Topipittori – Publisher Interview

Paolo Canton bnAs many of my blog followers will know, a few weeks back I was thrilled to be contacted by Lisa Topi of the Italian publishing house, TOPIPITTORI, about translating my interview with Leonard Marcus for their website. Through our email exchange and discovering the international focus of this publishing house, I thought it would be rewarding to interview their founder, Paolo Canton.

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived?

[PC] I was born in Milan, Italy. I have always lived there. I tried to move to London and to New York, but either the place or the time were wrong.

[JM] Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming part of the Topipittori publishing team?

[PC] My father was a printer. As a present for my seventh birthday a family friend gave me a small printing machine, a perfect working replica of a letterpress press. And I started to publish tiny books. I studied economics, wrote a dissertation on the publishing industry and started to work for various publishers. My first full time job was at Franco Maria Ricci Editore who, at that time, had an office in NYC for FMR magazine, and I worked there. In 1997 I started my own venture, partnering with Giovanna Zoboli, a writer who eventually accepted to marry me. Calamus is a communication company, working mainly for financial institutions and design companies. As we worked a lot with illustrators, the natural evolution was starting to think about picture books. And that we started to do in 2004.

[JM] What is the mission statement for Topipittori?

[PC] Should we have one? Probably our mission statement is «Never have a mission statement». As we are a very small company, we have to be flexible, ready to innovate and we have the feeling that having a formal mission statement could, in a way, be a burden. The only thing which remains constant in our activity is the fact that we publish books for children, trying to give the due respect to their intelligence.

[JM] What are some the benefits of being a small publisher?

[PC] Not having a mission statement. Ok, that was a bad joke, forget about it. I think the main point is the fact that everybody in the company is involved in all aspects of the business, from creation to editing, from production to promotion, from relations with booksellers and the press to accounting and finance. It is a good way to know quite instantly how the decisions you make influence the activities of the company. And it is fun. And I think this is something bigger publishers miss: specialization on the job pays, but at the price of losing the big picture.

[JM] How do you go about forging your international collaborations?

[PC] Mostly showing our books to other publishers all over the world. We go to bookfairs (Bologna is to us the most important), travel to interesting countries in order to meet local publishers, use the Internet to contact those we can’t reach otherwise. I think it is particularly important to freely share books and projects and let other publishers know what you do and how you do it. This is the way you can convince someone to invest in a book you’ve created and published. Or, at least, this is the way we are usually convinced to do so and we infer it is the same for others. Of course, we have someone who is in charge of foreign rights (Lisa Topi) and a chief-editor + art director (Giovanna Zoboli) who perform the usual tasks of their craft, but ideally we would love to trade not only rights in exchange for money, but compatible ideas and ways too.

[JM] What is more important to you: character, plot, or world?

[PC] The book. The book itself. This powerful and delicate precision engine which combines the efforts of so many professional and material inputs, making them converge to create marvel, astonishment, magic, warmth.

[JM] Whom might we know that you publish? And whom would you like to introduce to us? (illustrations of their books)

[PC] We are very proud of being Sergio Ruzzier’s Italian publisher. “A letter for Leo” came out in September; “Two mice “ will follow in March 2016.

Una lettera per Leo_cover

Una lettera per Leo_int 1

You might already know Beatrice Alemagna, who is one of our best-selling author-illustrator. “Che cos’è un bambino” has been reprinted eight times since 2008 and has been sold worldwide (English edition by Tate to come out in a few days) in more than 100.000 copies; “I cinque malfatti” is also an international best seller.

I cinque Malfatti_int 1

I cinque Malfatti_int 1





And, of course, John Alcorn, the celebrated graphic designer of the 1960s and 1970s. We re-published his “Books!” in 2012, 50 years after it first appeared in the Us (English rights sold to Ammo).

Libri_cover Libri_int 1

I am sure you will appreciate to be introduced to Joanna Concejo, a Polish illustrator living in Paris, who published her first book with us in 2008 and published four more since then; Guido Scarabottolo, one of the greatest Italian illustrators of our times; Simone Rea, an eclectic illustrator from Rome.

Joanna Concejo 2

Joanna Concejo 2

Simone Rea_L'uomo dei palloncini int

Simone Rea_L’uomo dei palloncini int

[JM] What book do you wish you’d published?

[PC] Quintessential masterpieces like “Little blue and little yellow” by Leo Lionni; “Where the wild things are” and “The Juniper tree”, both by Maurice Sendak; “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown; “Macao et Cosmage” by Edy Legrand. Books which made a revolution and had a lasting impact on the very idea of picture books (although you won’t call “The juniper tree” a picture book).

[JM] Assuming you attend the Bologna international Book Fair, what is your favorite part of this?

[PC] After 15 years of BCBF, both Giovanna and I think the best part of it is when it’s over, you pack your things, jump in your car, start the engine and drive back to Milan. That’s the time to draw a balance, to evaluate how things evolved from the previous edition, to share gossips, to complain about this or that, to rejoice for your success and to regret the failures. Bologna is only four days long, but it is so intense and hectic that you go through it in a state of quasi-unconsciousness. The day after is an operational climax, with thing to do by the thousands. The trip back home, in the car, is the first intimate moment in days, when pressure subsides and things start to emerge from chaos.

