By Peg Lopata, Contributing writer
Cambridge – Some people’s adventures involve travel, some people do it virtually or through reading. Deborah Shine, 89, has done her exploring in all ways. Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, where her father, a diamond cutter, went for work, she’s lived in, amongst other places, England, St. Helena— one of the remotest islands in the world, Hawaii, Kentucky and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
A world in children’s books
When her husband was offered a position at the medical school at the University of Kentucky, in Lexington, Shine opened a children’s bookstore, The Owl and The Pussycat, also in Lexington. It was one of the first of its kind—and certainly the first one in Lexington. It all came about serendipitously for this young woman with three children who was formerly working as a fashion designer.
“When my husband went to Kentucky to make our nest, I traveled with my three children to South Africa, Venice, Amsterdam and London,” Shine explained.
To reward the children for being good kids on their travels, Shine took up her husband’s suggestion to buy them books―but there’s wasn’t any to be found in her new locale.
“On my first day in Lexington I went for walk with the kids and there was an empty store. So, what do you do?” said Shine. “You open a kid’s bookstore!”
About ten years later she went to work in England for Penguin Publishing in one of their children’s divisions. After that she continued working for various publishers. In 1994, she founded Star Bright Books, a children’s book publishing company located in New York City. Today, the company is in Cambridge.
A business to love
Shine loves the work of running a publishing house. Maybe it’s in her blood―this love of reading and books.
“I come from a reading family,” explained Shine.
Shine’s mother, who was Russian, once explained to her daughter what reading meant to her in her accented voice, “Vit out books I vould die.”
Like many of her era, Shine learned how to run her company on the job. She says it was done by trial and error and people in the book trade were for the most part generous with their help.
Viewpoints on reading and books
Though others may bemoan that children seem to be reading less, Shine doesn’t dwell on the negative.
“People who don’t read only have one life,” she said. “People who read have dozens of experiences and adventures―much, much fuller lives.” She does recommend banishing the phone from kids, reading to them and treasuring books.
“It’s important to read to your kids long before they get to the phone,” advised Shine.
Making books that get into those little hands or big ones for those hands is what Shine’s all about. She finds getting a submission, turning it into a book that the author and illustrator are happy and proud of is for her one of the most fascinating things about the publishing world. She’s particularly proud to have published Defying the Nazis by Hermann Vinke. The book tells the story of the Wilm Hosennfeld, a German army captain who saved a famous pianist during World War II.
This biography epitomizes Shine’s favorite quote from the Hebrew bible: ‘Thou shalt not follow the multitude to do evil.’
A full and richer life
Not surprisingly, this is Shine’s personal philosophy too.
And this approach to life guides her not just in her personal, but also in her professional life. It may be a rat race, but Shine is no rat and she’s still winning the race in a very challenging industry. However, she’s not one to boast about her accomplishments. She does hope to accomplish something that has nothing to do with publishing―that is reaching the age of one hundred with her beloved husband by her side.
“I think I am extremely fortunate,” admitted Shine, “to have had the life I’ve had. I married a fun guy, who delivered two of our four kids, he puts band aids on all my cuts and bruises and laughs at my jokes. What more can you ask for?”
Well, she does want one thing: more time.
But in the meantime, she’ll continue to have some fun.