Lauren Simone Publishing House Rewrites the Children’s Book Industry

Mother-Daughter Publishing Company Increases Access to Books with More Diverse and Inclusive Characters

This article is one in a series about business leaders in the Level program, now in its third year. Through the Level program, B Lab U.S. & Canada aims to support and partner with business leaders who are women of color to amplify their economic reach and community impact.

Lauren Simone Publishing House is a Black-owned, mother-daughter-powered publishing services company. Melissa-Sue John, the Chief Executive Officer, says her daughters inspired her to start the company after John noticed a lack of children’s books with Black characters. Her 9-year-old daughter reminded her: “Do not complain about the problem but be the solution.”

Based in Connecticut, Lauren Simone Publishing House seeks to increase access to stories that resonate with all children, especially children of color like her daughters. When asked about her passion for creating more diverse stories, John recalls a moment in one of the most racially diverse places in the world: New York City. While standing with one of her daughters, John saw a visually presenting Orthodox Jewish family, a Muslim family, and a white family on the street. The young white boy raised his head and asked his mother what one of the women was wearing. In response, the mother hushed her son, seemingly worried his question was audible to those whose wardrobe spurred his curiosity.

John recalls that memory with grief at the lost opportunity for that young boy and children like him to learn about and lean into the differences that make our society more vibrant and beautiful. “So that got me thinking, ‘Why are there not more diverse books?’” John says. Today, her publishing company features her daughters and additional diverse characters who can help parents take advantage of their children’s natural tendency to explore and be curious.

Through books, John hopes to help the next generation with the skillset and tools to celebrate diversity in its most authentic form. She sees this as one way to shift from current polarized and racially charged narratives to instead celebrate and embrace differences with pride and empathy.

Taking Lessons from STEM

As the engineering design process suggests, Lauren Simone Publishing takes an iterative approach to identifying issues and solutions. While researching preschoolers’ understanding of engineering using literacy, John noticed an imbalance in book characters. The lack of representation of People of Color in children’s books is stark and personal for John.

According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only 12% of children’s books depict Black characters, and less than 8% are written by Black or African authors. But in John’s neighborhood, Black people comprise 24% of the total population. Later, she discovered the publishing industry also lacked representation, and approximately 80% of publishers are straight, white, non-disabled women. It is familiar territory for John, one of only three Black women professors at her employment.

With Lauren Simone Publishing and inspired by Rudine Simms Bishop’s quote, John hopes the authors she works with help create “mirrors, windows, and doors” that allow every child to see themselves in others in surprising and unexpected ways. “People must realize that diverse books are not only for diverse children because everyone is a diverse kid,” she says.

A Mother-Daughter Business

In operating Lauren Simone Publishing, John works alongside her daughters who pushed her to pursue more diverse representation in books and have become her business partners. Her husband is their biggest supporter.

From the start of the business to its current B Corp Certification process as part of the Level program, Lauren Simone Publishing has grown and matured along with John’s daughters. They learn business skills while supporting John and see how their mother is breaking barriers by being part of the solution to issues they experience every day as People of Color.

At the heart of John’s work is making a difference in her community in measurable ways as an advocate, publisher, and author.

“I want to have a bigger legacy,” she says. “So many times as children we’re told that you have to be a doctor or lawyer to be successful, but I also want to be known as a philanthropist — like someone who literally made her community better.”

That community benefit is built into Lauren Simone Publishing’s business, which donates books and a percentage of book sales to community organizations, schools, and services in need.

With a business rooted in community giving — whether donations of in-kind services, money, or time — John wanted to validate those values during the B Corp Certification process. Working with partners and others in the B Corp community, she gained clarity about her publishing company’s mission and vision. Moving forward, John hopes to build on that network and impact further to challenge traditional publishing norms and lack of representation — and encourage future generations to share their stories.

B The Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.

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