Sugarfree Books’ Mission
Our mission is to publish stories that tell a variety of narratives that help children think critically about the world they want to create out of the world that already exists. While we may ultimately hope children have less sugar in their diet in order to live more healthily. The “sugar” we refuse to publish is the candy-coated stories. These make up a large portion of the books available to many US children: stories that uphold the values of White, middle-class, cis-heteronormativity while simultaneously silencing other narratives.
These stories often follow the broader trend of Disneyfication, wherein adults impose their vision of the naïve, innocent child who must be protected from the evils of the world. These evils include death, racism, and imperialism, and the deep inequalities that emerge from the many hateful ideologies plaguing our world. While it is incumbent upon the able to protect the young, we believe the notion of protection is domain dependent: it does not follow that adult protection from physical danger also justifies the silencing of alternative worldviews, stifling of dialogue between disparate identities, nor sheltering of children from a diversity of experience.
We believe that fiction entertains while making important themes accessible for critical examination and dialogue.
We believe that children should see their realities reflected in the literature available to them.
We believe that children should have curiosity about the world, so that they might work to make it a better, more just place.
We believe that children are capable of and should be included in the complex social dialogues that shape contemporary life.
We believe that media should not project an ideal family if that ideal alienates children who come from single-parent families, or have same-sex parents, or whose families may be mixed or blended.
We believe that kids are resilient and do not need to be protected from the knowledge of horrors that exist in our world–sometimes they are complicit, sometimes they are victims, but certainly they no longer should be made to believe they play no role in events that impact the world and its inhabitants.
As a publisher, we are committed to providing quality books. We want these books to tell unique stories. We hope to sell enough books to keep making more of them. In addition, we made social commitments at the founding of our company. These social commitments can tell you more about who we are and what we represent.
Our social commitments help us contribute to a better, more just world. Publicly sharing these social commitments is meant to keep us accountable.
Equity and Variety
Contributors to our company thus far: over 60% identify as women; 1/2 people of color; nearly half were born outside the U.S.
We will be a publisher of narratives from people traditionally underrepresented in publishing. We hope to operate according to values, like those established by the National Equity Project.
Still in our infancy, we have a limited budget to take on new authors and illustrators so we have been working within a more narrow network than we imagine for our future. As a result, we are not yet representing as wide a range of voices as we want. We also plan to form an advisory board that will include a range of perspectives once we establish our presence.
These are the social commitments of our company:
- To listen to voices often excluded from dialogues or silenced by the dominant majority
- To ask children to think critically and share their ideas
- To give from our profits to meaningful action groups that strive to enact progressive ideals
We will be honest about our projects, failures, and hopes for the future.
We will put people first. We want to live our values. We strive to connect with others through dialogue. We will donate to causes and groups that embody a shared sense of purpose. If we get enough momentum, we’ll register as a non-profit.
With community in mind, we’d like to also shout out our good friends in other content-producing ventures:
Picture books can cost quite a bit and thus become untenable for caregivers attempting to establish a home library. As long as it is fiscally viable, our books will cost $10 or less.
Moral Voice in Books
Our mission follows a moral purpose. Sean Carroll writes in The Big Picture:
Ideas like “meaning” and “morality” and “purpose”…aren’t built into the architecture of the universe; they emerge as ways of talking about our human-scale environment.
The source of these values isn’t the outside world; it’s inside us. We’re part of the world, but we’ve seen that the best way to talk about ourselves is as thinking, purposeful agents who can make choices. One of those choices, unavoidably, is what kind of life we want to live.Carroll, S. (2016). The Big Picture. New York, NY, USA: Penguin Random House.
Morality is too often monopolized by religious institutions, a conclusion similarly drawn by Carroll: “on questions of morality and meaning, religion and spirituality are given a preeminent place. Our values have not yet caught up to our best ontology.” Educators too often fear the backlash of bringing morality into their work if it might make parents or administrators uncomfortable. Our mission embraces that discomfort.
We will take a distinctly naturalist position while advocating for thoughtful consideration of the ethical and material implications of beliefs. We will not advocate for any particular religion, but we will share stories about characters who identify as religious. We believe a truly moral position should be dynamic, not founded solely upon a singular code of ethics. Morality is best built upon experience, relationships, care for geographically and temporally distant others, and as large a selection of good books as is realistically available.
Who We Are – Sugarfree Books
Mark D. McCarthy, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Literacy Education in Columbus State University’s Department of Teacher Education. He began his teaching career internationally, spending seven years teaching abroad in South Korea, Oman, and China. He received his MA and Ph.D. from Michigan State University in 2011 and 2018. His research investigates teacher preparation for literacy instruction, including the teaching of children’s literature. Interests bridging his research and teaching include critical multicultural education, and curriculum and education reform. He regularly presents his work at the annual conference of the Literacy Research Association, and his research has been published in Bookbird, Studying Teacher Education, Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship, and WOW Stories.
Our mission is to publish stories that tell a variety of narratives that help children think critically about the world they want to create out of the world that already exists.Mark, Founder of Sugarfree Books
Board of Advisors
We have begun the process of establishing a Board of Advisors to help set the course of the company and to ensure that we are hearing ideas and contributions from a wider variety of perspectives.
Our board members include scholars, librarians, and lovers of children’s literature.
Lisa Domke, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Bilingual Education at Georgia State University.
Bevin Roue, Ph.D. is Clinical Professor of Practice of Children’s Literature at Auburn University.
Kimberly Scott, Ed.D. is Library Media Specialist at Double Churches Elementary School in Columbus, GA.