Evgeny Sosnovsky on the Fascinating World of Books
Evgeny Sosnovsky can truly be called a legend of the publishing industry and children’s literature. As a co-founder of the Rosman publishing house, he republished almost all children’s books belonging to Soviet-era classic. He brought the famous Harry Potter saga to Russia for the first time. The expert knew many prominent children’s writers in person and collaborated closely with them. Today, Evgeny Sosnovsky not only heads his own publishing house but also writes poems for young readers.
CEO of the Robins publishing house, children’s writer
Evgeny Sosnovsky is a person whose multi-faceted nature, creative talent, and boundless love for the younger generation delight all people around. He managed to create the Robins publishing house from scratch. Today, it is known and loved by millions of children and their parents.
The expert is also the author of 60 collections of poems. Many of the writer’s works are highly appreciated by readers, teachers, and speech therapists. These poems are characterized by an entertaining story and humor and include developmental and educational components.
In his interview with the Global Women Media news agency, Evgeny Sosnovsky talked about the most interesting moments in his publishing career, his main achievements and difficulties, his love for reading, books, and formats that can interest modern children in the world of literature.
– You have a huge experience in book publishing. At the same time, you were trained as an engineer. How did your love of books appear?
– Exact sciences attracted me a lot in my childhood: I was fond of mathematics and physics at school. At the same time, I have always liked literature. It was my mother who brought up my love of reading. We often looked through art books together. I can say our family had ‘a cult of books’. Like many people in the Soviet Union, we used to recycle waste paper to get a coupon for a rare book. In my school years, I was an active collector of art stamps. My mother participated in my hobby with great enthusiasm and supported it by all possible means. Since my childhood, I’ve been reading aloud a lot. I constantly participated in reading contests. At school, we had an amateur theatrical studio and I constantly took part in it. When I went to institute, I gladly joined its amateur theatrical studio. I can say that creativity is an integral part of my life.
Probably, that is why, when the time came to choose my future profession, I entered the Moscow Machine Instrumental Institute. It seemed to me that the exact sciences were my vocation and I really liked some subjects. However, I can’t say that I studied with great pleasure. The institute taught me to be independent, think systemically, and find solutions in difficult situations. It gave me many other important skills that were extremely useful for me in my future life.
After my graduation, I worked as a shop foreman at a grinding machine plant. That was an important phase of my life. Thanks to it, I got my first experience in management and decision-making.
Then I moved to one of the construction departments where I worked for about three years as a foreman and an engineer. The perestroika period began just at that time. My supervisor was a wise man who told me that I should use my youth, use the emerging opportunities, and move forward. That was in 1990 and I was 28 years old.
I entered the field of book publishing thanks to a happy coincidence. Today, I consider it great luck, because I really found myself in that area of activity.
One day, a friend of mine introduced me to my future partner named Mikhail Markotkin. That meeting determined the further vector of my life.
It all started with the publication of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Today, I am filled with emotions when looking at that book, our first project!
A tragicomic story happened with that edition. At that time, we only had the idea and a great desire to publish a book. Mikhail Markotkin only had the printing plates and the rest of the equipment had to be obtained and organized. That was a challenging time in the context of total scarcity of everything including printing materials. We had to buy paper and cardboard and enroll in a huge queue at the print shop. Importantly, it was also necessary to find the money to do all that.
After our agreement with the print shop, we had to move on to the next step and buy the printing materials, which were sold at the stock exchange. As I remember now, it was in the TASS building. We negotiated a loan and bought a whole carload of cardboard for the first book. The planned print circulation was 500 thousand copies. When the long-awaited train with our order arrived at the Oktyabrskaya railroad and we opened the car doors, we could not believe our eyes. They sent us not printing cardboard but fiberboard (such material is used for the back wall in furniture production). It’s funny to recall that today. However, at that time, we felt bad, to say the least.
Fortunately, my uncle occupied one of the leading positions in the executive branch of one of the former Soviet republics. I asked him to help us and explained that we didn’t have any time to resolve the problem officially because that could take long months. He flew in the same day. We boarded the train and went to the producers. My uncle’s status was the decisive element in that conversation. A week later, we received a carload of perfect printing cardboard. We sold the low-quality fiberboard that had been delivered previously for smallish sums for flooring for the cows. I’m not kidding (laughs).
It was our first big experience and, fortunately, it wasn’t’ the last one. Despite all the challenges, the book was published. The great history of the Rosman publishing house, which we developed together with Mikhail Markotkin for a long time, began together with that book.
– You cooperated with many famous and talented authors. What collaboration projects were the most interesting and iconic for you?
– We worked a lot with Grigory Oster. In fact, we were his exclusive publishers. Grigory Oster is a wonderful author of poetry not only for children but also for adults. His collection book titled Bad Advice was published even before our meeting. However, that was not the version known and loved by all Russians but a scary black and white samizdat booklet. We decided to publish a full-fledged book with bright, unusual, and maybe a bit provocative illustrations by Andrey Martynov, corresponding to the spirit of Grigory Oster himself. That book gained incredible popularity in the market at once. Later, as a sequel to Bad Advice, we published Math Problems, the first edition of which had 200 thousand copies.
At that time, we didn’t yet have warehouses. It should be noted that we didn’t need them. Our books were greatly demanded and people bought them right at the print shop.
Thanks to Grigory Oster, we met his teacher named Eduard Uspensky. Later we collaborated a lot with him and our work was truly fruitful. We republished the books released in Soviet times and we also were probably the first publishing house to start publishing his new books with a wide circulation. One of the very first books published was Eduard Uspensky’s Diploma. We also commissioned him to write the sequels to Uncle Fyodor and Cheburashka.
