Inquisitive, chatty kids lead readers on tours of individual states in State Shapes, a series of die-cut, paper-over-board books published by Black Dog & Leventhal. Aimed at children 8-up, the volumes introduce historical, geographic, and pop-cultural facts and feature eye-catching formats designed to mimic the outline of each state. This month, the series touches down in two new locales with the release of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, written by Erin McHugh and illustrated by Alfred Schrier, bringing the total number of State Shapes titles to 13.

Launched in 2002, State Shapes was conceived by J.P. Leventhal, the company’s president, who explains that the idea of starting a series focusing on states received an enthusiastic in-house response. “But once we zeroed in on the idea, we tried to think of what we could do that would be new and different,” he recalls. A self-described “geography nut” as a boy, Leventhal says the idea of shaped books revealing states’ silhouettes may well have been rooted in his childhood. “I remember as a kid I loved biting into saltines to make the shapes of various states, so maybe this notion was a carryover from that,” he muses.

Since the spines and bottom edges of the State Shapes volumes are straight, retailers have reported no problems shelving the books, according to sales director Judy Courtade. The series’ strongest sales were initially in the trade, she says, but are currently “equally strong” in the gift market, especially in locales with heavy tourist traffic. Mass market sales have also been on the rise recently, since Costco and Sam’s Club have both picked up the series on a regional basis.Courtade reports that most States Shapes titles reprint every year. Noting that the series’ lead seller is Texas, she says, “Not only is it a big state, but anything Texas sells there.” She adds that sales of California are second strongest, closely followed by Minnesota. “Not that this is a heavily populated state, but it has lots of regional pride.” Virginia is also a top seller, she says, “since that is obviously a state that is very rich in history.”

Scheduled for fall 2010 is a States Shapes compendium (which will not be die-cut), compiling facts about all 50 states and featuring a map jigsaw puzzle at the back of the book. Leventhal explains that “we’re racing to get other states covered in individual volumes, too, but we’re stymied by a few. How do we do shaped volumes on Wyoming and Colorado, which are fairly perfect rectangles? And how do we handle Hawaii? We’re still working on those issues, but I’m sure we’ll figure something out.”

State Shapes: Pennsylvania and New Jersey by Erin McHugh, illus. by Alfred Schrier. Black Dog & Leventhal (Workman, dist.), $9.95 each ISBN 978-1-57912-821-0; -820-3