This week, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers is publishing the third hardcover picture book in the Little Blue Truck series, Good Night, Little Blue Truck. The release marks the end of a 10-year hiatus since Blue was last featured in the picture book format. The franchise, which has filled the gap with a number of successful novelty titles and spin-off formats, has sold more than eight million copies since the publication of the first title, Little Blue Truck, in 2008. The new book has an announced first printing of 250,000 copies.
“What young kids love more than anything is story, so we thought, let’s do another real story,” said the series’ author, Alice Schertle. “My heart is in picture books and it was great fun to dig a little bit deeper into story this time.”
The book is illustrated by John Joseph in the style of the late Jill McElmurry, the original artist, who died in 2017. “You always kind of hold your breath, because the image the illustrators create can’t be the image that you have in your mind,” Schertle said. “But I was absolutely delighted with Jill’s illustrations. Every illustration is a smile.”
The first two picture books, Little Blue Truck and Little Blue Truck Leads the Way (2009), are available in board, big book, audio, Spanish-language, and digital formats, and Yottoy sells plush figures of Blue. A padded board book edition of Little Blue Truck will be added to the list in June 2020.
“The book has had an interesting life channelwise,” said Mary Wilcox, v-p and associate publisher. “We first published the jacketed hardcover picture book and it was well-received. But then we did the board book. That’s where the sales exploded, and the first explosion was in the mass market channel.”
A few years later came the novelty books featuring interactive elements such as lift-the-flaps and lights. The roster includes Little Blue Truck Farm Sticker Fun! (2013), Little Blue Truck’s Christmas (2014), Little Blue Truck’s Beep-Along Book (2015), Little Blue Truck’s Halloween (2016), and Little Blue Truck’s Springtime (2018). A Valentine’s Day title with foil accents and a gatefold will debut in December 2020.
“We saw a number of crafts and costumes on social media, especially for birthdays and Halloween,” said Alex Preziosi, senior editor, who works with Schertle on the series. “We knew kids wanted to live with the character all year long, especially on their favorite days.” While the board book of the first title remains the franchise’s all-time bestseller, the holiday books rise to the top seasonally.
To promote Good Night, Little Blue Truck, HMH is targeting parents, gift givers, teachers, and librarians with advertising and social media messaging and offering retailers a printed event kit with coloring sheets, stickers, and a door hanger to encourage them to host pajama parties. Barnes & Noble stores are holding Good Night, Little Blue Truck-themed storytime events on October 18. The promotional campaign will continue through the holidays and transition into a year-long brand effort.
Meanwhile, HMH will reissue Mad About Plaid, the first picture book McElmurry wrote and illustrated, with a refreshed cover, on the same day the Little Blue Truck padded board book comes out. HarperCollins originally published the title in 2000.
The new Little Blue Truck picture book has all the attributes for which the franchise is known, according to senior v-p and publisher Cat Onder. “Good Night, Little Blue Truck takes all of the series’ strengths and combines them with a bedtime setting that we believe makes this an irresistible entry,” she said.
“My son was the perfect age for Blue when it first came out, and he responded to the cheerfulness of the artwork and the text, and the dump truck drama,” Wilcox said. Preziosi’s son is the right age for the books now. “He loves the rhymes and the fun animals sounds,” she said. “I love the message of helping others and showing kindness.”
“The world of Blue and his friends is the world of very little kids,” Schertle explained. “It’s about child-sized problems and observations that help the very young tackle the world as they see it.”