Katie Woo, the spunky first grader who stars in an eponymous early chapter-book series by Fran Manushkin, is having a banner season. Picture Window Books, an imprint of Minnesota-based Capstone, added two new installments to the paperback series, Katie Woo and Her Big Ideas and Katie Woo Loves School, in August. Due this month is the first activity book featuring the character, called Katie Woo’s Super Stylish Activity Book. To tie in to the series, which features full-color illustrations by Tammie Lyon, the publisher recently released Katie Woo’s Party Planning app, available on iTunes, and launched the Katie Woo Book Club on Facebook.

Capstone’s library and classroom divisions initially published the Katie Woo books, each of which featured a single story, beginning in 2009. There are 24 of these educational editions currently in print and published as e-books. Katie Woo made her bookstore debut in fall 2012, when Picture Window began publishing four stories per volume for the trade market. With the two new August titles, there are now six of those story collections available in print and as e- books. The Katie Woo books have sold more than 450,000 print copies across all markets.

Perhaps the first Asian-American heroine to have her own chapter-book series, Katie Woo was named for Manushkin’s great-niece, whose father is of Chinese descent. “The real Katie Woo just started kindergarten and she’s a doll,” said the author. “Though I stole her name, the character really is me – or who I would have been if I had been more feisty and confident as a six-year-old.”

Ashley Andersen Zantop, Capstone’s group publisher and general manager, said that Katie Woo is “definitely one of our bestselling and most beloved series for girls in this age group,” and attributes much of the books’ success to the heroine’s personality. “One of the reasons that we at Capstone team feel so passionately about Katie Woo is that she’s a character we admire,” she said. “If she were a real person we’d want to be friends with her. It’s not that she always gets things right. She’s smart, sweet, and spunky, and sometimes wanders into trouble more easily than she makes her way out of it. But her heart is always in the right place.”The new Katie Woo initiatives – the party planning app and online book club – grew out of the publisher’s interest in “making it easier for Katie Woo fans to experience and appreciate her,” Andersen Zantop said. The app enables kids to select a party location, create an invitation, decorate a cake, dress Katie up for the party, and play a party game. “We hear from children, teachers, and parents that one thing they most like about Katie is her unique fashion sense – she’s not afraid to be herself and express that through her fashion choices,” Andersen Zantop continued. “And party themes in Katie stories are very popular.”

The online book club, which is featured on the Katie Woo Facebook page, lets fans connect with one another and access special offers, discounts, downloadable activities, and book club prompts and materials. “The series has a strong presence in the school and library markets, and we’ve heard from numerous teachers and librarians who have started their own Katie Woo book clubs,” said Andersen Zantop. Each month, a different Katie Woo book will be spotlighted, and book-related items will be available for download.

Encouraging Words

Manushkin has also written numerous picture books, starting with Baby (later retitled Baby, Come Out!), which Harper & Row published in 1972. The book, which was reissued by Star Bright Books in 2001, is illustrated by Ronald Himler. The author was inspired to try her hand at writing while employed at Harper & Row. “I had the great good fortune to meet Ezra Jack Keats, who told me about an editorial assistant opening in the children’s book department of Harper & Row,” she recalled. “I worked there for 10 years, with two geniuses – Ursula Nordstrom and Charlotte Zolotow – and it was Charlotte who urged me to write my own stories.”

Though Manushkin admits to being a bit apprehensive when she landed an eight-book contract for the initial Katie Woo series, she is now very comfortable writing the stories. “At Harper & Row, I used to edit I Can Read books, including those by Syd Hoff, and Lillian Hoban’s Arthur books, so I go way back with the early chapter-book format,” she said. “But I was terrified at the idea of committing to writing eight books. Yet I know you have to run toward the thing that scares you. Now I’m thrilled to get e-mails from Julie [Gassman, her editor] that have “two more?” in the subject line. I don’t run out of ideas.”

Katie Woo and Her Big Ideas by Fran Manushkin, illus. by Tammie Lyon. Capstone/Picture Window Books, $4.95 paper Aug. ISBN 978-1-4795-2026-8

Katie Woo Loves School by Fran Manushkin, illus. by Tammie Lyon. Capstone/Picture Window Books, $4.95 paper Aug. ISBN 978-1-4795-2027-5

Katie Woo’s Super Stylish Activity Book by Fran Manushkin, illus. by Tammie Lyon. Capstone/Picture Window Books, $4.95 paper Sept. ISBN 978-1-4795-2047-3