A number of publishers have launched children’s lines in recent years, as books for young readers continue to thrive in an otherwise stagnant marketplace. This fall, four indie presses distributed by Consortium Books & Distribution are expanding beyond their well-established adult niches by publishing children’s books.
One is releasing its first children’s book, while another that already published a bestseller for kids is releasing its first YA title. Another press, which has published several children’s books, is releasing a picture book for the first time, as well as the YA edition of a book for adult readers. And a fourth press—headquartered in Australia—is expanding its presence in the U.S. market by launching a stateside children’s imprint.
School of Life
School of Life Press, the three-year-old publishing arm of the School of Life, a global self-help organization founded in 2008 by philosopher and author Alain de Botton and based in London, is publishing Big Ideas for Curious Minds (Sept.), one of seven frontlist titles on its fall list for the U.S. market. The book is aimed at children ages four and up.
According to publishing manager Srijana Gurung, Big Ideas for Curious Minds was inspired by the success of a recent adult bestseller for the press, Great Thinkers, a compilation of the schools of thought advanced by 60 philosophers, including Confucius, Lao Tzu, and Karl Marx.
School of Life Press publishes “thoughtful, well-designed, and accessible books about philosophy, psychology, and the self,” Gurung says. “Children are naturally inquisitive and unafraid of asking complex questions about the world around them. Publishing a title aimed at helping younger readers examine and answer these questions seemed like the next logical step for us.”
Though Big Ideas for Curious Minds is the first children’s book published by the School of Life Press, it will not be the last. Gurung disclosed that the publisher already has several children’s titles in development scheduled for 2020.
City Lights Publishers may not be able to repeat the runaway success of its 2015 release Rad American Women, A–Z: Rebels, Trailblazers and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History... and Our Future by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl, which has 150,000 copies in print after 10 trips to press. But the publishing arm of San Francisco’s iconic City Lights bookstore is confident that Troublemaker for Justice: The Story of Bayard Rustin, the Man Behind the March on Washington by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle, and Michael G. Long (Aug.) is an appropriate follow-up to that initial foray into children’s publishing.
Publisher Elaine Katzenberger maintains that City Lights is not going to launch a children’s line anytime soon, but it will continue to publish books that complement its adult list of poetry, literary fiction, and nonfiction titles that emphasize social and political issues. Troublemaker for Justice is the biography of a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, which advocated for civil and economic rights for African-Americans; it was there that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
“If we’re going to publish a book for this market, this is the perfect book,” Katzenberger says. “It’s a beautiful, beautiful project, being a book about a gay black man who was an activist for peace and justice and a leader in the civil rights movement. We’re looking for projects where the subject matter adds up to the kind of book that City Lights would be behind. We’re not going to do books about bunnies.”
Troublemaker for Justice was previously published five years ago by the Quaker Press of the Friends General Conference as Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist. Katzenberger explains that the differences between the two editions primarily involve production tweaks. City Lights “ramped up” the design, Katzenberger says, and gave the book a new cover to make it more appealing to teen readers. The initial print run will be 3,000 copies.
Disclosing that the press received a number of proposals for children’s book projects since publishing Rad American Women, Katzenberger says that the book “opened up a door that Troublemaker for Justice walked through.”
Haymarket Books, the publishing arm of Chicago’s left-wing Center for Economic Research and Social Change, doesn’t often publish children’s books, but when it does, the titles fit seamlessly into the press’s niche. This fall, Haymarket will release its debut picture book, Missing Daddy by Mariame Kaba, illustrated by Bria Royal (Sept.), about a girl whose father is serving time in prison. The first printing will be 5,000 copies.
Haymarket is publishing Missing Daddy, managing editor Julie Fain says, simply because it both fills a need in contemporary children’s literature and “fits in with the mission and vision” of Haymarket Books—one of “taking stories of people who are marginalized and giving them a life in book form.”
Haymarket is also publishing a YA edition of Things That Make White People Uncomfortable (Sept.), by activist athlete Michael Bennett, which was released for adult readers in spring 2018 and is an examination of racism and police violence.
