Two popular children’s book characters will soon star in new series aimed at readers who are younger than the original target audience. Judy Moody reappears in Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody and Friends, early readers aimed at children 4–6, which Candlewick launches in February with Rocky Zang in the Amazing Mr. Magic and Jessica Finch in Pig Trouble. And the eponymous hero of Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever has a new incarnation in Here’s Hank, a series aimed at readers 6–8 focusing on the affable struggling learner as a second grader. Also debuting in February, the Grosset & Dunlap series by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver starts up with Bookmarks Are People Too! and A Short Tale About a Long Dog.

Judy Moody, until now aimed at ages 6–9, clearly has no shortage of fans. There are 17.5 million copies in print of the original 11-book series, which began in 2000, plus the two Judy Moody & Stink titles. Both of those series will continue in 2014 when Judy Moody & Stink: The Big Bad Blackout arrives in April, and Judy Moody, Mood Martian in August. In the meantime, Judy and her pals will entertain newly independent readers in the inaugural installments of Judy Moody and Friends, which are 64 pages long and feature full-color art by Erwin Madrid, based on the characters created by Peter H. Reynolds.

Reaching New Readers

McDonald initially conceived of Judy Moody as an early-reader rather than a chapter-book heroine. “The first time I thought about Judy, I sat down and wrote 25 or so short, funny episodes based on things that had happened to me and my four sisters,” said the author. “I had so many stories that could have been early readers, but I wasn’t sure what to do with them. I showed them to my editor at Candlewick, Mary Lee Donovan, and she had the idea of choosing episodes that went together thematically and combining them into a chapter book, which is what I did.”

The author also credits Donovan with coming up with the notion of introducing Judy to beginning readers, though Donovan said that the new series came about “pretty organically, after a lot of discussion with Megan. Even before the feature film, Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, came out in 2011 and expanded Judy Moody’s fan base, we’d heard that younger siblings of the series’ readers wanted books of their own about Judy. But even more than that, the new series arose out of Megan’s interest in the early reader form, which she’s so good at. Her books are filled with terrific dialogue that really moves things along.”

McDonald acknowledges “a particular love” of the early reader format, which she has visited in her Ant and Honey Bee series and other titles. And she easily warmed to the idea of expanding Judy Moody’s world. “What excited me was the idea of being able to explore some of the more secondary characters in Judy’s life, since they have always had so much more of a life in my imagination than what makes it to the page,” she said. “I have so many ideas for Judy Moody and Friends – so many stories not big enough to make a whole 10-chapter book. To me these stories are just gold.”

Now envisioned as a six-book series, Judy Moody and Friends will add Amy Namey in Ace Reporter and Frank Pearl in the Awful Waffle Kerfuffle in September 2014.

Hank Zipzer Redux

Unlike Judy Moody, who in her new series is still in third grade (“and always will be,” said Donovan), Hank travels back to second grade in Here’s Hank, after 2010’s A Brand New Me!, the 17th and final installment of Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever, brought the middle-grade protagonist to the end of his elementary school career. Scott Garrett illustrates the new four-book series, which continues with Stop That Frog!, due in October 2014, and Fake Snakes and Weird Wizards, a February 2015 release.

“We all missed Hank and missed doing new books, and the original series, which has more than two million copies in print, was still selling well in all markets – trade, book fairs and clubs, school and library,” said Bonnie Bader, associate publisher of Frederick Warne and editor-in-chief of Penguin Young Readers/Early Readers, of the decision to take Hank younger. “It didn’t make sense to me to put him in middle school, so we decided to put him in second grade, before his dyslexia is diagnosed. The plots could be simpler, and Henry and Lin loved that idea.”

Oliver noted that she and Winkler, who sit down together to generate plot ideas and outlines and to write their books, discovered that the voices of younger Hank and his classmates weren’t difficult to hear. “We’ve lived with those characters for a long time, and finding their voices as second graders was the easiest thing in the world,” she said. “Even though the characters are younger and involved in different situations, their language and personalities are the same.”

Streamlining the plots and shortening the Hank stories for the new 128-page series was also not a chore. “It was actually an extreme pleasure,” said Oliver. “There’s something so nice – and it’s a bit of a relief – to be able to follow the logic of one story all the way through and not be involved with subplots. What was a little challenging was making sure that the humor and circumstance of the story were appropriate for that age level.”

Since the launch of the original Hank Zipzer series, Oliver, Winkler, and Penguin staffers have heard from countless teachers, parents, and children how easy it is for kids who struggle with reading to relate to the protagonist and become hooked on the books. One intriguing aspect of Here’s Hank is the series’ innovative font, called “Dyslexie,” which was created in 2008 by Christian Boer, a Dutch graphic designer who is dyslectic.

The typeface is designed to make it easier for people with dyslexia to distinguish individual letters rather than to jumble, invert, or flip them. The letters have heavier bottoms, larger-than-normal openings, and longer ascenders and descenders. “When our designer, Katie Fitch, came across this font, it was a great bonus,” said Bader. “I also took the time to go through the final draft of each book to make sure that the line breaks were good so it was easier for a reader’s eyes to track the text.”

For Oliver, meeting children who identify with Hank is extremely rewarding. “On school visits, Henry and I get a real sense that Hank Zipzer is a part of kids’ lives, and we’re hoping that the younger Hank will have the same effect,” she said. “Kids will say, ‘How did you know me so well?’ and Henry, who is dyslectic, will answer, ‘Because I know me.’ Children who have learning challenges are so happy to know that they aren’t alone, and that Hank, a person like them, is doing just fine.”

Winkler, too, hopes that the younger Hank will resonate with early elementary school students and help them become readers. “Lin and I are so proud of the Here’s Hank books, because they are a funny entry for young readers to enjoy the adventure that waits for them in a book,” he said. “Hopefully this new series will lead them to the hijinx Hank creates in the fourth grade.”

Judy Moody and Friends: Rocky Zang in The Amazing Mr. Magic by Megan McDonald, illus. by Erwin Madrid, based on the characters created by Peter H. Reynolds. Candlewick, $12.99 Feb. ISBN 978-0-7636-5716-1; paper $4.99 ISBN 978-0-7636-7028-3

Judy Moody and Friends: Jessica Finch in Pig Trouble by Megan McDonald, illus. by Erwin Madrid, based on the characters created by Peter H. Reynolds, $12.99 Feb. ISBN978-0-7636-5718-5; paper, $4.99 ISBN 978-0-7636-7027-6

Here’s Hank: Bookmarks Are People Too! by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, illus. by Scott Garrett. Grosset & Dunlap, $14.99 Feb. ISBN 978-0-488-48239-2; paper, $499 ISBN 978-0-448-47997-2

Here’s Hank: A Short Tale About a Long Dog by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, illus. by Scott Garrett. Grosset & Dunlap, $14.99 Feb. ISBN 978-0-448-48240-8; paper, $4.99 ISBN 978-0-448-47998-9