Recruited into the ranks of a top-secret bodyguard squad, teenage kickboxing champion Connor Reeves tackles the tricky assignment of protecting the U.S. President’s impulsive daughter from a terrorist cell in Recruit, the first novel in Chris Bradford’s Bodyguard series. On May 9, Philomel will release that title, as well as the next three installments, Hostage, Hijack, and Ransom. And the publisher won’t keep fans waiting long for Connor’s further adventures: the fifth and sixth Bodyguard titles will pub in the fall, and the next two are due in spring 2018.

British author Bradford, whose earlier series, Young Samurai, is published in the U.S. by Disney-Hyperion, has accrued an extensive fan base overseas. When Recruit was released in the U.K. in 2014, it was awarded the Brilliant Book Award and the Hampshire Book Award, and rights to the series were subsequently sold to publishers in France, Germany, Poland, and the Netherlands. To date, Bradford’s various novels have been published in more than 20 languages and have garnered 30-plus children’s book award nominations around the world.

The premise of Bodyguard came to Bradford while he was riding in a car with his father, en route to a book festival. “We were listening to a radio program about security, and I heard a close protection officer say that the best bodyguards are the ones no one notices,” he recalled. “That single line triggered an idea, and during our one-hour journey, I planned the book series. Young Samurai had been a big success and I’d been looking for an idea for a new series. And the idea for Bodyguard exploded in my head—almost fully formed.”

Taking the notion of writing what you know to heart, the author embarked on an intensive close protection course to become a qualified professional bodyguard. During his training in unarmed combat, tactical firearms, threat assessments, surveillance, and anti-ambush tactics, Bradford acquired the same skills that his protagonist, Connor, uses in his role as bodyguard.

“It was one of the best experiences in my life—and one of the hardest,” said Bradford of his training. “I learned so much—it’s knowledge I will use for the rest of my life.” And, he added, it was important to him that the protection techniques Connor practices in the Bodyguard novels, and that the author demonstrates in his interactive book presentations to readers, be authentic and engaging. “Kids are so very aware and astute, and it’s impossible to pull the wool over their eyes,” he said. “I wanted the books to be genuine, and to be relevant to kids today.”

Brian Geffen, Bradford’s editor at Philomel, praised the author for his “unusually hands-on” approach to writing: “Chris’s research, training, and writing bring a level of authenticity, and a breadth and depth to his characters and his stories. Kids are going to love seeing Connor’s strategies and gadgets in action—though we do have a warning at the beginning of each book about readers not trying the techniques themselves.”

Mission: Binge Reading

In a nod to the contemporary binge-watching culture, Philomel’s accelerated publishing schedule will bring eight Bodyguard novels into the marketplace within the span of a year. The company has created a new format model for the series, breaking each of Bradford’s original novels into two separate trade paperback installments to make the books more accessible to and affordable for a middle-grade audience. (The heftier European editions were marketed primarily to YA readers.)

It was a reformatting challenge that Bradford eagerly accepted. “I love the whole concept of binge reading—it’s brilliant,” he said. “Breaking up the books makes the stories more digestible, and if you’re lucky enough to hook a reader with the right balance of good characters and action, that reader can move on to the next book right away. In the U.K. and Germany, where the series has had very strong sales, readers had to wait an entire year for the next book, but Americans will be able to get the first four books all at once.”

Tweaking plot beginnings and conclusions to fit Bodyguard’s new formatting entailed a bit of a juggling act for the author. “It meant going back to work on a book I had written a couple of years earlier, while at the same time working on an entirely new novel I was writing at the time, and promoting yet another novel,” he recalled. “That was the trickiest part—my brain was all over the place!”

On the plus side, he added, “Since my books work in cliffhangers, there were natural places in the four original books to end one story and start the next. And one thing was really cool: I was able to fix a plot hole I had discovered in Recruit, though no one else had picked up on it, and I had the chance to make the new edition as perfect as it could be. So American readers will be able to read the definitive version, which no one else has read yet!”

Other material Bradford added to the Philomel editions has the attention-grabbing quality of television series. “Each novel opens with a recap and vignettes from the preceding story, which are reminiscent of ‘previously seen on…’ clips at the start of TV shows,” Geffen said. “They give the books a cinematic feel, and let readers know where Connor’s prior adventures left off. Chris also wanted kids to be able to know what had happened earlier if they pick up a book out of sequence.”

Penguin Young Readers Group has a 100,000-copy first printing on order for Recruit, and is printing 75,000 copies each of Hostage, Hijack, and Ransom. The publisher will support the series’ launch with consumer advertising targeting parents and kids. For retailers, the publisher has created a mixed 18-copy floor display, bookmarks, and a shelf talker—and posters touting “The Bodyguard Is Guarding This Door” and “Rules for Being a Bodyguard.”

In addition to encouraging kids to read for pleasure, Bradford, a self-described “flag waver for literacy,” hopes that his series provides kids with “a nice sort of escapism and entertainment, while empowering them to deal with the reality of today’s world. I want the books to help kids learn the importance of common sense and looking out for and protecting one another—which is a key message I want to pass along to my own two young sons. The fact that this is what the Bodyguard books are all about is very personal, exciting, and important, to me.”

Bodyguard, Book 1: Recruit by Chris Bradford. Philomel, $8.99 May ISBN 978-1-5247-3697-2

Bodyguard, Book 2: Hostage by Chris Bradford. Philomel, $8.99 May ISBN 978-1-5247-3699-6

Bodyguard, Book 3: Hijack by Chris Bradford. Philomel, $8.99 May ISBN 978-1-5247-3701-6

Bodyguard, Book 4: Ransom by Chris Bradford. Philomel, $8.99 May ISBN 978-1-5247-3703-0