Children's Book Publishing in the New Millennium: Compassionate Capitalism

A monthly spotlight on Children's Book Publishers who enrich their readers, their communities, and our World. This month: Free Spirit Publishing Helps Kids Take Charge of their Lives
What better goal could a publisher have than to make the world a better place by empowering kids and teens to and grow up healthy, well-adjusted and strong? Free Spirit publishes books and resources for youth and their parents, teachers, and counselors, to help kids and teens start out right and stay on the right road.

Independent publisher Judy Galbraith, founder of Free Spirit Publishing, knows kids will do better when they know how to do it themselves. "I've worked with kids--especially teens--for as long as I can remember. I know that young people are painfully aware of what's not working in their lives. Kids want and need information they can count on and use--to find solutions, make healthy decisions, and take positive action," says Galbraith.

A former gifted education teacher, Galbraith launched the Minneapolis-based company in 1983 because she realized that existing educational materials and opportunities for gifted and talented students were not good enough. Galbraith, committed to adolescent mental health and programs that teach children life skills, initially wrote and published The Gifted Kids' Survival Guide, which provides insights concerning the emotional stresses and challenges of growing up gifted and talented. The subsequent series of "Gifted Kids' Survival Guides" have more than 165,000 copies in print.

Energized by the positive response for her gifted materials, Galbraith acknowledged the extensive need for self-help materials for young people. Free Spirit became the first publisher to specialize in providing kids and teens with self-help tools they need to succeed in life and to make a difference in the world. Free Spirit books help kids deal with the issues, problems, and challenges of growing up, and to assume some control over their own lives. Subjects include assertiveness for children, stress management for teenagers, coping with learning differences, getting along at home and at school, coping with friends, and making a difference in the world.

"Young people want to know the facts as well as workable solutions for the challenges they face. Our books offer sound advice on topics like stress, friendship, character development, grief, special needs, and tolerance. Free Spirit books inspire kids and teens to 'do something' by working for positive change through social action, community service, and knowing more about themselves and others," said Galbraith.

"It's great to know how to slay vampires, communicate with your alien boyfriend,and navigate virtual space, but how about a little help for the real world?", reads the Free Spirit Spring 2000 trade catalog. Free Spirit's help does not shy away from the real issues kids face, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable. Self-help titles for teens include Can You Relate? Real-World Advice for Teens on Guys, Girls, Growing Up and Getting Along, What Teens Need To Succeed - Proven, Practical Ways To Shape your Own Future and Highs! Over 150 Ways to Feel Really, Really Good...Without Alcohol or Other Drugs. Self-help titles for younger kids include Bullies Are A Pain in the Brain, What On Earth Do You Do When Someone Dies?, and Stick Up For Yourself - Every Kid's Guide to Personal Power and Positive Self-Esteem.

But it's not enough to just make books about what kids need to know at home, in school, and for life. As self-help books, the books must speak to their young readers in a language the youngsters relate to and understand. The books must also focus on positive and practical solutions, not just problems. Free Spirit's topnotch expert authors, who are mostly educators and mental health professionals, provide on-target, non-didactic, doable and creative "how-to," "what for," and "way to go" self-help books for kids and teens. Here's a closer look:

In Highs! Over 150 Ways... author Alex J. Packer, Ph.D. knows there's nothing wrong with wanting to feel really good. We all have the desire to experience ecstatic moments, adrenaline rushes and alternative states of consciousness. The pursuit of delight and sensuous gratification is in our genes. The author understands teens need to relax, belong, stop feeling bored, angry, hurt, afraid, inadequate, stressed out, insecure, or lonely. Teens need to escape from homework, sports, work, chores, family, self-imposed pressures, and the emotional upheavals of adolescence. They need to find meaning, excitement, release, human connection, ritual, and bonding. Also, adolescence is a time of experimentation and testing boundaries, and most teens are natural risk takers. The author realizes that telling teens to just say no or scare tactics or preaching to teens about the dangers of drugs won't work. In Highs! the author advocates teens get high...and gives drug-free ways teens can pursue pleasure, have fun, kick back, feel the rush, connect with others, bring ritual in, alter consciousness, and find serenity. Highs are obtainable from music, art, sports, travel, nature, giving to others. In CAN YOU RELATE? Real-World Advice for Teens...Annie Fox, M.Ed. gives user-friendly strategies for teens to resolve conflicts. From hundreds of actual e-mails from teens all over the world the author knows what kids really think about parents, school, pressures, and each other, and what teens hope for, are scared of, and need to know. The author understands being a teen is tough (you're fueled by raging hormones and are expected to make the giant leap from gawky kid to responsible adult in just 5 years) and relationship issues are a large part of the challenge. The author distills frank, positive, realistic solutions to real-life problems on issues of trust, intimacy, and future physical and emotional well-being. In doing so she provides a teens' guide to building strong, healthy relationships.

Free Spirit continues to publish numerous parent and teacher resources. Recently released titles include You Know Your Child Is Gifted When... by Edward R. Amend, Psy.D. and Laughing Lessons - 149 2/3 Ways to Make Teaching and Learning Fun by Ron Burgess.

Evidence these books are wanted and needed is Free Spirit's annualized growth rate which has remained an impressive 37% since 1983. "It's been an amazing experience," said Galbraith. "The response from young people, parents, educators, and librarians has been overwhelmingly positive--and it's grown with each new Free Spirit title."

Named a "Fast-Track Publisher" by Publishers Weekly, Free Spirit has received honors and awards from the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, Parents' Choice (six years in a row), Family Channel Seal of Quality, Parent Council, Children's Book Council, YALSA (Young Adult Library Society of America), Parenting magazine, and the National Mental Health Association. Free Spirit is also an active and visible presence at major national, state, and regional conferences around the country-anywhere educators and parents gather to learn how best to teach and reach out to children and teens.