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Betsy Howard and Laura Kern founded the Wandeling Press, a publishing house through which they’re publishing their first book, “Woolies for Winter.” Here, each with her child, they hold “Wandeling” buttons. Sarah Gerber | Courtesy
Betsy Howard and Laura Kern founded the Wan­deling Press, a pub­lishing house through which they’re pub­lishing their first book, “Woolies for Winter.” Here, each with her child, they hold “Wan­deling” buttons. Sarah Gerber | Courtesy

For some grad­uates, the concept of working together with the dear friends made at Hillsdale seems unfea­sible.
For Hillsdale alumnae Betsy Howard ’10 and Laura Kern ’12, however, their common ideas developed into a shared vision to found a pub­lishing house for children’s books, entitled Wan­deling Press.
Howard and Kern knew each other from afar as Hillsdale stu­dents, as they were several years apart.
This past year, Howard reached out to Kern about illus­trating a children’s book Howard had authored. Kern has an Etsy shop where she sells water­color paintings.
“She sent me a number of stories and poems she had written, and asked me which ones sparked my imag­i­nation,” Kern said. “I passed that onto a children’s librarian friend of mine to see which sto­ryline had the most potential.”
Mid­summer 2015, the two began talking about the pos­si­bility of pro­ducing a book — that idea expanded into pub­lishing.
“The original idea started as, ‘Let’s produce a book.’ The more we thought about pub­lishing, the more we thought, ‘Well, if we’re going to produce a book — we’re Hillsdale grads, we don’t do any­thing half-way — why don’t we have a formal space to have the book,” Howard said.
The two then began sharing their ideas with other Hillsdale grad­uates.
“We learned that there were a number of other women both who were really artis­ti­cally gifted as well as lin­guis­ti­cally gifted, who have this desire to serve children in this way,” Howard said. “Right now, Wan­deling Press will hope­fully be the parent of this book, and then many others. But there are not for­mally, there’s just this one book in pro­duction.”
The pub­lishing house then, will be a sort of col­lab­o­ration for women who might not have a lot of time to publish a book alone, but who have ideas for books and illus­tration. The press would have both col­lab­o­ration and encour­agement.
Their first book centers around a par­ticular season — winter. The story, “Woolies for the Winter,” tells of a hedgehog and a bunny and their adven­tures in getting ready to play in the snow.
Kern noted that future books might include stories for the other seasons. Their love for, and awareness of children’s lit­er­ature stems from their roles as both children and mothers.
“Both of our moms were incredible women and teachers who read vora­ciously to us when we were little girls,” Kern said. “What they were doing, as they were intro­ducing to us world of lit­er­ature, was so much more than just reading stories. They were forging our under­standing of nar­rative at a very early age.”
For both mothers, this love and wonder of lit­er­ature imported to them from their own mothers has become an infec­tious joy and delight as they share the same love with their children.
“As a mom myself, I’ve loved reading to my son, who is 14 months old, and it’s just a joy to see him engage with stories,” Kern said. “So many of the books I see in book­stores and libraries, I tend to avoid. The good far out­weigh the bad, but there are several in which you can tell that the author is ped­dling a moral that I wouldn’t nec­es­sarily agree with.”
In Sep­tember, the two con­tacted Sarah Gerber ’10 for her website design con­sulting and pro­duction of their Kick­starter video. Through a Kick­starter cam­paign, the team is gath­ering the funds for this endeavor. This video brought together many Hillsdale grad­uates and aimed at cap­turing the nature of Wan­deling and “Woolies for the Winter.”
“I really wanted to capture Laura and Betsy and hearing their voice, so people can hear who they are and what they’re about,” Gerber said. “You see a little glimpse into their lives, and the part that is most con­nected to their project, which is their kids. I focused on that dynamic and rela­tionship because that’s the basis of this story and their project.”
Howard and Kern described their vision as a pub­lishing house that pro­duces books for children that are pure and simple, sweet and good.
“Why we love to read good children’s lit­er­ature and why we shudder at the bad is because they should be helping little ones to under­stand this fact that we are sto­ry­tellers, and that we are all involved in a story,” Kern said. “It helps them find them­selves and sit them­selves into their own story, to think sequen­tially. It sparks their imag­i­na­tions.”
These con­cepts, and the six con­vic­tions listed on their website, man­ifest them­selves in physical form within the books them­selves, as art.
“Our per­sonal dis­po­si­tions, as well as what we desire for the press, is not to be kitschy in its edu­ca­tional pur­poses,” Howard said. “Rather, to be very subtle and dis­creet. Mostly because we find that our own children select books that are lovely, beau­tiful to behold, rightly pro­por­tioned, a nice size, and not wonky. So when we watch them, we think, ‘that’s the way that we choose books too,’ so why don’t we make it beau­tiful and full of good content.”
This content, they said they believe, should be subtle, nuanced, and delightful to behold, but it should also teach.
“It’s not moral teaching like the book of virtues,” Howard said. “Rather, we want work that instructs by par­tic­i­pating in it.”
Describing her new­found atten­tiveness to the content and pro­duction of children’s books since the birth of her son, William, Kern said she now wants to know what the author’s goal is.
“Now I read much more closely because I want to know what they’re getting at,” Kern said. “What are they telling my child about the world, himself, the created order? Some­times the illus­trator is so des­perate to hold the attention of the child that he’s resorted to these very garish tactics, like he’s aware that he’s com­peting with iPads and iPhones.”
Kern said they want to present a piece of work that presents simple beauty and teaches sub­tlety.
“They’re just purely simple, sweet, and lovely and that’s what we want with the illus­tra­tions as well,” she said. “They will be light and visually arresting, but in a way that demands par­tic­i­pation from the viewer.”
Part of the delight for all the people involved with Wan­deling, they said, is the expe­rience of working with friends and other great minds with similar visions.
“I think the main thing is that this is about cre­ating some­thing beau­tiful with friends,” Gerber said. “To put some­thing out there in the world. The oppor­tunity to create some­thing is such a great thing. The process of cre­ating is so natural to being human.”
This vision for cre­ation has been con­ve­niently and pleas­ingly similar for Hoard and Kern, which has allowed for such a unified vision of a pub­lishing house. This vision comes in part from their shared edu­cation at Hillsdale.
“I think the clas­sical liberal arts obvi­ously informed the way we approach many things — this com­mitment to beauty, this com­mitment to truth — not in an overt way, but in a nuanced way,” Howard said. “But we don’t gain it in a way that makes us hoarders, rather, par­tic­u­larly as we tran­sition into this maternal role, we have a great desire to steward what we have received and to give it to our children, and to give it to them in forms that they can make sense of. I have a neg­ative desire to sit down and to read the Nico­machean Ethics to my child. We invite them to par­tic­ipate with we’ve learned in accor­dance with their frame.”
The common approach to learning, beauty, and the world itself pro­vided a path for the two to a shared goal and mutual encour­agement.
“We are approaching the same goal from very com­patible per­spec­tives,” Kern said. “She has goals from the lit­erary side, and I share those goals from a visual per­spective. It’s been so much fun to work together and to encourage each other. We share so much as mothers, as believers, and as Hillsdale grads.”