Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Green Guest of the Month: Tim Magner, Growing Green Minds at Green Sugar Press

Environmental educator and writer Tim Magner knows everything in nature is connected. To help kids discover these amazing connections, Tim created Green Sugar Press, an independent, Chicago-based publishing company committed to producing quality, eco-conscious children’s books. I recently chatted with Tim to learn more about this green company and its mission to hooks kids on nature.

What inspired you to start Green Sugar Press?
If, after a few years of doing something, I stop learning, it’s time to move on. About ten years ago, I was stuck in the rat race, working to make money. Luckily, I was in a position to be able to transition towards something that made more sense- to follow a passion and fill a need.
That, and I like being with kids. They are more fun than adults, and are great learners. I’ve never met a six-year-olds that isn’t curious. The trick is to keep them that way ‘til they’re sixteen and twenty-six and help develop their creativity.

What are some of the challenges Green Sugar Press has faced as a small start-up publishing company?
Too often, we describe work as the opposite of play, but if you can model work like play, it’s fun and it breeds success. By that I mean, watch toddlers play. As they try to climb onto things and move things, they are exploring and being creative. Through trial and error, and failing along the way, they are also solving problems. As long as we keep some of that type of work in our work, it’s never becomes work as we normally associate it. Does that make sense?

Apply that to publishing: we’re in a perfect storm. The existing structure works poorly and the business is changing. Why should a children’s picture book sell for $16-$20 with the author taking home 5%? And, yet, more often than not, the publisher puts up a great deal of capital and still loses money? Distribution and marketing look different today than they did ten years ago, and, in five years, they’ll be vastly different than today. Fewer hard cover picture books are being sold, and the e-book, in all its forms, is adding to the landscape. Hard covers aren’t going away, but there’s a chance a decade from now more kids will be reading more than today. The publisher’s challenge is how to better engage the reader and add to the experience.

The slogan of Green Sugar Press is “growing green minds.” What does it mean?

It’s about getting kids outside and giving them opportunities to be kids- to wonder, to wander, to explore and to investigate. It means kids learning about connections, first-hand.
I want kids to grow up smarter than us, so, as they mature and learn critical thinking skills, they become systems thinkers, understanding you can’t have a conversation about the local watershed, for example, unless you talk about a lot of different factors, including farming, transportation, public policy and who influences it.
Not all kids are going to grow up to become activists or conservationists, but all kids ought to have a chance to play outdoors, to bond with the natural world and to become ecologically literate.

Currently Green Sugar Press has three titles on its list: “N is for Nature”, “An Environmental Guide from A to Z”, and “Earl the Earthworm Digs for His Life.” Any new projects in the works?
Plans on seeking new talent?

Yes, everyone likes new projects. I’m in a much better position than eighteen months ago and have a few things cooking. Unfortunately, I seem to have issues with focus and following through.
I’d like to expand our influence and am conducting due diligence on starting a 501c3. The focus is largely the same, but we’d be more innovative- both on content and distribution. For example, we’d like to inspire youth to create work and then use the online community to be the judges. And we’ll focus on reaching the underserved communities, for example selling books at, say $1.00 each, and then giving the proceeds for development, perhaps to start a community learning garden.

At the end of the day, I’m only as smart as the average bear. I need creative people to help me.

Thanks, Tim, for giving us a glimpse at the exciting, green-minding thinking of Green Sugar Press. Check back next week for part two of this interview and learn how Green Sugar Press connects with schools and the community to spread its environmental message.

In the mean time, learn more about Tim Magner and Green Sugar Press at:

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