Melissa Medina and Fredrik Colting, co-founders of new publishing company Moppet Books, were visiting family in Kansas last Christmas, when they got the idea for KinderGuides, a line of illustrated children’s learning guides based on classic films and works of literature.
“There’s nothing to do in Kansas but read books,” said Colting, who was reading The Old Man and the Sea when Melissa’s niece asked him about his novel. “I felt like I had to come up with a good answer within 10 seconds to keep her attention span. We told her about the book and then the penny sort of dropped between Melissa and me. We tasaid, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be amazing if we could make classic novels more presentable for children?’ ”
That question lead the couple to discover a gap in the market. “When we first had the idea, we were sure that they already existed,” said Medina. “There’s CliffsNotes and SparkNotes and all the websites that do educational books for readers,” Colting added, “so we thought there must be some for younger children too but we didn’t find any.” When they discovered that nothing like KinderGuides existed, they knew they had to get moving quickly.
Colting, who gained some notoriety for being sued by J.D. Salinger, worked in publishing in Sweden at Nicotext; Medina worked in art direction in New York City for most of her career. They combined their experience in publishing and design to found Moppet Books, with KinderGuides as its first division. The aim was to create design-focused books that guide early readers through classic works of literature and film.
While the target age is six and up, the couple say the books have wider appeal. Medina said KinderGuides are for “kids that are learning to read already but are also still being read to at night.” But she added that they are receiving interest from older kids and even adults that are fans of the novels they’ve chosen for KinderGuides. “We’ve had interest from Urban Outfitters,” added Colting, highlighting the books’ high design elements. Medina and Colting see an additional potential audience: English-language learners. “We’ve had that point brought up a lot, about how people in ESL programs will choose children’s books to have an earlier reading experience,” said Medina, “and this is like killing two birds with one stone because they are also familiarizing themselves with the culture.”
This October Moppet Books will release the first four titles in the series: KinderGuides for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey, On the Road, and The Old Man and the Sea.
Medina emphasized that they didn’t just want to turn the classics into children’s versions, but “bigger picture” books about classics. To make the guides kid-friendly, each features a story summary, a section about the life of the author, key words, main characters, a quiz, analysis and takeaways from the story. The aim of this interactive format is to encourage readers to engage with the book in a variety of ways.
They also made sure that the books appealed to adults as well. “Half the time parents are the ones reading the book,” said Colting. “We have to keep their interest up, too.”
For guides to titles like On the Road, which contains elements that may not be appropriate for child readers, they focus on conveying the essence. “We don’t need to mention every gory detail,” said Medina. “You still get the spirit of the story, which is about a road trip and about adventure and being free.”
When the pair choose which novel they want to turn into a KinderGuide, they then look for the right illustrator. “We choose a style that really fits the spirit of that story in particular and we like the idea that each one would be a standalone book but through the layout and format all fit together as a series as well,” said Medina. Each book has a unique design to suit the feel of the title. “On the Road should be more like a travel notebook so it’s a little grittier. On the other hand, 2001 is more modern, futuristic and abstract,” said Colting.
Next year they will publish KinderGuides to books like The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. “They’re all classics, but some are a bit more contemporary than others,” said Medina. “It’s not all Pride and Prejudice – not that that’s not a great book, but we just wanted to take a fresher approach, to give a broader scope of what a classic is.”
The plan is to publish two to three KinderGuides per season, as well as other educational series, a travel-inspired series under the KinderGuides umbrella, and original books published under Moppet Books.
For KinderGuides, the ultimate goal is to inspire a love for literature. “Part of our aim is to encourage people to be familiar with these stories so that they want to buy the real novel as soon as they are old enough,” Medina said.
Colting, a life-long book lover, said, “Classics are classics for a reason. Obviously they have something pressing to say about life that’s true 50 years ago, true today, and is going to be true in 50 years. I think it fits well to have children’s guides for classics, because there are these truths that a child can relate to. Like The Old Man and the Sea: You never give up. That’s the takeaway. You don’t give up even if things are hard.”