The Waynesville-based publishing company is the brainchild of Dawn Cusick, a science teacher at Haywood Community College.
While studying biology at Western Carolina University, Cusick said she realized that there were no high- quality science books for children. The books either lacked enough substance or were too word-heavy and not kid-friendly.
“I thought there was a niche — there was a certain type of kids’ book that wasn’t being done,” Cusick said.
Already having a background in writing and publishing — she got a bachelor’s degree in English from University of North Carolina in Asheville — Cusick decided to start EarlyLight Books in 2008 and print children’s books that were engaging, but also educated kids in the area of science.
Finding a good balance of entertainment and knowledge can be difficult, Cusick said, adding that sometimes explaining things in a non-scientific way is more roundabout and wordy.
“It’s really hard,” Cusick said. “You want to put everything in, but you can’t.”
Another challenge was also making the books interesting for the parents who read them to their children. When her children were young, Cusick used to read to them. From that, Cusick said she realized kids’ books could appeal to people of all ages.
“There were books that I would read with them that helped me learn too,” Cusick said. “I understood the power of children’s books to share information and shape information.”
Cusick said she receives many good ideas for kids’ books that fit her particular class but is forced to turn many of them down.
“I can only do eight to 10 (books) a year,” Cusick said. “It’s unfortunate.”
The main reason that EarlyLight publishes only a handful of books each year is money. The small business can only afford so much. As a publishing company, EarlyLight fronts the cost of printing each book with the expectation that it will sell.
“You invest in a book a year and a half before you see any revenue from it,” said Cusick, who is the company’s only employee.
When needed, Cusick hires freelance copy editors and graphic designers to help ready a book for publication.
Although Cusick has written some of the books, most are penned by authors who approach her, people she meets at trade shows or, occasionally, someone she discovered on the Internet.
One of EarlyLight’s upcoming books came about because Cusick started reading a blog kept by a math and science teacher from Charlotte. She asked him if he had any good ideas, and he returned with book about animal geometry, which will go to press in a couple of months.
Part of the children’s book writing process is finding pictures to go along with the words. Although graphic designers help find photos, Cusick said she enjoys looking for photos herself because they can sometimes lead to book ideas.
“Save photos and snippets of information, and sometimes, you come up with enough,” Cusick said.
Her book Open Wide about animals’ mouths would not have come to fruition if Cusick had not been intrigued by and saved a photo of a frog with its mouth agape. From that one photo, Cusick started collecting more animal mouth photos until there was enough for a book.
“That one only came about because I was looking for photos for something else,” Cusick said.
One of EarlyLight Books, Animal Colors, is also available in two other languages — Spanish and Cherokee. Cusick said she worked with WCU’s Cherokee language program to translate the book so children in Cherokee immersion programs can have something at their learning level to read.
EarlyLight books can be purchased at Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville and City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.