In a two-book preempt, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers has acquired Wow in the World: The Human Body by Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz, the creators and hosts of the hit National Public Radio children’s podcast, Wow in the World. Plans are to publish the book in spring 2021 with a second title to follow.
Wow in the World: Human Body will be a full-color, illustrated nonfiction book aimed at readers seven to 10 and will reflect the flavor of the podcast, which investigates topics in science, technology, and innovation via stories that blend information, trivia, and silliness. The weekly half-hour show features several recordings of kids who have called in to share favorite ‘wow in the world’ facts via voice mail. Additionally, listeners can find links to experiments, crafts, articles, book lists, printables, merchandise, and more on the podcast’s website.
Produced by Tinkercast, Thomas and Raz’s podcast company, and distributed by NPR, Wow in the World frequently tops the iTunes and other podcast charts in the kids and family category, and has been downloaded more than 26 million times since its 2017 debut. The show’s enthusiastic fans, known as “Wowzers,” also turn out in force for live theater shows—Wow in the World Pop Up Parties—hosted by Raz and Thomas, which have been selling out at venues across the country.
Raz and Thomas are enthusiastic about adapting their audio work for print, which, in some ways, feels like a logical step for them. In a separate 2018 book deal with HMH, Raz signed on to adapt one of his podcasts for adults—How I Built This—for print. That title, How I Built This: Lessons in Life and Business from the World’s Greatest Innovators, Entrepreneurs, and Idealists, is scheduled for fall 2020.
According to Raz, the spark for launching Wow in the World in 2017 arose from a shared concern—with Thomas, and with other parents they both knew—about kids having too much screentime. “Our worry is that we don’t know what all this screentime will mean for the way kids experience the world,” Raz said. “We wanted to take the spirit of an analog world, where people listened to the radio and read newspapers and physical books, and use the tools of the digital age—podcasting—to offer up an alternative to screens. We had a hunch that if we could produce a show as good as a cartoon, but embedded with real science, we could get kids to ask for it instead of a video. We deliberately wrote Wow in the World to be a ‘visual’ show, even though it’s for the ear. It’s designed to build a vivid world inside the mind.”
Thomas agrees with Raz’s characterization. “From the beginning, we’ve written and produced Wow in the World in such a visual way using sound,” she said. “Adding actual illustrations and photography to our words is something we’re really excited to explore in this book.” And, Thomas noted, the nature of the authors’ extensive podcast experience has informed their process when it comes to developing content for a new format. “The spirit of Wow in the World has always been to rethink the obvious when sharing scientific information,” she said. “And if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the hundreds of scientists whose work we’ve covered, it’s that they take that same offbeat approach to their research. Scientists and kids see and question the world in very similar ways, and we definitely take cues from both when creating the show and now this book. There have been lots of laughs plotting out these pages, and if we’ve done our job, kids will have a whole new appreciation for their weird and wondrous human bodies!”
Amy Cloud, senior editor at HMH BFYR, who acquired world English rights for the project from Steven Malk at Writers House, said that Wow in the World: Human Body will be a good fit with her company’s “rich history of publishing meaningful, award-winning nonfiction.” From the outset, she and her entire team found the concept compelling. “I had already listened to the podcast and loved the dynamic between Mindy and Guy—and Reggie the pigeon [Thomas’s fictional pet pigeon], of course—so I was excited from the moment I heard the pitch,” Cloud recalled. “But the proposal totally blew me away—the voice, the humor, and the way they made complicated science concepts not only engaging and fun, but relevant to a kid’s everyday life. It was clear to me that Team Wow had that special something that a children’s book editor is always looking for: the ability to think like kids.”