Over the years, innovative advances in children's book publishing—books that light up, books that talk, books for the bathtub—have become almost commonplace. But this December, Workman will offer a new twist on how to show and tell with Gallop! by Rufus Butler Seder, a paper-over-board children's title that utilizes a trademarked, patented technology called Scanimation to seemingly animate the movements of an array of animals with each turn of the page. And booksellers are galloping to sell it.
“We think this is going to be one of the coolest books [of the season],” said Mary Yockey, a buyer for Anderson's Bookshops in Naperville, Ill. “At BEA five of us were just spellbound by it and we're not children—though we might have children inside of us. It appears so simple yet it's so fascinating.”
Gallop! was the first acquisition—ever—for Raquel Jaramillo, director of children's books at Workman. She came to the company in 2006 after 17 years at Henry Holt, where she had been v-p and creative director of its adult trade division. Though Jaramillo had written and/or illustrated a few picture books, coming to Workman marked her first foray into children's book editorial.
Jaramillo first encountered the technology at a gift fair in August 2006, only a few weeks after starting at Workman. Seder's Boston-based EyeThink company was displaying a line of greeting cards that featured Scanimation. “I didn't even have a business card printed yet,” she recalled. “I met with his sales guy and told him, 'I think this would make a great children's book.' ” Jaramillo put together a proposal, which met with Seder's approval, and a contract was signed. Jaramillo both designed the book and wrote the spare prose (“Can you flutter like a butterfly? Flittery-float-float”) that accompanies Seder's animations.
For Seder, an inventor and filmmaker who has been exploring methods of optic animation for the past 20 years, the meeting of art and science is what makes the book special. To create the animated effect, a sheet of acetate with thin black lines is set in a window over a “coded” image of the animal. When readers turn to a page, the layers slide against each other, and the animal appears to gallop, swim or otherwise move.“I try to find the one movement that defines the animal best, [such as] the singular coil and spring of a cat as it runs,” Seder said. “If you can succeed in capturing and conveying that, the user can experience that kinesthetically. That's what I'm after.”
Because of the intricate nature of the technology, Workman knew that manufacturing the book would be challenging. “In a way it was not reinventing but completely inventing the wheel,” said Doug Wolff, senior production manager at Workman. “Not only are you dealing with regular printing issues, but everything had to be completely exact in how it was both produced and the mechanics of the actual moving images.”
Workman realized the books would have to be hand-assembled, and sent Seder to China to instruct the 600-odd employees at the factory that produced the books, later sending Wolff to oversee final production and assembly. “Every single spread was double-checked,” Wolff said. “There were almost as many people in Quality Control as there were assembling the books.”
Back on the home front, Workman got an overwhelmingly positive response from reps at sales conference, and ordered 100,000 copies. Since then, the print run has been increased several times, to 300,000. A sequel, tentatively titled Waddle!, is scheduled for Christmas 2008.
Barry Rossnick, senior trade buyer at Books, Inc. in San Francisco, reported that Gallop! is “probably our third or fourth largest buy for fall,” for both adult and children's titles. “It has a real 'ooh and ahh' factor.” Yockey at Anderson's said that her store is planning to stack it at their front counter, and believes it will be a strong holiday seller. “People are going to want multiple copies as gifts.”
The book is getting just as warm a reception abroad, according to Kristina Peterson, director of international publishing at Workman, who reported “substantial interest” in the title at Frankfurt earlier this month. “It was truly the hit for us,” she said. “It brought a lot of publishers that we hadn't seen before.” Peterson held a mini-auction for German rights at Frankfurt, and several publishers expressed interest even before the fair. “It translates very easily,” she said.
While the book itself is aimed at kids, Jaramillo believes the book will appeal to adults as well, particularly as an impulse buy. “I kind of see this as the Magic Eye [the book series that used stereograms to create 3D optical illusions] for a whole new generation,” she said. “But unlike Magic Eye, the art is something that everyone can see and appreciate.”