families, Blanc's is unique for its inclusion of Jewish cultural details and values flawlessly woven into the action of the story. The three children's books published by Volcano since 1990 originated outside the United States. Irene Hedlund's (1990) Mighty Mountain and the Three Strong Women is a Japanese folktale first published in Denmark and translated into English …