It’s always a thrill for kids to find letters addressed to them in the mailbox. And if that mail were a greeting card-sized picture book with a personalized message inside, wouldn’t that be even better? Anticipating an affirmative answer to that question, HMH Books is launching its Send-a-Story line of mailable paperback versions of backlist picture books. Priced at $4.99, the debut releases—I Like You, Everywhere Babies, Won’t You Be My Kissaroo?, and No Matter What—feature label-like spaces on the back cover for “To” and “From” addresses, a sticker to seal the book closed, and room in the inside front cover for the sender to pen a greeting.
Send-a-Story was the brainchild of Mary Wilcox, v-p and editorial director of Houghton Mifflin Books for Children and HMH Books, who says that the inspiration for the line “sprang from a child’s love of getting mail and parents’ dismay at spending $5 for a disposable greeting card. And we’re always looking for new ways to celebrate our rich backlist. It was wonderful to see how quickly everyone in-house jumped on board and brought their best ideas on how to implement the project.”
Planning and executing Send-a-Story quickly became a multi-department effort, Wilcox notes. The production team contacted the United States Postal Service to verify trim-size and postage requirements (the books are 5” x 6” and need three first-class stamps); the designer created a sample copy of I Like You, which the sales team sent to key accounts with handwritten notes to drum up interest in the line; and the marketing department created a mailbox-like counter display for retailers.
Senior designer Cara Llewlyn, who designed the 32-page Send-a-Story titles, calls this “a very playful project that has really been so much fun. I like tiny things, so the joy of making something tiny outweighs the difficulty.” She explains that some of the inaugural titles were easier to re-format than others. “I Like You originally had a small trim size, so that one fit almost perfectly,” she says. “But Won’t You Be My Kissaroo? is quite a large hardcover, so we got high-res art work for that and scaled it down piece by piece.” Though the texts were reset to fit the smaller format, Llewelyn explains, “We tried to keep the interior spreads as close to the original book as possible.”
Send-a-Story’s launch tactically coincides with a popular greeting-card season. “We wanted a promotional window, but didn’t want to charge into the crowded Christmas window,” says Wilcox. “So we thought Valentine’s Day would be a perfect time to go out with this, and our HMH backlist has some wonderful books for reading at that time.” The seasonal angle guided the selection of the four inaugural titles, which share themes of friendship, love, and affection.
Wilcox notes that the company has placed thousands of 40-copy displays in chains and independent stores, as well as gift and toy stores, and there are currently 250,000 Send-a-Story titles in print.
A second wave of Send-a-Story releases is due out this fall, along with a new mailbox display reflecting a holiday theme. On that list are Annie and the Wild Animals by Jan Brett; Clement Clarke Moore’s ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith; Santa Claus the World’s Number One Toy Expert by Marla Frazee; and Naomi Howland’s Latkes, Latkes, Good to Eat.
“We’re so pleased to be able to do this for these terrific books and for our authors and illustrators,” says Wilcox of the additional exposure the Send-a-Story format offers. “It’s great to try something out of the box, but it does take a whole team pulling together to make it happen, and that has been great to see. And it puts a smile on my face just thinking about children finding these books in their mailboxes.”
I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg, illus. by Jacqueline Chwast. HMH Books, $4.99 Jan. ISBN 978-0-547-32788-4
Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illus. by Marla Frazee. HMH Books, $4.99 Jan. ISBN 978-0-547-32790-7
Won’t You Be My Kissaroo? by Joanne Ryder, illus. by Melissa Sweet. HMH Books, $4.99 Jan. ISBN 978-0-547-32792-1
No Matter What by Debi Gliori. HMH Books, $4.99 Jan. ISBN 978-0-547-37158-0