Devotion to Diversity in Children’s Book Publishing

Sera Reycraft’s American journey began in a United States Department of Defense school in Korea. At age ten, her mother married her stepfather, an American government official living abroad.

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Sera Reycraft speaks to School Library Journal about her calling to reach every child.

Sera Reycraft’s American journey began in a United States Department of Defense school in Korea. When Sera was ten, her mother married her stepfather, an American government official living abroad. Then, in sixth grade, Reycraft moved to New Jersey where she attended school in Cherry Hill. She recalled the stress of being a newcomer: “In my Korean school, I was a leader. I talked a lot and was the best I could be. Then in the American school, I lost my confidence. I felt like I couldn’t be proud of myself.”

Today, Reycraft turns her painful memories into a purposeful mission. Reycraft Books publishes original and licensed works from authors and illustrators around the globe who have unique stories to tell. Reycraft wants children everywhere and of every culture, color, religion or orientation to see their stories on English-language library bookshelves. “In the books I had to learn English, there was nothing I could connect with, nothing to help me explore what America was all about.” Now her team is devoted to making sure no kid will feel that way again.

Books are the Reycraft family’s business and passion. Reycraft’s husband, Tom, has worked in educational publishing for over forty years, starting Benchmark Education Company in New Rochelle, New York about twenty years ago. When they started Benchmark, the Reycrafts had four children under the age of five. Reycraft recalled reading to her own children every night. “Books are windows to the whole world outside,” Reycraft said, “The only way to see different worlds is for everyone to share their own stories.”

At weekly lunches and meetings, Reycraft inspires her team to focus on quality, collaboration, and love. She pours her heart into her work, hoping it reaches children who might feel isolated. No matter how children identify themselves, Reycraft wants her books to provide comfort. “We are all people. I want to bring all children together, especially underrepresented populations. This is my bucket list: a library of books that address everyone.”

Several new titles exemplify Reycraft’s inclusive approach, one of which comes out in December. Spotted Tail is a Native American book by David Heska Wanbli Weiden, illustrated by Jim Yellowhawk and Pat Kinsella. It traces the life of the famous Lakota leader who expertly guided his people through a pivotal and tumultuous time in their nation’s history. Dear Abuelo, a recent release, is by Grecia Huesca Dominguez, illustrated by Teresa Martinez. Through letters to her grandfather in Mexico, lead character Juana details her move to New York, her first days of school, and her new friendship with a bilingual classmate.

The Max and Friends series, by trans writer Kyle Lukoff, is a sweet and kid-friendly introduction to what it means to be transgender. When lead character Max starts school, the teacher pauses before calling out the name on the attendance sheet. Max tells the teacher that he wants to be called by a boy’s name. The series debut book, Call Me Max, shows Max’s journey as he makes new friends and reveals his feelings about his identity to his parents. Publisher’s Weekly called Max’s debut “eye-opening” and “an upbeat portrait of what’s possible.”

Now Max makes another splash in Max and the Talent Show, illustrated by Luciano Lozano. In this new story, Max helps Stephen, one of his best friends and a great storyteller, prepare for and perform in the school’s talent show. Like Reycraft’s team, the book’s star storyteller has a gift for changing an audience’s initial impression of people or situations. Reycraft opens minds and makes connections by featuring authors who represent the populations they are writing about.

Reycraft’s vision extends beyond books. She also dreams about creating new learning environments which, like the books she publishes, cater to a diversity of learners. Using her advanced architectural training from Virginia Tech, she is experimenting with new physical designs to stimulate and enhance a child’s learning process. Her training center includes multimedia features and tools to develop motor skills. There is no limit to Reycraft’s creative genius and love of young learners. 

The dedicated team at Reycraft Books is working hard to diversify the children’s book canon to meet the needs of underrepresented readers and their families. Like Sera Reycraft, newcomers to America arrive bringing their own rich cultures and viewpoints with them. Today’s young readers live in an ever-expanding world full of dynamic new stories. Reycraft Books hopes that every child will find books they can connect with at the library and at home—especially kids like ten-year-old Sera Reycraft, who longed to find a story of her own.


 

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