Evening in the Nut family’s house is a bit, well, nutty, as Hazel and Wally resist Mama Nut’s efforts to get them to bed. Eric Litwin and illustrator Scott Magoon capture this parent-child dynamic in Bedtime at the Nut House, a picture book due in September from Little, Brown, whose cover is revealed here. This is the first release in The Nuts series, which will include two more picture books and two early readers. Litwin is the author of the first four books in HarperCollins’s Pete the Cat series, which launched in 2010 with Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes. The four books he has written have sold close to 1.5 million copies and have been translated into seven languages.

Liza Baker, executive editorial director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and editor Connie Hsu acquired, at auction, world rights to The Nuts series in a five-book deal brokered by Amy Rennert of the Amy Rennert Agency, for Litwin; and Rebecca Sherman of Writers House, for Magoon.

The inspiration behind Bedtime at the Nut House, said Litwin, was his belief that “every family I know, including mine, is nutty. I love puns, so I was interested in the concept of writing about a family whose last name is Nuts who actually are nuts. I’ve always wanted to write a bedtime story that ended with a lullaby, and it all fit together perfectly, since bedtime is just about the nuttiest time of the day for every family I know.”

Bedtime at the Nut House, which includes the lyrics to the titular song as well as a lullaby (both available as free downloads), was kid-tested before the text was finalized. Litwin, a singer, songwriter, and educator, performed the story and songs hundreds of times at schools and libraries, using his young audiences’ reactions to polish the text. “All of my books begin from the oral storytelling tradition and are developed in front of an audience,” explained the author. “I come up with a basic outline and test it out in a show. With Bedtime at the Nut House, I knew immediately I had something.”

Litwin emphasized the pivotal role music can play in hooking kids on reading. “As an elementary school teacher very interested in early literacy, I used music and movement, call and response, and repetition in the classroom to enhance the learning experience for young children,” he said. “When I perform my stories, I use these same techniques, which help shape my books and enhance the reading experience for kids.”

The ‘Nuts’ and Bolts of a Hit

The author’s performing and singing skills, along with his enthusiasm, grabbed the attention of LBYR staffers. Litwin arrived at the publisher’s offices to pitch his series toting his guitar, which he soon whipped out to perform Bedtime at the Nut House. “What began as a business meeting quickly turned into a group sing-along, with everyone chiming in,” said Baker. “We saw immediately how Eric could captivate kids, since he’s a kid at heart. We knew immediately that we wanted this series.”

Baker, who said that the acquisition of The Nuts series is the biggest deal she’s negotiated, in terms of number of books, in her decade at LBYR, praised Litwin’s “ability to translate his musicality into picture books. His is a rare talent to be able to combine knowledge of the book form, knowledge of the read-aloud experience, and storytelling expertise.”

The Nuts series will be co-edited by Baker and Hsu, who said she was drawn not only to Litwin’s rhythmic writing, but also to the underpinnings of Bedtime at the Nut House. “Every family is a bit nuts, and I love how Eric captures that in a loving, positive way,” Hsu said. “An important part of this story is the unconditional love between parent and child. And at the end, Eric winds down his rollicking story with a sweet lullaby that provides parents with a perfect way to shut out the light and close a child’s door.”

All involved agree that Magoon got to the kernel of The Nuts with his illustrations for Bedtime at the Nut House. “As we saw in Spoon and Chopsticks, Scott has the ability to personify inanimate objects brilliantly,” said Baker. “His playful sense of humor really matches Eric’s.” Adds Litwin, “I absolutely love what Scott did. He has a great sense of humor and style, and he really got my vision with his art.”

Magoon was more than happy to join the nut brigade. “I love the wild abandon in Eric’s story and the idea of illustrating a nutty nocturne appeals to my own childhood.”

Bedtime at the Nut House, which will have a 100,000-copy first printing, will be followed by a yet-untitled second Nuts picture book in fall 2015, also illustrated by Magoon. Two early readers are due in spring 2016.

This will be Litwin’s first foray into early readers, and he said he’s excited about creating “musical” books for that age level. “I always have beginning readers in mind when I write my books, because I want children to feel empowered as readers,” he explained. “I’ve received many e-mails, and often get approached by teachers and parents, telling me about children who are not eager readers who can recite my books cover to cover with joy. Those are the greatest stories to hear, and I attribute it to the power of music.”

Bedtime at the Nut House by Eric Litwin, illus. by Scott Magoon. Little, Brown, $18 Sept. ISBN 978-0-316-32244-7