While Chronicle Books has worked hard to establish itself as a force in children's books since the company started a children's publishing program in 1988, those who work for the company will be the first to admit that they were not quite ready to talk to older readers. Up until recently, that is.
Last fall the San Francisco publisher known for illustrated books of all kinds—adult and children's—issued its first young adult novel, Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney, which was nominated for YALSA's Best Books for Young Adults list. This season, Chronicle further expands its title base to reach tween and teen readers with Noonie's Masterpiece by Lisa Railsback, a full-color chapter book illustrated by Sarajo Frieden and released this month for readers 9–12, and its June titles, the nonillustrated debut novels Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes (8–12) and The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams (14–up).
In 2006, Chronicle introduced its Ivy + Bean series of chapter books, which was the company's first success with fiction for ages 6–10 (the six-book series has 1.1 million copies in print). Chronicle has been building its middle grade and young adult books ever since. In many ways Ivy + Bean books are a bridge between Chronicle's picture books and its new line for older readers.
Ever since Nion McEvoy, now the owner, and Jack Jensen, now president, lured Victoria Rock away from New York to be the founding publisher of Chronicle's children's publishing program, expanding to older children and teens was always part of the plan—if on a back burner. "I don't think we had enough resources," says Rock, who stepped down as publisher in 2006, but remains an editor-at-large very much involved in things.
"This expansion of our children's publishing has been a long-term strategic objective," said Jensen. "It's gratifying to see such rapid, high-quality growth in both title output as well as commercial and critical success." Chronicle's plan is to serve the range of readers from chapter books to teen fiction and nonfiction.
Recently, PW sat down with Rock and Julie Romeis, an editor who left New York publishing to join Chronicle in 2008. Romeis liked the idea of being at Chronicle because she thought working for such a visual publisher might give her greater possibilities in publishing narrative children's and YA books.
"When Julie and I discussed the vision of this [expansion]," Rock says, "we wanted to think about what Chronicle brings to the table." While, as a daughter of an English teacher, Rock is quick to point out that the books are always about the words, she explained that the company wanted to tap into Chronicle's design and production expertise in creating a new line of fiction and nonfiction.
With the success of The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and other illustrated novels, Romeis said she thinks the timing is perfect for Chronicle to not only join the exciting visual advancements in the marketplace for tween and teen readers but also push the envelope. "We can be pretty flexible and adaptable," she added.
"We don't think people will judge a book by its cover," said Rock, "but we think they might want to pick it up and look at it" based on that cover."
To make their point, Rock and Romeis point out two covers: the laser-cut jacket for The Space Between Trees and the still-in-the-works foil cover that PW got a sneak peek at for Prisoners in the Palace: A Novel of Intrigue and Romance About How Victoria Became Queen
with the Help of Her Maid, a Newspaperman and a Scoundrel by Michaela MacColl, Chronicle's first historical YA novel, which is due out in September.
According to Rock, when the FedEx package arrived at MacColl's house with the foil cover of Prisoners in the Palace, she was immediately surrounded by a "gaggle" of her daughter's friends, ages 11– 14, who went crazy for it. Talk about targeted consumer research.
"So far everything that we've done has been a little girly," admitted Romeis, "but we do have some boy stuff and some graphic novels in the works." Sparky: The Life and Times of Charles Schulz by Beverly Gherman is their first biography, which reads more like a graphic novel than a straight illustrated book and has crossover age and gender appeal. For next year, Chronicle has a memoir by photojournalist Dan Eldon, who died on assignment in Somalia; a novel about two boys in a high school production of Man of La Mancha; and a nonfiction book about interaction between humans and whales.
"We're lucky enough to be able to dip our fingers into a number of things," said Rock.