The publisher first moved into children’s books in 2006 with A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird, with Sonia Nimr, a YA novel about a 12-year-old Palestinian boy’s life under military occupation in Ramallah. “It’s one of our bestsellers, weirdly,” Fain says of the novel, which has sold 26,000 copies to date.
In the 13 years since, Haymarket has published a half-dozen books for middle grade and YA readers, including two more novels by Laird. “Children’s books are about children being able to see themselves,” she says. “We’re trying go beyond the mainstream and push the envelope like we did with A Little Piece of Ground, addressing a controversial social issue in a way that has a real impact rather than an incremental one.”
This past spring, Haymarket published Cinderella Liberator by Rebecca Solnit, featuring vintage illustrations by Arthur Rackham. Solnit, who is well-known among adult readers for such critiques of politics and popular culture as Men Explain Things to Me, reimagines the fairy tale in her debut children’s book. There are 35,000 copies in print after two print runs.
As for the YA edition of Things That Make White People Uncomfortable, Haymarket’s intention is to bring teen readers into a highly topical national conversation by adapting Bennett’s book for them while it simultaneously issues a paperback edition of the original. The first print run is 15,000–20,000 copies.
“Young people can be such catalysts for change,” Fain says, noting that Things That Make White People Uncomfortable did not require a “total rewrite,” as Bennett had always intended it to reach a wide audience. Concepts discussed in the book are explained in age-appropriate language where necessary, and the cover was changed for the YA edition.
“We didn’t dumb it down,” Fain says. “We made it more accessible. After all, activism is not just for adults.”
Though Fain says that Haymarket may or may not officially launch a children’s imprint, it does have another picture book in the works for 2020 and “maybe a board book, another first for the press,” potentially on the horizon.
“We’re a mission-driven press: our responsibility is to identify our audience and reach them however we can,” Fain says. “The good news is that parents are demanding feminist and antiracist books for their children. And booksellers and librarians are clamoring for these kinds of books: they’re aware that their audience wants and needs such books.”
Scribe Publications, based in Melbourne, Australia, has published fiction and nonfiction with an emphasis on politics, current affairs, biography, and history for more than 40 years. After introducing its adult list in the U.S. in 2017, this fall it is moving into children’s publishing with the U.S. launch of its children’s imprint, Scribble.
Scribble, which debuted in Australia and the U.K. in 2016 and has about 25 illustrated books in print to date, received the Bologna Prize for the Best Children’s Publisher of the Year for the Oceania region this past April.
Mariam Rosenbloom, Scribble’s publisher and Scribe’s creative director, says that her background in art and design helped her realize that there was a need in the Australian children’s book market “for beautifully illustrated, well-designed, and highly produced books that told stories about children’s modern worlds,” and that reflected Scribe’s commitment to social justice.
Scribe U.S. will release about 30 titles this fall and in spring 2020, including four titles under the Scribble imprint, three of them picture books and one an activity book with photos. Scribble’s lead title this fall, All the Ways to Be Smart (Sept.) by Davina Bell, illustrated by Allison Colpoys, was a bestseller in Australia, having sold 40,000 copies there to date. It recently won picture book of the year at the Australian Book Industry Awards, and rights have been sold in seven countries so far.
Scribble’s other fall and spring releases include another book by Bell and Colpoys, Under the Love Umbrella (Jan. 2020); Doodle Cat Wears a Cape by Kat Patrick, illustrated by Lauren Farrell (Oct.); and Watch This! A Book About Making Shapes by Jane Godwin, Beci Orpin, and Hilary Walker (Mar. 2020). Scribble will publish four titles its first year in the U.S. market, but afterward, it plans to publish six to eight releases annually by international writers and illustrators.
Beginning in fall 2020, Scribble will publish simultaneously in Australia, North America, and the U.K. Cursor Marketing Services will be responsible for marketing and publicity efforts stateside for both Scribe U.S. and the fledgling imprint.
Describing Scribble’s list, Cursor Marketing principal Emily Cook says that it is “unlike the books you see coming from the big houses now.” She adds, “These are books with emotional intelligence. They remain true to what children grapple with, and the diversity in them doesn’t feel like tokenism.”