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Usborne named Children’s Publisher of the Year: some thoughts from Peter Usborne

Usborne's Founder and Managing Director Peter Usborne reflects on winning the 2020 Children's Publisher of the Year at the British Book Awards.

Usborne: Children's Publisher of the Year 2020

I’ve been making books for children for over 50 years and set up Usborne in 1973 to create lively, engaging, colourful, wonderful books that I hoped would change children’s lives. This job is an honour and a privilege, and I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed every day of it. I am now almost 83, but I still look forward every morning to coming to work (even if it’s at home during recent months) to create books to educate and entertain all children everywhere. 

We are thrilled to have been recognised as Children’s Publisher of the Year by our industry, particularly in the light of the strength of the competitors in our field. We do believe that we are working in a golden age of children’s publishing – a sector of the industry which was, for many years, (I think unjustly) regarded as a less important part of the publishing business.

This award must be for my incredible staff – many who have worked with me for years and years. I am extremely grateful to them for their very hard work and that they stay, and stay, and stay… 

These last few months have been extraordinary ones. The global pandemic has meant many of us have been working from home, and many bookshops have been closed.  

We’ve also all been watching the Black Lives Matter protests, in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. These protests are, in my opinion the most significant of my (now long) lifetime, and have been an appropriate wake up call for our industry, including very much us at Usborne. They have strongly reiterated the injustices and inequalities faced by Black people all over the world and that we all have a responsibility to commit to change. 

Peter Usborne, Founder and Managing Director of Usborne Publishing
Peter Usborne, Founder and Managing Director of Usborne Publishing

It was an amazing year for an incredible publisher. The British Book Awards judges

So as well as being celebratory, our mood is also reflective. As an organisation, we have all been listening and learning, and working to understand what is, rightly, expected of us. My motto has always been ‘do it better’. This is something that we must do better on, and we commit ourselves to doing that.

We are currently looking at every area of our business in order to improve the way we operate -  from our recruitment procedures, to staff training, to our work with schools and other outreach efforts, as well as – of course – our books. This is an urgent matter and we must act quickly, whilst ensuring that what we do is effective and considered. This is something that we are committed to for the long term. As a publisher of children’s books, we are in a position of privilege and influence and we must use that. 

One thing that remains a constant in my 50 years in children’s publishing is my central belief that children are astounding. Their capacity to discover new things, learn and grow is phenomenal. I have always insisted that Usborne books don’t patronise, talk down to, or diminish the intelligence of their young readers. I want to create books that get children asking questions about the world around them, about important things like fairness and difference and acceptance. To be curious, thoughtful, kind and questioning are the greatest things that we can demonstrate to our children. 

It is hard to phrase without sounding trite, but our children are our future. And to help them to reach their full potential, they need brilliant children’s books. It is a huge responsibility to be a publisher of these precious commodities, and one which I take very seriously. 

So whilst we are very pleased to be named Children’s Publisher of the Year now, more important is what we must do going forward: making sure that all of our books reflect our world in all its diversity, and give children the capacity to change our world.

Usborne: Children's Publisher of the Year 2020

Comments from the judges

Beyond its publishing, the judges were hugely impressed by Usborne’s progressive ethos. Its industry leading care of staff includes generous pay, superb perks, sabbaticals and clear career progression—all of which make for a company that few people seem to leave. The Usborne Academy gives a publishing leg-up to people from diverse backgrounds through a fully paid week of work experience, and the Usborne Foundation supports vital literacy projects.

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