Doug Cenko says his five-year-old daughter, Olive, was the inspiration for his picture book My Papa Is a Princess, out in September from Blue Manatee Press. It’s a whimsical and touching look at the relationship between a father and his young daughter. It’s also a title that fills a niche, says Blue Manatee editorial director Amy Dean: “While there are certainly past examples of books that feature this relationship, there are not many new or current titles that do. Even more so, what really shines through for me is the obvious love and playfulness between the dad and his daughter, and that dynamic is not nearly showcased enough.”
Written for readers ages five to seven, My Papa Is a Princess showcases a dad playing with and caring for his daughter. It also celebrates fathers taking on roles that are not stereotypically masculine or dad-oriented, as the father in the book does everything from role-playing a firefighter with his daughter to pretending to be a princess. This touch was also something that appealed to Blue Manatee.
“We wanted to show scenarios of imagination and play that could easily at one time have been labeled a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ activity and to show the dad going all in with each activity with equal enthusiasm,” Dean says. The daughter in the book is, refreshingly, “also not boxed into an idea that she should play this way or that way because she’s a girl.” Ultimately, for Dean, the book delivers the message that what matters is to “play and imagine everything and anything, as long as we’re together.”
Cenko has another book that treats similar themes coming out from Blue Manatee in April 2019: My Mama Is a Mechanic. Celebrating the relationship between a mother and her son, Dean says it will show a mother doing everything from repairing a well-worn teddy bear with her son to playing quarterback.
Both books by Cenko highlight the mission of Blue Manatee: to publish books that encourage the bond reading can create between parents and children. Blue Manatee publisher Dr. John Hutton says that “reading together is one of the most powerful, enduring, and joyful ways parents and children can connect,” and that Blue Manatee aims to create titles that “encourage this connection.”
Hutton, a pediatrician and father, was inspired to start Blue Manatee out of a concern over the health risks associated with how much screen time many of today’s children rack up. Following Hutton’s publication of the Baby Unplugged book series as an advocacy project in 2011, the press officially launched in 2013. The Cincinnati-based publisher has, at its core, a dedication to books that Hutton says “reinforce evidence-based reading practices and infant/child health.” The guiding principle for the press is to publish titles that “emphasize cognitive and social-emotional development, positive parenting, and parent-child connection.”
To promote My Papa Is a Princess, Blue Manatee has rolled out an impressive marketing campaign; among other things, it created a book trailer (featuring the voice of Cenko’s daughter, Olive), included ARC editions in the ABA Children’s Summer White Box mailing, and gave away galleys at Children’s Institute. The press will also be advertising the book in various outlets, including the New York Times Book Review, and Cenko will be hosting a launch party at his local indie, RoscoeBooks in Chicago.
The heavy marketing for My Papa Is a Princess is a preamble to what Dean believes is the press’s strongest list to date. Among other titles slated for the coming season are the final entries in Sarah Jones’s ROYGBaby series, a picture book about a late-night party at the zoo titled Zzzookeeper, and a book by Hutton titled SHARE This Book, which Dean says shows “parents how to read to a very young, new baby.”