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Popinjay makes it a family affair


April Pearson-Decklever started Popinjay Press after her own experiences with children’s books. Photos submitted

Customizing children’s books for modern family dynamics.

In 2023, the average family structure can look different from the typical nuclear family of years past. Non-traditional families often struggle to find themselves reflected in pop culture and media, particularly children’s books. April Pearson-Decklever resolved to change that with her progressive publishing company, Popinjay Press.

“I got the idea for Popinjay probably 15 years ago, when I first became a stepmom,” she said. “My stepson and I loved reading books together, but all of the books were traditional families. I really wanted books that had stepmoms and stepkids, and it was always in the back of my mind throughout the years.”

Now, her stepson, Carter, is 20 years old. He’s the step-stepson of Pearson-Decklever’s husband, Lincoln, who is also stepdad to her 13-year-old daughter, Zoe. Together, they have a 2-year-old son, Gus.

“So, we have three kids that are half-siblings and two marriages in there,” she said. “It’s a modern family for sure, which is another reason why it’s close to my heart.”

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Popinjay Press launched last spring, almost two years after Pearson-Decklever took a leap of faith and shifted her marketing career to full-time freelancing, allowing her to focus on publishing. She said it’s been a very “bootstraps” effort. She’s sourced the printer, learned how to build a website, illustrated many of the books and written all the stories. In the future, she’d like to have different authors and illustrators represented.

Of the five published Popinjay books, two were illustrated by Pearson-Decklever.

Popinjay currently has five books for sale at Customers can choose the story’s main characters: girls, boys, men or women — or simply kids and grownups. The story can be modified to reflect relationships as well: grandparents, foster parents, single parents, stepparents and siblings, adult siblings, aunts and uncles. For books with human characters, customers may also choose skin tone.

The possibilities are truly endless. While offering exponential custom combinations, Pearson-Decklever said she tried to make a complicated process simple and intuitive. Lots of work occurs on the backend, using a program that builds each book individually before sending it to press.

Pearson-Decklever pointed out that while Popinjay books can be customized, they are not personalized.

“Some custom books out there, you can plug in a kid’s name — these aren’t like that,” she said. “So you’re not going to have a little girl named Sofia in your book, but you will have a little girl who looks like you, who has a family structure like yours. The idea is to show the real-life little Sofia that she’s not alone, and there are other kids just like her out in the world. It’s more about representation than personalization.”

Not only is Popinjay Press all about representation — it’s about representing well. Pearson-Decklever seeks expertise from people in different communities, to ensure that books are as representative as possible, even down to details like a character’s hair texture. And while nontraditional families are foremost at Popinjay, they purposefully are not central to the stories.

“I wanted to offer an option that normalized modern families and just made them part of the background of everyday life, just like it is in real life,” Pearson-Decklever said. “Popinjay books are funny, colorful, fun, imaginative — just fun kids’ stories. And the family dynamic just happens to be present.”

Pearson-Decklever says business has been good, but it’s hard to pinpoint exact sales numbers as she’s donated more books than she’s sold. Many go to Little Free Libraries; others go to schools.

“It’s hard for me not to give away the books,” she said, adding: “I think representation in kids’ literature is paramount to the mental health and happiness of kids, not just in nontraditional families, but all kids. And I think it’s such a gentle and positive way of introducing diversity to kids. Whether or not they experience it in their own families, they’re going to see their peers with diverse families.”

The response to Pearson-Decklever’s efforts has been positive from caregivers and young readers alike.

“I had one gentleman order a book, and his son was looking through the pictures,” she said. “He saw a little boy of color, and he shouted, ‘That’s me!’ ”

By the way — why “Popinjay”? It’s an old-fashioned term for a parrot, Pearson-Decklever explained.

“Parrots are very proud, colorful creatures. I want kids to be proud of their unique, colorful, loud, quirky families.” ♦

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