Meet Stirred Stories

A newish children’s publisher is making waves in DC and beyond.

Meet Stirred Stories

How I wish my daughter was still asking to curl up in my lap and ordering me to read her “this book.” These days, while still demanding and book-loving, this daughter is in her first year of college. I have kept, however, all her children’s books. They are on shelves throughout our house, waiting for her — or waiting, even more patiently and lovingly, for the next generation.

(Though sometimes, at night, I swear they wake up and leap off the bookcases in our house. I dream I’m running after Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things or Lucy Cousins’ Maisy and her pals.)

If I were still buying kids’ books for my daughter, I would grab all the beautiful, oversized hardcovers from Stirred Stories, a small press that burst onto the Washington, DC, publishing scene in 2020. Co-founded by Kyle Porro and Kelsea Johnson, friends from Elon University (class of 2017), and with Zina Fattah as visual strategist, this press wishes to stir things up with their energy and passion, and, as their mission statement proclaims, “by centering diversity and authenticity in everything we do.”

Recently, I sat down in a corner of the Den at Politics and Prose to talk with Johnson.

Why children’s publishing?

When I connect the dots on my journey, it has always been toward an affinity for uplifting stories. I realized that no matter what I did in life, it ended with stories.

In recent years, there’s been a great push to have more diverse characters in all entertainment mediums. I’m thinking of the “We Need Diverse Books” effort in the publishing world. How does Stirred Stories stand out?

We want to uplift underrepresented authors from diverse backgrounds. Even more so, we want to bring a wider audience to our books and have our books bring people together. Often, when there is diversity in publishing, it is siloed into the [communities] themselves and not into the larger community. We’re making sure Stirred Stories encourages cross-cultural communication by sharing our books far and wide, whether it be read aloud at local bookstores or in conversation with an elementary school classroom.

Are you a writer?

I’m not a professional writer. I have written poetry. We have a collection, my culture is not a costume, published last spring, and you will find my “Black Is” in there.

What is your business model?

After we choose to publish an author’s book — and we publish four to six books a year –– in most cases, we pair the author with an editor and an illustrator. We have a profit-sharing royalty system. Our goal is for everyone in the process to be paid fairly for their work. We accept submissions on a rolling basis via our website, with a preference for un-agented authors.

What are your plans for Stirred Stories in the next five years?

We hope Stirred Stories is a household name — I am working toward it every day. I dream of it. Every night.


As we wrapped up having tea, I felt a thrill for Johnson — to be at the beginning, the start, of a still-new publishing adventure. We need not only diverse books but also people like her as editors, marketers, and publishers. I was delighted to see I’m not the only one dreaming of children’s books. And Stirred Stories has dreams to build on.

I Like That Stuff, written and illustrated by Lea Cook, is one of those dreamy Stirred Stories books. (I’ll admit to leaning into the work of a fellow Syracuse University alumna.) Cook is an artist and early childhood special and general educator. She’s written a bright and funny book in rhyme about a 5-year-old named William who’s challenged by vegetables at his Great Aunt Sarah’s table.

The illustrations, a mix of painting and collage, are particularly enchanting — the kind of handcrafted work that would make me as a parent spend time pointing out what William is discovering in each illustration. Or to enjoy reading aloud lines like:

But Great Aunt Sarah, trick
as ever, begins listing foods she
knows William will approve.
Like fungi
“Mmm, yes, I like that stuff.”

FYI: fungi (foon-ji) is “mashed-potato-like cornmeal with okra.” (I love learning new things, too.) Even better, William is the kind of friend any child would want at their table. It’s now dancing on my next-generation children’s bookshelf.

Another Stirred Stories book that landed on my wild shelves is The Butcher, the Baker, and the Candlestick Maker: A Shabbat Story by Jennifer Winters, which blends the story of a young Nathan eager to help his mother, who’s suffering from a bad cold, with the preparation for Shabbat, the special Friday-night dinner celebrated in many Jewish homes. Nathan’s tale reflects a time gone by, and yet its emotional core of family and responsibility radiates as relevant to today. This moving story projects a strong sense of community, especially in the bold, painterly illustrations by Michelle Nahmad.

Both of these books are just the kind of deftly written, artfully illustrated, uplifting works that would’ve had my daughter asking me to “read it again.” I know she’s 18 — she reminds me of this often — but when she returns home from college, I’m going to share these books with her.

Caroline Bock is the author of Carry Her Home, winner of the Fiction Award from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, and LIE and Before My Eyes, YA novels from St. Martin’s Press. She is co-president of the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, a nonprofit literary press based in Washington, DC.

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