Today, we are excited to share with you the sixth in our series of posts highlighting members of the Barefoot Books team. Katie Livesey, Commissioning Editor, uses her sharp eyes and ears to find new stories to bring to the growing list of Barefoot Books titles. She is also quite the world traveler – here she is in Tanzania, next to a river full of crocodiles and hippopotami! Read on to learn more about Katie and her work at Barefoot Books!

How would you describe your role at Barefoot Books?

I’m looking for fiction and stories that will engage children, fire their imaginations and help turn them into people who love stories, who love sharing stories and who love reading. As a commissioning editor, I’m constantly sniffing and hunting for stories, so I regularly meet and contact authors and literary agents. It’s just a question of talking and listening and meeting and reading. I look carefully at the catalogues of other publishers. I looked at an Israeli publisher when I first came to Barefoot and I thought, this is interesting, and now we’re publishing it. It’s called The Girl with a Brave Heart. I’m sourcing fiction from as many different places as I can manage – submissions, authors, literary agents – people who approach us with stories they think are good.

When you look at a manuscript, what are you looking for specifically? Are there certain things you see more of in younger age range books?

Something that’s engaging and authentic. You know, children have very sensitive antennae and they can tell when something is real and when something doesn’t ring true. So we’re looking to publish a book that gives them a different way of looking at their world and feels real. There’s a quote from Maurice Sendak, ‘You cannot write for children. They’re much too complicated. You can only write books to interest them.’ Write about things that mean something to them. Shed light on things for them. Fairy stories talk about issues that still trouble us today. Finn at Clee Point is an adventure, but it tells of how a little boy works out whom he should be friends with and whom he can trust.

You used to be a teacher. How does your background in education help you every day?

I’ve been a teacher for twenty-four years and I think that’s really helped me in several ways. But the two most important ones are that I really know children and I know how they work, and secondly, I have listened to children reading for so many years that I know what words will puzzle them, and I understand how they read. Those two things really help me particularly with the early readers series to make them accessible to them. I’ve sat next to children for many years listening to them read, and if they can’t read [the book in front of them], it damages their confidence and really turns them off of reading at an early age. So you want to make the text as accessible as possible, but not too bland. What makes a book great are challenges that make children want to read more while still making it accessible. Know the way they interact, the things that worry them and the things that excite them. You learn how they work. You just know, when you’ve taught for many years, you can go into a group of children and you’ll know how they work and what the group dynamics are after two minutes. Who’s the quiet one or the one who needs attention. I go into schools once a month and I’m also a school governor at a local primary school, so I have a lot of things to do at a school in the evenings. Even with a new group of children, you just know how it’s going to be.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Lots of challenges. I hate when I have to reject a manuscript – that’s quite challenging. We’ve had a number of manuscripts on our desks that we’re considering and then for one reason – usually a good reason – we have to say that it’s not a good fit for us. Having to reject it can be tricky.

What’s your favorite Barefoot Books title and why?

I love Little Leap Forward. I think it is just beautifully written and one of the first Barefoot Books [titles] I read. I think the pictures and the language mesh perfectly. I have a really great friend who lives in Beijing, and it made her so wistful because it is a world that’s gone. It’s not a happy or easy world, but it’s so beautifully and vividly painted. I also do love the early readers because I’ve worked on them so much. If I can have a nearly favorite, I love Animal Stories #1: The Tortoise’s Gift. I read it to a class of children in March for World Book Day, and after I had read it, they were going out for their playtime. I was going to go have a cup of coffee with the teachers before I was to read another book, and I heard children going down the stairs chanting: ‘Awongalema.’ And I thought, that’s brilliant.

You’ve had the chance to live in some amazing places. What’s it like moving from one country to another?

I think it’s a real privilege to live in a different country, to have people make you feel welcome there and to make friends there. It’s challenging and sad to leave one place and go someplace else. You kind of leave a bit of yourself there when you leave. I was born in Kuwait and as a child I lived in Brazil. When I was 6 or 7, I moved to London and as an adult I’ve lived in India, Morocco, Nigeria, and Paris – all of them for more than a year. You really get to know the people who are your neighbors and you get to know the greengrocer and he saves you the green tomatoes because he knows you love green tomatoes and all those things are really precious. If you live somewhere, you really have the chance to get under the skin of that place and make links with the people. It is very hard when you come to the end of a time somewhere and you have to leave, and I just felt that I couldn’t do it too many more times because it’s just so sad to leave a place. Even if you go back, you’ve left that part of your life there.

Do you have a favorite food from your travels that you miss eating frequently?

In Nigeria I had a very good Ghanaian friend who would roast plantains with paprika and chili, and I haven’t had that in ages. The other thing is in France, the fruit is so good and the fruit in the UK is really rubbish. I miss greengages and peaches bought from the market. Every Thursday morning outside Paris, we’d go to the market. And of course good coffee! We’re very lucky because the Barefoot studio in Oxford has really nice coffee.


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