For 40 years, DK (formerly Dorling Kindersley) has published illustrated nonfiction books for adults and children that have become staples on bookstore shelves – most notably, in kids’ sections, the Eyewitness series. This month, DK releases its first teen-targeted title, Heads Up Psychology, the debut book of a copiously illustrated nonfiction line spanning many subjects. Subsequent 2014 releases are Do You Know Who You Are? (Aug.), The Fashion Book (Oct.), and Heads Up Philosophy (Nov.).
According to Nancy Ellwood, DK’s U.S. editorial director, the new YA program grew out of the current uptick in YA publishing on the fiction side, and a perceived dearth in the market of kid-friendly, heavily illustrated nonfiction for teens. “There is so little available for kids who have grown out of 128-page biographies and other nonfiction for children, and so much adult nonfiction is intimidating and not right for 13 year olds,” she said. “We wanted to take topics kids want to learn about and make them fun, and we began asking ourselves, ‘Where are kids’ heads now, where are they interested in going, and what can we publish that they want to know about?”
In answer to those questions, Ellwood and her colleagues created a quartet of paper-over-board books for teens, two of which, Heads Up Psychology and Heads Up Philosophy, she said, are “slightly derivative” of the publisher’s Big Ideas Simply Explained series for adults, and aim to make complex topics easier to comprehend.
“Heads Up Psychology takes a look at why teens think and feel the way they do, and how they are impacted psychologically by the TV shows they watch, the articles they read, and the branding surrounding them,” said Ellwood. A companion book, Heads Up Philosophy, addresses philosophical issues of interest to teens and, Ellwood added, “explores right and wrong and why people behave the way they do.”
The remaining two launch books take a slightly different trajectory. Do You Know Who You Are? is a “guided journal,” which, Ellwood explained, “helps readers do some self-analysis and evaluate how they relate to others,” with lighthearted quizzes and more deeply probing questionnaires. The final inaugural title, The Fashion Book, offers a historic, sociological, and contemporary look at various aspects of the fashion industry.
Written by various authors, the DK nonfiction line will be aimed at readers 13–17. It will add two to four titles in 2015 and “will grow from there,” said Ellwood. In addition to DK’s core trade and educational markets, the publisher anticipates that the line will be sold through teen-focused specialty and clothing stores and other “secondary retail channels.”
From the start, Ellwood and other staffers conducted informal focus groups with teens to, she said, “get young voices involved and learn what resonated with them and what didn’t. We showed the works in progress, and they didn’t mince their words. They told us what was too babyish, what looked like something their mothers would read, and what worked. Through those conversations, we figured out where we wanted to go.”
DK again tapped into teens’ sensibilities for the line’s initial promotion, and hired 13-year-old Phoebe Collins (whom Ellwood described as “a friend of a friend”) to write and design a book trailer for Heads Up Psychology. “We asked Phoebe, ‘How would you tell your friends about this book in a unique way?’ and she came up with this awesome video idea,” said Ellwood. “We will continue this outreach to our targeted age group, since they give such invaluable input. We want to invoke the power of the teen however possible. They are at a phenomenal age, and to be part of what they are reading is very exciting.”
Heads Up Psychology by Marcus Weeks. DK, $15.95 Apr. ISBN 978-1-4654-1993-4
Do You Know Who You Are? by Megan Kaye. DK, $15.99 Aug. ISBN 978-1-4654-1649-0
The Fashion Book by DK Publishing. DK, $15.99 Oct. ISBN 978-1-4654-2284-2
Heads Up Philosophy by DK Publishing. DK, $15.99 Nov. ISBN 978-1-4654-2448-8