We love everything about Barefoot Books–it’s multi-culti point of view, the beautiful illustrations, and the books with accompanying narrating CDs keep kids occupied for hours. According to my daughter Clara, “They’re educational, and they look pretty and they’re fun.” We were lucky enough to catch up with Nancy, one of the founders.
Barefoot Books is such a category breaker, in our minds, kind of akin to Anthropologie or Pier 1 bringing the beyond-the-western world into people’s home lives. We’d love to know your background! I am mum to four pretty special children – Meaghan, Kristen, Erin and Jordie – best friend and soul mate to my husband, Marty, and passionate entrepreneur. I have been living Barefoot for nearly 20 years, my kids have all grown up Barefoot and the boundaries between my home life and Barefoot life are pretty blurred.
I was born in Canada into a family with a bit of an artistic bent. Though I love all aspects of color, design and illustration, I also quite like numbers and somehow ended up with a business degree and a job in Price Waterhouse in London after graduating. I really didn’t quite fit the mould there, so soon left to work in a more artistic environment in a London design house. I stayed in the design industry for many years, where I got to travel often to the Far East and learned lots about all aspects of running an entrepreneurial creative company. When I met my co-founder of Barefoot Books, Tessa Strickland, in 1992, my eldest daughter Meaghan was three weeks old and I had just started my own management consulting firm advising small creative start-ups. As a new mum and an avid explorer of world cultures, I was immediately captivated by the idea of publishing books for children that celebrated diversity and imagination. I didn’t really know much about the publishing industry back then and, in hindsight, that was probably lucky as Barefoot has always strived to be more of a pioneer than a follower. Over the next eight years, I had three more children and ran Barefoot from my home in north London. My kids were always around and actively involved in testing stories, picking artists and generally helping out. In 2001, we decided to cross the Atlantic so I could be closer to our North American business. Since then, I’ve lived in Concord, MA with my husband, four children, three cats and lots of color!
Who cooks in the house? Up until my third daughter Erin was born in 1995, my husband, Marty, and I would share the cooking and I guess you’d say we were both equally hopeless. Then Marty sold his business and went on a Cordon Bleu cooking course…and that was the end of my cooking adventures. With three children under the age of 4 and a burgeoning Barefoot business, I was very happy to be fed delicious meals and Marty was very happy developing his culinary skills which are now really pretty amazing. I still make the gravy for our Sunday night dinners though and am told my apple pies are pretty good.
My kids are now teenagers and our life is pretty frantic with two entrepreneurial businesses, especially as Marty commutes from Boston to London every week! Sunday night family dinners are sacrosanct – it’s when we all hang out in the kitchen, share the stories of our weeks and just be together.
Tell us about a typical weekend: Not sure the word ‘typical’ really exists in our lives…I sometimes wish it did! But a ‘perfect’ weekend would be the whole family hanging out together at home reading, cooking, going for long walks, jigsaw puzzles, playing Gin Rummy and cribbage, Sunday dinners, a fire in the fireplace, friends dropping by and hatching plans for our next global adventure!
Any family rituals you carry on, or that you have created? Dancing in the kitchen after dinner…we turn the music up – normally a mixture of our oldie favorites with new artists our kids have introduced. There is really no distinction between young and old, kids and grownups. We also definitely have the reputation for throwing great parties and our home is always a fun place for my kids, their friends and our friends to hang out. I guess we’re always trying to balance working hard with having relaxing downtime.
What’s the thing that always stays on your to-do list and never gets crossed off and nags at you? Okay, if I am really honest, I always have two things on my ‘Weekend Things to do’ list – ‘run’…or sometimes ‘walk’ and ‘do jigsaw puzzle’. I probably achieve a 50% success rate but the multitude of other projects and chores always seems to take precedence. My goal is to work on prioritizing my lists a bit better! In terms of bigger to-do things in life, I wish we managed to find time to have more family weekend adventures to explore New England. As the kids get older, this is becoming more and more challenging.
Do you have a fail-safe beauty product or routine? I am kind of hopeless about personal beauty routines…most of all I try to get some sleep when I’m really tired.
Your favorite family trip ever? Travel adventures together are definitely a very special and important part of the fabric of our family life. Each year, we try to take one big trip together somewhere in the world that we haven’t visited. But my most favorite memories of family holidays are when we went camping. We just packed the tent and the hibachi and the Coleman stove and the cooler full of food and got in our car and drove. The kids were always zipped up and protected in compartments in the back of the tent and Marty and I were in sleeping bags on ground sheets in the front. I remember one night when it rained so much that we woke up at 3am to find that we were floating on our air mattresses, along with our luggage (!), in several inches of water. Too wet to sleep, we sat round and played cards on our makeshift table with a flashlight and a bottle of wine, laughing and talking while the kids peered out of their protected compartments in bewilderment.
We have been to Africa a few times together as a family and have certainly had some crazy…and harrowing… adventures. One of the trips I loved was went we went to Botswana where we stayed in an elephant camp, and then to Zambia where the whole family had a rite of passage when we bungee jumped off Victoria Falls. This photograph (at the top of the post) makes me laugh as it really is a metaphor for my Barefoot life, particularly at the moment!
Do you have any personal ‘a-ha’ tip that you want to tell us about? I grew up, the second of three kids and an “army brat”, always on the move from military base to military base all over Canada, living in obscurely named places like “Chilliwack” and “Petawawa”. I think my independent (some say stubborn) streak as a middle child combined with my transient childhood perhaps contributed to making me willing to take risks and never follow the conventional path. It was easy to leave home in Canada and move across the world to England, because home had always been changing. I love change, not always knowing what to expect next and juggling lots of balls at the same time. I guess that is why I ended up running my own business.
You feel your best when? I’m at home, when everyone around me is happy…
Guiltiest pleasure? Hmmmm…maybe that a perfect weekday evening might be sitting on our sofa in the kitchen with my laptop and a dinner which consists of a glass of Pinot Grigio and a bowl of popcorn!
Proudest moment in parenting? There are certainly lots of these with all of my children. But a recent proud moment was just last week when my son and I had spent the evening having dinner, joking around, playing one of our regular evening games of gin rummy. Completely out of the blue, he looked at me and said “You’re my best friend!” which kind of made my heart melt.