The first two titles in the new Baby Lit board book series from Gibbs Smith will introduce classic writers to the youngest readers – newborns to three-year-olds – with the publication of Little Miss Austen: Pride & Prejudice and Little Master Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet.

“Baby Lit was created in one of those ‘lightning strikes’ moments,” says Gibbs Smith creative director and series editor Suzanne Taylor. “We knew there was nothing like it available for the age group, and that the books would be a great introduction to perennial classics both for very small children and parents who might never have read the classics before.” The series has already surpassed sales expectations before their August release date, with advance orders in the gift and book market reaching nearly 12,000 copies. A second print run is in the works for both titles, which will retail for $9.99 and have 22 pages of color illustrations each.

The Austen and Shakespeare books combine the talents of author Jennifer Adams, author of such Gibbs Smith children’s books as Remarkably Jane: Notable Quotations on Jane Austen and Y Is for Yorick, works as a writer and editor in Salt Lake City, and illustrator Alison Oliver, who runs the Sugar design studio in New York City and has created books and gift products for Gibbs Smith and Chronicle Books. “They’ve come up with such a clever concept,” Taylor says. “Baby Lit is like a CliffsNotes versions for little kids with great illustrations. The approach is fresh.”

While Taylor confirms that Gibbs Smith will add titles to the Baby Lit series in the future, she won’t specify the names of the other classics being considered. “Let me just say that we’re looking at orphans, vampires, and an interesting aristocracy,” she says with a laugh. “Eventually there might be copycats, but there’s only one ‘first,’ she says. “Baby Lit is an original.” Both titles were chosen as finalists for Best Children’s Books of 2011 by Parents magazine.

As a press, Gibbs Smith has fully adapted to the e-book format while simultaneously supporting a traditional approach to the power of paper books. The Baby Lit series, in its board book format, reflects Taylor’s belief in the craft of book production. “Children’s books offer a tactile pacing experience, with kids and parents turning pages together,” she says. “But we won’t rule out the possibility of converting the new series to the iPad format. In the future we might be looking at creative digital deployment for Baby Lit.”