[JM] What would you like aspiring authors and illustrators to know about the publication process?

[PC] They should know every part of it in tiny details. A picture book is a collective work, and is a masterpiece of cultural and industrial mechanics. It is very difficult to write or illustrate a picture book not knowing at least by approximation what the other actors in the process will do and how they will do it. This is why in 2010 I accepted to teach courses oriented to give a holistic, integrated view of the publication process, from creation to diffusion. In order to make it hands-on, the students do produce a small book composing typography by hand and printing it on a flatbed letterpress machine. Only by knowing the process in detail they can understand the importance of all the subjects contributing to it and may avoid a narcissistic approach to the very difficult job waiting for them.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                                 [JM] What’s your favorite park in the world?

[PC] Giovanna’s family is from a mountainous area of Italy, between Bologna and Florence. There is a regional park there that we explore walking, snowshoeing and mountain-biking. It’s called Parco del Frignano:

[JM] Cats or dogs?

[PC] Giovanna and I love cats. There where times when we had three of them. We have none right now.

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[PC] I have the high honour of having been made Chevalier dans l’Ordre de Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture in 2011 because of the achievements of Topipittori in disseminating the children’s books culture in the world.

[JM] Bravo, Paolo. This is a wonderful honor! First paid job after high school?

[PC] Well, it was during high school. I wanted a motorcycle but my father refused to buy me one. So I took a 20-hours-per-week job as a bookseller, which turned into full time in the summer months. It took me one whole year to buy the motocycle. But I did not quit the job: I still had to pay the maintenance.

[JM] I am a biker, so now I want to know what you bought because my first motorcycle was a GILERA?! Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

I’d rather go swimming.

Paolo, thank you so much for sharing about Topipittori and your own personal journey. I hope that this is the first of many interviews with smaller, but no less important publishing houses. I wish you continued success with all your publications.

how to – Perfect Picture Book Friday

how toTitle: how to

Written and illustrated by: Julie Morstad

Published by: Simply Read books, 2013

Themes/Topics: how to guide, imagination, whimsy, wonder

Literary awards: Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award (2014), Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize (2014)

Suitable for ages: 6-9


how to go fast


This imaginative ‘how to’ book explores both expected and whimsical ways of doing a host of different tasks, including, ‘how to see the breeze’, and ‘how to stay close’ and ‘how to make a sandwich.’

Why I like This Book:

I love the mix of straight-forward and whimsy, a terrific blend of how many of us think. The artwork int he solutions is gorgeous and full of wonder. the children shine and the use of white or extended dark space is poetic. How to wash your socks has children dancing in a puddle wearing socks and is a favorite of mine. How to make friends is the cover image of a child drawing people with chalk.

Morstad creates beautiful and elegant unusual books and this is no exception. The ideas in the book are all creative and will invite children to engage with the pages. It may not contain enough action for some children but I would still share it with a whole class even if it is the more whimsical kids who will linger longer over the pages.

Sometimes kids need reminders like adults of the importance of contemplation. Especially nowadays. That you feel the breeze by riding a bike, become a mermaid by lounging in the bathtub, wash your face in the rain. Why of course you do.



This book will lead inevitably to dialogue, and why not a series of the children’s own how to artwork?

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Dan Hanna – Illustrator Interview

Dan Hannah by Jennifer Beckwith

Dan Hannah by Jennifer Beckwith

I am changing up my Wednesday series just a little today to join in Debbie Diesen and Dan Hannah’s blog & book tour of THE NOT VERY MERRY POUT-POUT FISH, the latest hardcover children’s picture book from The New York Times bestselling Pout-Pout Fish series. Here’s today’s interview with illustrator, Dan Hannah.


[JM] How long have you been illustrating the Pout-Pout Fish books? What inspired your depiction of the main character, Mr. Fish?

[DH] I started illustrating the first book in early 2007 and so it’s been about 8 or 9 years now. About 15 years ago I was scuba diving in Fiji. There was a huge rusting hulk of a shipwreck about 80 feet down. At the end of a pole extending above the deck was a small metal basket. Resting in that basket was a pudgy fish about the size of my fist. I swam up and looked right into his eyes and he looked right back with a deep, gloomy frown. Years later, when I received the manuscript for The Pout-Pout Fish, that memory bubbled up. I realized, at that moment, that Mr. Fish was an actual fish, living on the other side of the world, 80 feet down on a shipwreck.

[JM] When there’s a new Pout-Pout story to illustrate, how do you collaborate with author Deborah Diesen?

[DH] It may seem odd but I don’t communicate with Debbie regarding the illustrations. I work with are the Editor (Janine O’Malley) and Art Director (Roberta Pressel). When I initially receive a manuscript I’m given complete freedom to break it down into pages and to illustrate it however I think best. After I complete the first dummy (a mock-up of the book) I send it to Janine and Roberta. That begins a long series of feedback and changes until we get to a version that we’re all happy with. At that point I beginthe final art that will eventually be delivered to make the book.

