The name Quilted Creatures, belonging to a new Montreal-based publishing collective, immediately evokes the cozy feeling of soft plush animals. That warm sense of comfort is perfectly fitting for the collective’s unique aspirations of exploring alternate pathways in children’s literature by weaving together different media, experiences, and stories.
Quilted Creatures was created about a year ago with the collaboration of former McGill students Jehane Yazami, Kai Kafrissen, and Rachel Nam, who also is a former Daily editor. It aims to serve as a platform for creative minds – whether visual artists, musicians, or writers – to collaborate on pieces intended for children.
Initially disappointed by the lack of alternative literature available to children, the founders felt determined to create a space that explores the fantastical realm of childhood while also tackling the sometimes oppressive, and lonely aspects of being a child that experiences the world in a way that differs from the normative experience. The founders’ vision is to create a non-hierarchical space where artists can create imaginative and politically conscious pieces to both educate and entertain children.
“The first thing we wanted to acknowledge with this collective is that we [as the founders] all think that children’s books are inherently political,” said Rachel Nam in an interview with The Daily. “Because they’re meant to teach kids morals, how you should behave in this world, and [they’re] a representation of what’s available or what’s happening in this world, and that could obviously be skewed depending on the artist or writer’s perspective.”
One of the collective’s main goals is to create support for children whose dreams and ideals may not align with dominant representations of childhood – where some experiences, such as those of people marginalized based on their sexuality, gender, or race may be neglected.
“In a lot of publishing [companies …] it is white straight cis men who are creating or writing these books, or white women who are creating these books. So we wanted to open up a space for these alternative children’s books where someone […] can bring their particular perspective to children,” said Nam. “Because a lot of kids grow up feeling left out if you are a little bit different from everyone else.”
“It’s so disheartening when you hear stories about young people being ostracized or feeling left out and it’s so painful to hear that at that stage […] when you feel so vulnerable,” Nam added. “I wanted to do something [about it], at least a little bit.”
In the pursuit of creating multiple spaces for support, the collective doesn’t focus only on print material. Being a relatively new collective, much of their early work has so far involved exploring different media and experimenting with fresh ideas. This is in part because of the collective’s vision of empowering children, as well as exploring the particular experiences encouraged by each medium, such as the dreamlike utopias that visual illustrations can conjure or the nostalgic melodies that can be found in lullabies.
“We are interested in making products that emphasize beauty and rhythms that we found to be powerful in our own childhood – slowness and emptiness and space for thought that isn’t [usually] given to you,” said Yazami, speaking about the pressure to be productive that is often placed on both children and adults.
“The problem that we all find in our own childhood is being belittled, and we’re really interested in thinking about that [and …] seeing childhood as a full state of incredible potential,” she added.
While the collective is still young, it already has multiple projects underway. One current project is a picture book by Kai Cheng Thom, also a Montreal writer and spoken word artist. Titled From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea, the book is expected to be published next year. Other projects still in early stages include a call for submissions of children’s books made during childhood and submissions for a blog of lullabies – both as written lyrics or recorded with music.
For now, Quilted Creatures is bubbling with potential, and only time will tell how and when their dreams of providing softly subversive pieces of art for children will come true.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Kai Cheng Thom was one of the founders of Quilted Creatures. In fact, the article should have stated that Kai Kafrissen, not Kai Cheng Thom, is one of the founders.