Sleeping Bear Press, which launched in 1994 as a publisher of regional titles and began publishing children’s books exclusively in 1998, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its first children’s release this year. Not only is the Michigan-based press putting an image of a birthday cake on the cover of the fall 2008 catalog, and sending 10 authors into schools across the country this fall, but it’s also releasing a 10th anniversary edition of its first children’s title, Legend of Sleeping Bear (Apr.) by Kathy-jo Wargin, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen. Legend of Sleeping Bear has sold 250,000 copies since its 1998 release; the 10th anniversary edition, with a 10,000-copy first printing, includes a DVD containing animated artwork and the actor/songwriter Jeff Daniels reading the story.
“It’s been traditionally a regional title,” says Audrey Mitnick, Sleeping Bear senior publicist, describing the picture book as a retelling of an American Indian folktale about the origins of Michigan’s huge Sleeping Bear Dunes, located on the state’s northwestern shore.
“Because it’s part of our 10th anniversary celebration, I see this as an opportunity to move the book nationally,” Mitnick adds. Wargin and van Frankenhuyzen will celebrate Legend of Sleeping Bear’s reissue on July 5, with a reading and signing at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.
While Sleeping Bear Press has published other illustrated story books for young readers since the release of Legend of Sleeping Bear, with such titles as The Happy Prince and Voyageur’s Paddle, the press is best known for its two-tiered alphabet picture books for ages 4--10, including W Is for Wind: A Weather Alphabet, D Is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet, and Z Is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet. Of the press’s 206 titles currently in print, 98 are alphabet books, which have sold a total of 2.5 million copies.
In Sleeping Bear’s first alphabet book series, the 50-book Discover America series, each title draws upon the history and culture of a different state. It is the press’s bestselling series, with total sales upwards of 1.5 million copies. The first title, M Is for Mitten, was published in 1999 and the last book, R Is for Rhode Island Red: A Rhode Island Alphabet, was released in 2006.
Susan Capaldi, the manager and children’s book buyer at McLean & Eakin Books in Petoskey, Mich., reports that Sleeping Bear’s picture books sell very well at her store; some of her patrons consider them collector’s items, while others see them as effective learning tools for early readers. “They’re very high-quality books,” Capaldi says. “Sleeping Bear doesn’t publish a lot, but what they do has a very nice target audience.”
During the past decade, Sleeping Bear has scheduled events around Discover America titles in 49 out of 50 states (no events yet in Alaska), and Wisconsin’s First Lady, Jessica Doyle, regularly reads to children from B Is for Badger: A Wisconsin Alphabet, when visiting the schools in that state.
As Sleeping Bear enters its second decade of children’s book publishing, it will move beyond alphabet books and story books for elementary readers. This fall will see the publication of Sleeping Bear’s first YA novel, I, Q, first in a new series called Quest, by Roland Smith, which Mitnick describes as “cutting-edge” reading for ages 10+. The series features two teenagers who travel around the country with their musician parents, having adventures and solving mysteries along the way. Each novel will take place in a different U.S. city, with I, Q set in Philadelphia, and the second title in the series, On, Q, in Washington, D.C.
While Sleeping Bear is moving into YA, it remains committed to the elementary market, and several forthcoming releases feature environmental themes for younger readers. The alphabet book S Is for Saving the Planet by Brad Herzog will be released in August 2009, and Wargin, author of the press’s first alphabet book, is developing a new chapter book series with an environmental focus. “It’s going to be an environmental Mission Impossible, with children as activists,” Mitnick explains. The first title in the series, The Green Hill Gang, will be published in April 2009.
Capaldi at McLean & Eakin applauds Sleeping Bear’s new direction, saying, “YA is huge. The children who started with their picture books are older and want YA titles now. If children are reading, parents are happy to spend the money. And if [Sleeping Bear] throws a vampire or two, then they’ll really be in good shape.”
Sleeping Bear is also looking to expand beyond the United States, with a new Tales of the World series of illustrated fact-based storybooks with international culture themes, all so far written by Gloria Whelan. The first title, Yatandou, a story set in West Africa, was published this past fall, and Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers, set in ancient Japan, is being released this month. A third title, Waiting for the Owl, will take place in Persia, where children and adults are involved in weaving rugs, and is scheduled for fall 2009.
Sleeping Bear’s newest alphabet series, Discover Your World, will also be international in scope, with each title focusing upon a country’s history and culture. B Is for Big Ben will be released in May, and P Is for Piñata and C Is for Ciao will both be released this fall. Books on Japan and Australia are scheduled for 2009.
“It’s a combination of expanding our market and our outreach,” Mitnick says of the press’s latest endeavors, “Our outreach should go beyond the 50 states as we move forward.”