Publishing for all kids to see characters that look like them
Insights from Joy Triche, Tiger Stripe Publishing
In 2016, only 12 percent of children’s books were written or illustrated by people of color. Joy Triche, the founder of Tiger Stripe Publishing, a publishing company with the goal of creating books about people of color, by people of color, is on a mission to change that.
She was inspired by her experiences reading with her own children when they were young. Shahadah, her oldest daughter, was “a voracious reader,” getting her hands on any writing she could find. Qassim, her son, was a different story.
“My son was a little bit more of a reluctant reader. It was with him that I really was trying to find books that he would see himself in and connect himself to… that was when I really saw that there was a real lack of diverse books.”
That’s when Joy made it her goal to create books about people of color, by people of color. Having worked in education publishing for the majority of her career, she knew she was capable of making this happen. In 2014, Tiger Stripe officially began with a dream -- literally.
“[The first] book was inspired by a nightly ritual between my son and my husband, where [my son] would say ‘What should I dream about?’ to my husband,” Joy says. “And he would give him these crazy missions to go on, you know, like ‘The whole world is black and white. You have to color in the world.’
“And then [my son] would tell him in the morning, these conversations [describing] what happened in the dream. ... When I found out that that’s what was going on--because I didn’t know at first because this was their thing--I was like ‘Man, that would make a really good story!’”
Joy published Tiger Stripe’s first book in 2014: “Q Saves the Sun,” written by Isaac Perry. It centers around a Black, nine-year-old boy, Qadeer Taylor, who invents his dreams based on his father’s bedtime stories. While it’s based on Qassim and his father, written in large part with her children’s needs in mind, the idea is for any and all children to connect to it.
“It’s not because he’s black that these things happen, but it gives children a chance to see a black superhero.”
Yet making the jump from working within large publishing companies to running a small children’s publishing startup was a bit of a shock. Suddenly, she no longer had the luxury of flexible budgets and lists of contacts to call at her disposal.
While bookstores are often interested in selling Tiger Stripe’s books, they also often have constraints that are easier for larger publishing companies to fulfill, such as purchasing books through intermediaries called distributors.
“We have bookstores that are interested in our books and we talk to them,” Joy says, but the offers don’t always pan out. “In order for them to purchase them, they have to go through a distributor. So we’re working towards that.”
Being a black woman in America affects her in her mission as well, and there’s a striking contrast between her own journey and that of others. Every day Joy has to watch white men waltz into bookstores and pitch novels for the businesses to stock, and their offers are overwhelmingly accepted. Women--especially women of color--have to work to even get an audience. Every decision is questioned, and every misstep has the potential to ruin a business. But pushing back against these additional obstacles only makes Joy want to work harder. “I don’t think of myself as being marginalized on a regular basis. I just go in, do my thing, you just keep moving.”
Joy’s job is difficult, but exceptionally rewarding. One of the best parts of starting her own publishing company is getting to interact with children at book fairs. “I had this one little boy who actually grabbed the book off the table and ran off,” Joy says. He brought his mom back, and his mom was like ‘We’re gonna go through the rest of the fair before we [buy anything.]’ And then she came back, like an hour later, like ‘He wouldn’t stop talking about this book! He wouldn’t pick anything else.’
“And then the little boy sat down in front of our table and read the whole book. [...] That’s the reason why I do what I do. So that young people will get excited about reading, and to present stories that [everyone] can identify with, and then enjoy, and it makes them want to read something else.”
While seeing children’s excitement first hand is an incredible experience, it’s Joy’s original goal that keeps her going: “We can give voice to authors who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get published.”