While President Barack Obama’s election-night speech electrified millions all over the world, the newly elected president’s public promise that evening to his two daughters—that they could get a puppy to live with them in the White House—has captured the imaginations of three children’s publishers. Simon & Schuster, Walker Books for Young Readers and Sleeping Bear Press are racing against the clock to get their drop-in title into bookstores, and to do so before the Obamas actually select their new pet. The publishers may just come under the wire, as, according to an interview with the First Lady in the current issue of People, the Obamas intend to adopt their pet sometime in April.
The three picture books inspired by the Obama family’s search for a dog are: First Dog by J. Patrick Lewis and his daughter Beth Zapitello, illustrated by Tim Bowers, scheduled for an April 6 release by Sleeping Bear Press; Which Puppy? by Kate Feiffer, illustrated by her father, Jules Feiffer, originally scheduled for an April 21 release by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, but pushed up to April 7; and Now Hiring: White House Dog by Gina Bazer and Renanah Lehner, illustrated by Andrew Day, originally scheduled for a June release by Walker Books for Young Readers, but pushed up to April 28.
Saying it “was only a matter of time” that books featuring the Obama girls would be published, due to the enormous interest in the Obama family, Heather Doss, Bookazine’s children’s merchandise manager, nonetheless expressed surprise that three books with such similar themes would be dropped-in at the same time. The last time anything like this happened, Doss said, was during the 2008 Presidential campaign, with drop-in titles about Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain all landing at the same time.
In fact, Doss noted, the 2008 presidential campaign produced more children’s books about the candidates than any previous political campaign. “Not only were there children’s biographies of Obama and McCain,” Doss said, “there were even two children’s biographies of Michelle Obama. There’s never been a stand-alone book before the election on a candidate’s wife before.”
While declining to disclose exact numbers, Doss confirmed that Bookazine has ordered all three titles in varying quantities, with orders for Which Puppy? double the total orders for First Dog and Now Hiring: White House Dog. “The Feiffer book really stands out,” Doss explained, “The artwork, the storyline, the fan base. Which Puppy? has the longest legs.”
Expressing confidence that Now Hiring: White House Dog “reaches beyond the topic and can be used in a broader sense,” Emily Easton, publisher of Walker Books for Young Readers, who received three or four more manuscripts on the subject while she was editing Now Hiring: White House Dog, believes there’s plenty of room for all three titles in the marketplace. “It sounds like the three books all take different approaches,” Easton comments. “It’ll depend on what each person is drawn to.”
Displaying just as much confidence in the appeal of Which Puppy?, Anne Zafian, deputy publisher of the children’s trade group at S&S, isn't concerned about the other two drop-in titles, explaining that Which Puppy?’s release date was pushed up three weeks so the book would be in stores before Easter, not because of the other titles crashing in April. “We’re not focused on the competition. We have a great story by Kate Feiffer, fabulous art by Jules Feiffer—that’s our calling card,” Zafian says.
Jules (l.) and Kate Feiffer, the father-daughter team behind Which Puppy?, clearly have a First Dog of their own.
While several children’s bookstores contacted by Children’s Bookshelf had only heard of and thus were ordering only the Feiffer title, The Red Balloon in St. Paul, Minn. and Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., had ordered both Which Puppy? and First Dog. Basing their predictions on the heavy demand for children’s biographies of President Obama this past year, booksellers at both bookstores anticipated brisk sales for these drop-in titles.
“We can’t even keep Son of Promise, Child of Hope by Nikki Grimes on the shelf,” Red Balloon children’s book buyer Barb Bassett said, “People see it, they buy it.”
“Anything about President Obama, people are looking for,” noted Jan Dundon, children’s coordinator at Anderson’s. “President Obama is in the news, and kids always love books about dogs.”
First Dog by J. Patrick Lewis and Beth Zapitello, illustrated by Tim Bowers. Sleeping Bear Press, $14.95 ISBN 978-1-58536-467-1
Now Hiring: White House Dog by Gina Bazer and Renanah Lehner, illustrated by Andrew Day. Walker Books for Young Readers, $16.99 ISBN 978-0-8027-8486-5
Which Puppy? by Kate Feiffer, illustrated by Jules Feiffer. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, $16.99 ISBN 978-1-416-99147-2