Macmillan’s Roaring Brook Press has secured the rights to publish four titles tied to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, starting with the hardcover Feed Me Words in September 2016. Future titles will include the geography-themed Spell Across America in May 2017 and, in fall 2017, a black-and-white paperback with a lunchbox-note theme. The fourth title is in development.
“The Bee has a mission that is clearly defined and well thought-out,” said Simon Boughton, Roaring Brook’s v-p and publisher. “It goes beyond the Bee and spelling. It’s about the good use of language and giving kids a solid foundation in vocabulary and in the use of language. That dovetails perfectly with our mission as publishers.”
The Scripps Bee recently launched a licensing program with agent Moxie & Co., and books represent its first branded products. “We think that a child’s ability to use words, to read, speak, and write, is an important component of a successful life,” said Paige Kimble, executive director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee (and its 1981 national champion). “What we know about the students who do well in the Bee is that it all began with reading. They’re avid readers. Their parents read to them early and often and were intentional about what they read.”
The National Spelling Bee began in 1925 and has been owned by E.W. Scripps since 1941. The program starts each year with 11 million children in tens of thousands of elementary and middle school and community spelling bees. Fewer than 300 kids make it through the various levels to the May finals, which have been broadcast on ESPN for more than 20 years. Every May and June, the Bee generates more than 635 million impressions, including 579 million through traditional media, and 60 million through social media.
Boughton notes that the viewership and media visibility surrounding the National Spelling Bee finals was attractive to the publisher, as was the Bee’s presence in front of students, teachers, and community groups throughout the year. “From a business standpoint, they have incredible reach,” he said.
The fact that the Bee is on ESPN is fitting, since the event is competitive, like sports, said Anne Diebel, senior creative director at Roaring Brook. “The Bee makes academics cool,” she added. “When we went to the finals, we saw how the Scripps people have been raising young scholars up to the level that young athletes have had in the U.S. for a long time.”
The food theme of Feed Me Words reflects the ties between reading and mealtimes in many families. “We’re appealing to a broad audience of emerging readers of elementary ages and their families who want to make language part of their daily routine,” Boughton said. “We thought about the touchpoints in the family day to find places where the books would fit into daily life.”
The editorial process was a collaboration between the Bee, Roaring Brook, freelance writer Kris Hirschmann, and illustrator James Hindle. The Bee provided the publisher with lists of words it wanted Hirschmann to draw on, as well as an introduction by Dr. Jacques Bailly, the Bee’s official pronouncer and the winner of the 1980 National Spelling Bee, as well as some fun facts about the Bee that are scattered throughout the book. Feed Me Words also features interactive exercises, short lessons, tips and tricks, and activities.