A chat with publisher Holly Toohey about High Five for the Boys

A chat with publisher Holly Toohey about High Five for the Boys

Holly, fill us in on your role with Penguin / Random House.

I’m a children’s publisher, which means I acquire and create books and series aimed at a young audience. I work on both fiction and non-fiction projects, and also focus on the area of partnerships by approaching brands, personalities and companies to work with. I read a lot of manuscripts and work with some very well established and successful authors, but I also brainstorm ideas for new books and then find someone to write them. Or, in the case of High Five to the Boys, sweet-talk colleagues into writing them in-house!

What were you doing before you became an author / publisher ? What’s your background ?

After university I did a Bachelor of Design at the College of Fine Arts, UNSW. I always loved art and making things and in this course we did textile, jewellery, environment and graphic design – a bit of everything! But when I started doing graphic design work after finishing the degree, I didn’t enjoy the corporate feel of it and decided to change course. I’m a huge bookworm so I applied for a job at Dymocks and started working in their Corporate Accounts section, filling orders for libraries and businesses. Soon after that, a job at Penguin Random House came up in their Business Development department – I worked in that team for three years before making the switch to children’s publishing. I definitely think my design degree and the outside-the-box thinking that I learnt in Business Development has helped me to become a more creative publisher.

Tell us about ‘High Five for the Boys’ ?

High Five is a book focused on the achievements of some pretty incredible Australian men from the past and present. It’s all about showcasing positive male role models to the next generation and highlighting men who have stood up for what they believed in, achieved incredible things and defied stereotypes. As many of the reviews have said, it’s not just a list of men who were good at sport or in positions of power in business and politics!

Have to ask, is there a High Five for the Girls ?

There is! But it’s called Shout Out to the Girls. This book was published a few months prior to High Five and we felt it was important that the book about awesome Australian women came first as there has been far less representation of women’s achievements throughout history. The title of Shout Out reflects the fact that it was time to speak loudly about our amazing women and ensure their stories were heard. With High Five, it is more of an acknowledgement to the men and their deeds.

What was your motivation for publishing the book ?

We received so much support for Shout Out to the Girls which was wonderful, but one thing kept popping up in internal conversations with colleagues, booksellers, teachers and parents and that was, ‘What about a similar book for boys?’. We didn’t want to take away from the women’s movement, and we truly believe that Shout Out is a book for girls and boys, but we agreed it was important to also showcase positive male role models in the face of so many examples of poor behaviour by men across the world. Australia has countless inspiring men so it wasn’t hard to pull together a list, in fact it was hard to keep it to 50 subjects!

Why is the book important ?

It showcases men who can give us hope for the future, who are inspiring in both everyday and extraordinary ways and whose actions exemplify what it means to be a positive role model – to both girls and boys. And as we reach a historic turning point in gender relations in the western world, I feel it’s more important than ever that we tell the stories of boys and men that a younger generation can relate to and be inspired by. Plus it’s got amazing illustrations and short and engaging biographies which makes learning about the subjects fun! There’s also the fact that all royalties go to The Smith Family to help children in need.

Who is your fave awesome boy in the book ?

I have to pick more than one! Samuel Johnson is an incredible example of a loving and selfless man. I love Eddie Woo’s passion and innovative approach to his job. And I’m always moved when I read Vincent Lingiari’s story and think about the role he played in the Aboriginal Land Rights movement.

What makes you most proud of this book ?

The hopeful and positive spirit in which it was made, which embodies the whole point of the book. The project was a collaborative effort from the Penguin Random House team, as well as from the incredible illustrators who jumped on board with such enthusiasm. It’s a great book not just because of the men in it, but also because it represents the role models of so many different people, which hopefully means it speaks a very wide and diverse audience.

Why have you chosen kids as your audience ?

I think at this moment in time the world is going through a process of correction in terms of gender equality, behaviour and righting past wrongs – kids are the ones who have the chance to create, and grow up in, a world where all genders have equal rights so it makes sense that they learn about, and be inspired by, worthy people from Australia’s past and present.


Images extracted from High Five to the Boys published by Penguin Random House 30 July 2018, RRP $29.99

Portrait of Samuel Johnson is ©James Fosdike
Portrait of Briggs is ©Brenton McKenna
Portrait of Eddie Woo is ©Chris Nixon

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