A lamb does the opposite of what his parents want him to do, a crab deals with his shifting moods, a whale plays hide-and-seek, and a cow thinks her offbeat ideas are brilliant. These scenarios are found in Chris Raschka’s Thingy Things, a picture book series that Abrams Appleseed re-launches on April 8. Hyperion originally released eight books in the series in 2000, including Lamby Lamb and Whaley Whale, which along with the previously unpublished Crabby Crab and Cowy Cow inaugurate Abrams Appleseed’s Thingy Things line. Four more titles are due in the fall.
Two-time Caldecott Medalist Raschka said he found his initial inspiration for the series at home. He wrote the books for, and about, his son, Ingo, now a college freshman. “My own dear son was about three at the time, so that certainly inspired the books,” said the author. “And Ken Geist, then an editor at Hyperion, asked me to consider doing a series about the interior life of toddlers and kindergartners. So I began to pay even more attention to Ingo, and tried to distill as many aspects of his life as possible into what turned out to be 12 Thingy Things books.” The eight titles that Hyperion published had a six-year life, and went out of print in 2006.
Cecily Kaiser, publishing director of Abrams Appleseed, has long been a fan of the series, and has first-hand experience with their toddler appeal. She has a collection of the books at home, and they are the ones that visiting toddlers insist on opening. “I like to show children books I’m working on, but they always seem to just want me to read Thingy Things to them,” she said. “I knew the books were out of print and were selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay, so I thought I’d do some research.”
A call to Raschka’s agent, Brenda Bowen at Greenburger Associates, brought some good news: rights to the series were available. “And then Brenda told me that on top of that, Chris had created four other books in the series that had never been published,” Kaiser said. “It’s very exciting to be able to bring these books back into print for people who were fans the first time around and for readers new to the series.”
The appeal of Thingy Things, in Kaiser’s opinion, is rooted in Raschka’s ability to tap into toddlers’ personalities and proclivities. “At first the books seem inventively random, and I think that’s what makes them funny to adults,” she said. “But as I began working on them, I realized that they are not at all random, but are very methodical. Chris expertly homed in on exactly what makes toddlers tick, and they immediately get it. They’ll say, ‘This is me! I always play hide-and-seek in plain sight – this is my game!’ ”
Plus Ça Change…
Noting that in 2000, more “painterly, classic” children’s books were topping bestseller lists, Kaiser said that this decade has seen a shift in the types of books that score both sales and awards. “I think that the general populace is now reaching for those more random-seeming books with relatively sparse art,” she explained. “Quirky humor has really been embraced. I think the Thingy Things books were very much before their time, and I believe that now is their time.”
Kaiser acquired eight books in the series – the most she’s ever signed up at once – and has options on the remaining four Thingy Things titles. Each of the Abrams Appleseed editions features a slightly increased trim size and a redesigned cover that showcases the title character against a white backdrop.
“I really respect the series’s original design, so we didn’t want to do a complete redesign,” she said. “We made the covers lighter and fresher, and used thicker paper, to make the books look collectible and gifty.” Abrams has had “some nice early response to the books in the gift and toy market, as well as from bookstores,” she added. “And we’ve heard from librarians that they are very excited that the books are back. So far, the series seems to have quite a breadth of appeal.”
Abrams is distributing promotional Thingy Things sticker sheets to booksellers, librarians, and teachers. They will also be available at trade shows and conventions, a number of which Raschka will attend. For retailers, the publisher has created a Thingy Things counter display.
Raschka said he would welcome the chance to create more Thingy Things titles. “The subject matter is limitless, of course, and I’d love to keep going,” he said. “I wrote the books for my son, but the qualities he inspired – the ideas and sense of fun, the joys and worries, the naughtiness and sweetness – will always be in toddlers everywhere.”
Crabby Crab by Chris Raschka. Abrams Appleseed, $6.95 Apr. ISBN 978-1-4197-1056-8
Whaley Whale by Chris Raschka. Abrams Appleseed, $6.95 Apr. ISBN 978-1-4197-1058-2
Lamby Lamb by Chris Raschka. Abrams Appleseed, $6.95 Apr. ISBN 978-1-4197-1057-5
Cowy Cow by Chris Raschka. Abrams Appleseed, $6.95 Apr. ISBN 978-1-4197-1055-1