As Free Spirit Publishing marks its 35th anniversary this year, its mission—creating accessible self-help books for children and young adults—remains constant, even as its target audience has expanded over the years.
“We’re aging down, with more books for toddlers and even younger ages,” says editorial director Marjorie Lisovskis. One example is the Best Behavior board book series, which is geared toward babies, preschoolers, and their caregivers. It launched with Teeth Are Not for Biting by Elizabeth Verdick, illustrated by Marieka Heinlen, which has sold 199,000 print copies since its 2003 publication. The 11th title, Verdick and Heinlen’s Worries Are Not Forever, pubs in October.
The publisher’s picture book list is also booming, with new authors joining in spring 2019. Lisovskis describes Lory Britain’s I’m Happy-Sad Today, illustrated by Matthew Rivera, as one of the few titles designed to help young readers understand complex emotions. How to Take the Ache Out of Mistakes by Kimberly Feltes Taylor and Free Spirit editor Eric Braun, illustrated by Steve Mark, is new to the Laugh and Learn series and will offer lighthearted tips for confronting missteps.
In addition to releasing new books, Free Spirit maintains a backlist of some 300 titles. “We revise any books that are popular in the market, to make sure they’re really current,” Lisovskis says, “so everything continues to be timely and fit the needs of children.”
For instance, the revised and updated third edition of Stick Up for Yourself! by Gershen Kaufman and Lev Raphael, a book that consistently sells a few thousand copies each year, hits shelves in April 2019. “This book is particularly dear to my heart,” says Free Spirit founder and publisher Judy Galbraith. “I field tested it with students in a summer school program before the first edition came out in 1990.”
The forthcoming edition, the first update since 1999, “has been fully refreshed with real-life examples and offers ways for kids to address modern issues, such as cyberbullying,” Galbraith says. “A new chapter helps kids learn strategies for building inner security to cope with powerlessness and uncertainty, and discover ways of protecting themselves when using social media.”
Staying on top of such societal shifts is essential, acquisitions editor Brian Farrey-Latz says. “We’re always on the lookout for new topics. As the world changes, kids face new social-emotional challenges. Thirty years ago, no one had to worry about cyberbullying; this is a uniquely 21st-century problem.” In terms of research, he adds, “We keep a close eye on educational trends in an effort to identify problems that today’s kids are facing, and offer creative suggestions to handle evergreen topics, such as anger management.”
As Free Spirit comes of age, seeking to introduce new voices in the self-help space and revitalize backlist staples, Lisovskis says, “The idea continues to be that young children can be empowered to express themselves.”
And Free Spirit is not the only publisher releasing books for kids and teens in the self-help space. American Girl, Boys Town Press, and Magination are among the companies addressing similar topics, though with different approaches. For a select list of publishers’ new and forthcoming titles, see our "Social and Emotional Learning Booklist."