Peter Yarrow’s Puff, the Magic Dragon has been a breakout bestseller for Sterling Publishing, and the book world is about to see a lot more of the musician/author. In addition to launching the Peter Yarrow Songbook series with Sterling this month, Yarrow has several other titles signed up with the company, as well as an eponymous imprint, Peter Yarrow Books, at Imagine Publishing, recently founded by Charles Nurnberg, former publisher and CEO at Sterling.

Frances Gilbert, v-p and editorial director of children’s books at Sterling and Yarrow’s editor, says that although the house had strong expectations for Puff, its enormous sales success still came as a bit of a surprise. Though the book was originally announced with a 100,000-copy first printing, it has sold more than 750,000 copies worldwide, Gilbert reports, adding that they first began to realize how big the book might be at BEA in 2007, where attendees thronged to meet Yarrow and see samples. “We started to realize we had something on our hands, and that his fans were really devoted.”

And if Yarrow’s fan base remains strong decades after the height of his fame as part of Peter, Paul and Mary, might the same be true for some of his fellow folk musicians? That’s the hope at Imagine Publishing. In addition to adult titles, the company will publish children’s nonfiction under the Imagine name, and musically oriented titles through the Peter Yarrow Books imprint, with books both by Yarrow and by his contemporaries.

Peter Yarrow, at one of his many
bookstore appearances.

According to Nurnberg, the company will publish around 10 children’s books per year under the Imagine name, and an additional three or four via Peter Yarrow Books. “They will be based on classic songs,” he says. “Folk music always brings a message.”

The imprint’s first book, scheduled for fall 2009, will be The Wondrous Toy by folksinger Tom Paxton, a longtime friend of Yarrow’s, based on Paxton’s song of the same name. The picture book, to be illustrated by Steve Cox, will include a CD, like Puff did. “They’re using music to bring a message to kids,” says Nurnberg.

The nonfiction children’s titles on Imagine’s fall 2009 list will include If I Were Raised by a Dinosaur, Jumbo Jigsaw Storybooks (which includes six jigsaw puzzles) and The Children’s Solar Energy Book Even Grown-Ups Can Understand.

Meanwhile, Sterling is continuing to build on Puff’s success. Next month’s Sleepytime Songs and Favorite Folk Songs will be followed next June by Songs to Sing Together (“campfire songs and road trip songs,” according to Gilbert). October 2009 will see the publication of Day Is Done, a picture book based on the Peter, Paul and Mary song and illustrated by Melissa Sweet; an as-yet-untitled fourth songbook, tentatively offering nursery rhymes, will follow in spring 2010.

These six titles are the only books Sterling currently has under contract with Yarrow, but Gilbert is confident that more will come, regardless of future books he may publish with Imagine. “We have a great relationship and would love to do more books with him, and I believe he would love to do more with us,” she says. “We’re constantly talking with Peter about new ideas.”