We also published a lot of works by Sergey Mikhalkov. Some people have ambiguous attitude to that person. However, I know for sure that people often turned to him for help and he helped them completely selflessly. I have only warm memories of him.
I once met Boris Zakhoder. At that time, he was already almost confined to a wheelchair. I collaborated with Valentin Berestov and we also were friends. We went to the zoo with our other friends and our children (I even have some photos). I had a very good relationship with Sergey Kozlov: we cooperated closely with him and he even visited me at my house.
Recently, I found a three-volume book by Yuri Entin. The author himself once presented it to me. He left there an inscription “As a keepsake for Evgeny about me and my poems”. He signed another book with the inscription: “My humor is subtle but it’s not cheap. You, Sosnovsky, will see that”.
– At what moment did the idea to create your own publishing house and start from scratch come to you? What makes the Robins publishing house unique?
– Over my 13 years at Rosman, I really got hooked on the process of creating children’s books. After I left the company, I couldn’t help but return to publishing one day. That’s how the Robins publishing house appeared. Today, many people love it for books and manuals with unusual forms and content, high quality information, illustrations, and high level of printing.
Robins is not just a buzz word, but an acronym. If translating it from Russian, it stands for Development, Education, Intellect (Information, Innovation), and Family (or Sosnovsky, my surname).
We have a number of principles we constantly adhere to when working on a book. Firstly, it is important for us to produce developmental products for preschool and primary school children that will interest them thanks to their uniqueness. Those products include toy books, exercise books, book constructors, puzzles, augmented reality books, and other projects going beyond the usual concept of a book. At the same time, each such project certainly gives a synergistic impetus to the child’s development. Secondly, we follow the rule ‘shorter books are better because quality is what really matters’. We try to work through every aspect of our products and reach the highest quality level possible.
– You are not only a publisher but also a writer. What does writing mean to you? How does your creative process take place?
– Yes, in my case, it happened that the publisher became the author. Interestingly, the opposite thing when writers and poets become publishers usually takes place. I think there are many factors determining what has happened to me. One of the main ones is that I’ve loved reading since I was a child. I still have children’s books on my shelves. At some moments, I decided to try to write poems for children.
The creative process can be described in the following way. We publish primarily educational, developmental, and informative books. The Robins publishing house (unlike most children’s publishers) has its own methodologist with whom we create projects. We think through the concept of the future book, discuss the topic, and decompose it into separate components. After that, I start writing poetry. That applies to many of our books but not all of them.
One should not force children to read or do anything at all. One needs to engage and motivate them, to show them why it’s important to do it. Therefore, in my creative activities, I think first and foremost about keeping the child interested.
I look at the text not through the eyes of an author seeking to satisfy his own ego but through the eyes of a child. I try to imagine how the children will see this or that story, situation, or characters. For me, this is one of the most important principles in the context of both writing and pedagogy.
– Which of your books are particularly valuable to you?
– Over the years of my career, I’ve written and published over 60 collection books. The only thing that should be mentioned is that I write mostly for the very young audience. Usually my works are little books on cardboard that are very small in terms of size. However, I also have more serious publications, for example, The Most-Most ABC.
The magical story of the hero Superdoc who turns into doctors of various specialities seemed so fascinating to me that I wrote its sequel. In that book, Superdoc turns into Superrescuer.
We Will Defeat Germs, a book with the funny characters called Friendly Bears, is my reflection on the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine. It’s a kind of fairy tale for children to understand why they need to wash their hands before eating and after walking in the street, why they should wear masks when someone is sick around them, and why they should get vaccinated.
I especially love the book titled ‘Jokers. Funny Stories in Poems’. It is mostly based on unusual funny situations that actually happened to me in my childhood or to my relatives.
– Should parents or children themselves choose a book to read? What books would you recommend for modern children?
– There are different points of view on that matter. Some people believe that parents should choose books for children while others think that children should be completely free to choose books. It seems to me that there must be a harmonious approach: parents need to take part in the choice but the child should never be excluded from the process. If you constantly prevent them from what they want and block their initiative, you can simply breed apathy in them.
Certainly, it’s useful for children to read the works of such classics of children’s literature as Samuil Marshak, Sergey Mikhalkov, Agniya Barto, Korney Chukovsky, and other prominent authors whose works their parents were reading when growing up. However, using only those books in the upbringing process is not quite right. Time and the world around us are changing. Modern authors who reflect relevant realities in their works are also important for today’s readers.
I call upon parents to go to bookstores with their children. That contributes positively to children’s interaction with books. Children should take books in their hands, leaf them through, and look at their illustrations. Not only the content but also the appearance and polygraphic form of the book are always important for children.
Moreover, time makes its own adjustments. When we saw the first augmented reality editions about five years ago, we thought it would be interesting for children. After all, gadgets are an integral part of today’s life and it is not easy for a paper book to compete with an electronic one. However, in our opinion, they should not compete but cooperate. The use of augmented reality technologies in publishing can turn a book into a game and make it even more engaging for a child to read.
By the way, the Robins publishing house was the first in Russia to use augmented reality for educational purposes. The idea was implemented for the first time in the book titled Teddy Bears Learn Numbers and Counting. It featured virtual writing with numbers. That’s how we brought together a gadget that captivates a child and a ‘refreshed’ paper book.
– What can adults learn from children?
– I’ve always admired children for their liveliness and openness. When looking into children’s eyes, you understand that it is impossible to deceive them. Such openness, sincerity, and purity are very important in today’s time. I would like children to retain these qualities when growing up.
Portrait photo provided by the Book Industry magazine
The rest of the photos are taken from Evgeny Sosnovsky’s personal archive
Viktoria Gusakova, Global Women Media news agency
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov