There are dozens of children’s stories about eggs who make the grade. And The Good Egg (HarperCollins) by Jory John, illustrated by Pete Oswald, has done that in style, by making some impressive sales strides since its February 12 publication. The title debuted on the New York Times Children’s Picture Books bestsellers list dated March 3 in the number 3 slot. For the March 10 NYT list, The Good Egg has rolled up to the number 1 position and is joined by its predecessor, The Bad Seed (HarperCollins, 2017), at number 2. To date, The Good Egg has sold more than 125,000 copies, with The Bad Seed racking up sales of more than 200,000 units, according to the publisher.
“When we first hit the Times list, I danced around the room for a full five minutes,” said John. “It was the most exercise I’ve gotten in a while.” Upon hearing of the one-two punch of the March 10 list, he noted, “I literally had to sit down and take a few deep breaths and just shake my head. It’s just the most unbelievable and surreal thing and I still feel like I’m floating. It hasn’t sunk in for me, yet. I do have a feeling I’ll be framing that copy of the Times, though. I can’t seem to stop smiling.”
Both picture books tackle social and emotional skills with a sense of humor. The Good Egg introduces a bespectacled egg who is so worried about being “verrrrrry good” and standing apart from the rowdy rest of its dozen in the carton that it literally begins to crack from the self-imposed pressure. In The Bad Seed, a sunflower seed lists all of his impulsive misbehaviors, before deciding to change its ways.
In terms of hatching the idea for The Good Egg, Oswald said, “Jory and I thought it would be fun to develop a character that is the opposite of the Bad Seed. Naturally, the Good Egg seemed like a great fit. It’s a nice play on words and it allowed us to expand this food universe. We were drawn to the idea of creating a picture book that focuses on the idea of self-care and not being perfect.”
Margaret Anastas, editorial director at HarperCollins Children’s Books, and the editor for both titles, believes those very themes are at the heart of the books’ appeal to readers “The Bad Seed and The Good Egg are, very simply, loveable, relatable characters but at the same time they are flawed; they are works in progress with great potential,” she said. “And isn’t that a wonderful message for kids?”
The message seems to be getting through, led by critical praise for both books in review journals and feedback from retailers. “In The Good Egg and The Bad Seed, John takes commonly used phrases or stereotypes and gives readers the backstory,” said Margaret Brennan Neville, children’s buyer and manager at The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City. “Both Seed and Egg explain to readers that actions speak louder than labels,” she continued. “I thought both stories were fresh and funny, a different take on something familiar.” She noted that at her store, the titles have had broad appeal. “There is a wide audience for these books, they’re a fun read-aloud, especially for adults that are looking for something smart, with a little heft, and who are avoiding princesses? and trains!” she said. “I like selling this book to teachers, too. Both books are a great starting point for discussions on catchphrases, stereotypes, and point of view, and they work for a wide age range.” The bottom line for Neville, she said, is “I think funny books sell. And when an author combines funny with smart, even better. No one likes being talked down to at any age.”
At Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., new book buyer Kim Tano said, “We’re big fans of Jory John and are so thrilled he moved here to Portland so we can call him a local author! We’ve sold all of his books well and are happy to promote him.” Powell’s Burnside location held a well-attended storytime event for the The Bad Seed in 2017 and hosted John again in support of The Good Egg on March 2.
Oswald has seen first-hand reactions to the books via his various school and bookstore appearances. “I love how kids immediately connect with the Good Egg and the Bad Seed,” he said. “Life is full of both good and bad emotions. It’s nice when the reader can relate with a character to help remind us that we are all human, no one is perfect. Children have an acute awareness about perfectionism so it’s rewarding to see these characters resonate.”
Helping to send the book out into the world, the marketing team at Harper has promoted The Good Egg with such items as a printed storytime event kit that includes a standee, activity booklet, and a set of double-sided “I’m a Good Egg”/“I’m a Bad Seed” masks for attendees to wear. Among the other marketing highlights were a custom mailing of the books and masks to educators and social media influencers, social media promotions featuring custom video assets, and an educator-written guide and downloadable activity sheets which are part of the publisher’s HarperKids Picture Perfect Storytime program.
Planting the Seed
Looking back at the general trajectory of The Bad Seed and The Good Egg, Anastas recalled when she first encountered these projects. “I acquired The Bad Seed as one stand-alone book,” she said. “I was immediately struck by Pete’s edgy artwork and Jory’s absolutely hilarious story. I can remember being on the phone with Kirsten Hall [John and Oswald’s agent] as we read it out loud together and just laughed like we were little kids.” Anastas felt even more certain that she had something special when her reaction was echoed by her colleagues. “The real magic happened when I started to share it in-house,” she said, “and the response from the Harper team was off the charts. They embraced The Bad Seed from the very beginning, and with that, the publishing plan just took off.”
Anastas shared that the publishing plan will eventually include more books, and even additional formats. “It’s always exciting when a picture book is so well received that the conversation about possibly extending the brand starts to happen in-house, which has been the case with these books,” she said. Though the planning is still in its early stages, and very fluid, Anastas offered, “In general, though, we think beginning reader is a perfect place for The Good Egg and The Bad Seed. Visually, the bold characters and the potential of simple humorous word play would be a winning combination in this category. We also see a lot of possibility when it comes to seasonal books, where these characters could really stand out in holiday promotions. I should mention, a favorite office pastime is the offering of potential names for new characters in the series. I can’t walk down the hall these days without someone stopping me!”
Throughout the creative process for these titles, John and Oswald both say they’ve been enjoying their collaboration, even if it’s from afar. “It’s been such a blast to work with Pete, who is not only an amazing artist, but a true friend,” says John. “The funny thing is, we’ve never been in the same room and we’ve never met face-to-face, but hey, maybe that’s part of the magic.”
Their third food-related book, titled The Cool Beans, is already in the works, and is scheduled for release in winter 2020. “Whether we like it or not, the idea of being ‘cool’ is such a huge part of society, especially with kids,” said Oswald, teasing the new project. “What makes someone cool? Why do we care about being cool? ‘Cool’ can be very subjective. I’m really looking forward to exploring this concept and developing another picture book with my pal, Jory.” To which John added, “It’s unlikely that I’d be tackling this subject, mostly because I grew up decidedly uncool. Then again, maybe that’ll help.”