[JM] What has been your favorite Pout-Pout book to illustrate? Why?

[DH] The first book! Nothing can compare to getting your first book published. Its success paved the way for all the others. The original book was the first for both Debbie and me and that made it extra special.Usually a publisher will team up a first timer with someone who has experience. Fortunately, FSG took achance on two rookies.

[JM] What medium do you use to make the illustrations? Tell us about your creative process.

[DH] I use the PPPPP approach: Paper, Pencils, Pens, Paint and Photoshop. My favorite is just pencil and paper. When I start a new book I like to visit a variety of coffee shops in my area. I let my caffeinated mind roam, scribbling out ideas and laughing to myself. If a sketch doesn’t make me laugh then it usually doesn’t make the cut.

[JM] What illustration in The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish did you have the most fun creating?

[DH] I especially like the one where Mr. Fish imagines giving Ms. Clam the robot body. She just looks so happy and empowered. The items in the shop and the gifts Mr. Fish imagines in this story are so detailed and quirky.

[JM] How did you come up with them? Did you have a specific inspiration?

[DH] For the imagined gifts, I drew on my own experience as a kid where I would dream up magnificent presents for my family and friends. Eventually, as with Mr. Fish, I would have to confront reality and drastically scale back my plans. The shop items are based on all the goofy stuff you can find on the shelves of some of the more interesting gift shops.

Of all the items that the Pout-Pout fish dreams up (robot, spaceship, submarine etc.), which one would you love to get this Christmas?

[DH] The Submarine! When I was a kid there was an ad in the back of a comic book for a submarine. The ad went something like this:
“Delux Submarine! Life Size! Torpedo Tubes! Absolutely NO Cardboard Parts! Only $10!! I saved up the money and sent away for it. As I waited for it to be delivered my dreams were filled with visions of underwater adventure. Eventually it arrived and sank my dreams into the abyss. It was just a cardboard box with torpedo tubes made from toilet roll tubes. It was even more depressing than the SeaMonkeys and X-Ray Glasses.

[JM] What do you think was your most valuable childhood experience?

[DH] Being bored. I firmly believe that having enough free time to sit around and be bored is very important for the development of a healthy imagination. What kinds of things inspire you to work?I’m primarily motivated by death. When I contemplate my eventual demise it scares me into action. Although what really gets me going — is death and a cup of coffee.

[JM] What do you want the students to get out of your school visits?

[DH] That being a writer or illustrator is like being a wizard. Your magic wand is a pencil. Your potions are words and scribbles. And the spells you cast will be the stories you write and the pictures you draw. So pick up a pencil and make some magic happen!

[JM] Do you enjoy researching or do you prefer working totally from your imagination?

[DH] Initially I let my imagination run wild. Then I knock it out with a tranquilizer dart while I do some research. Finally, my groggy imagination re-awakes, snarls angrily and then runs wild again. I’ve found that this approach works best for me.

[JM] Do you have any advice for aspiring picture book illustrators?

[DH] Buy one thousand parrots and place them in a room with a looped recording saying something like: “Dan Hanna can sure draw fish!” Then release the parrots, using a helicopter, over each of the major publishing houses. When the editors leave for lunch they’ll hear the parrots in the trees screeching “Aaaaccck, Dan Hanna can sure draw fish!” Now I know this scheme seems rather elaborate, but it worked for me.

[JM] How did it feel to have your first book (and author Deborah Diesen’s first book) become so successful?

[DH] It feels like a hot air balloon ride. But not like one of those rides where the basket catches on fire or the balloon hits a power line or something.

[JM] What do you think will be the ultimate fate of your work?

[DH] Five billion years from now, when our sun has blown up and the Earth is a smoldering chunk of charcoal, humanity will hopefully have escaped to another planet. Perhaps, packed away in one of the zillions of moving boxes will be an old, dusty copy of “The Pout-Pout Fish”. Maybe then, some remnant of my wandering soul will smile as a genetically enhanced child stumbles across it and cracks open its ancient spine.

You can find out more about Dan and his work at the following websites:                                                                 

Debbie and Dan are on tour with POUT POUT FISH now, so if you are in the neighborhood, maybe you can join in?

Book Tour Schedule

Author Deborah Diesen
November 14, 3pm – Square Books, Oxford, MS
November 16, 3:30pm – Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC
November 18, 4pm – Vero Beach Book Center, Vero Beach, FL
November 19, 7pm – Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, GA
November 20, 4pm – Octavia Books, New Orleans, LA

Illustrator Dan Hanna
November 15, 11am – WORD Books, Jersey City, NJ
November 16, 4pm – Carmichael’s Bookstore, Louisville, KY
November 17, 4:30pm – Towne Book Center & Cafe, Collegeville, PA
November 18, 4:30pm – Cover to Cover, Columbus, OH
November 19, 4:30pm – Lake Forest Books, Lake Forest, IL
November 21, 12pm – Anderson’s Book Shop, Naperville, IL
November 21, 2pm – Anderson’s Book Shop, La Grange, IL

Learn more at