One way to help children become lifelong readers is to instill in them an appreciation for older titles—classics that speak to generations of fans, volumes that have left the new books table for the crowded paperback shelves. Children’s publishers know the value of the backlist, and over the coming months several presses are putting promotional muscle behind already published titles.
When it comes to promoting an established book, publishers have a design choice to make. Do they commit to the original cover and aesthetics, in a bet on its recognizability? Or do they give it a refreshed look in an effort to give it new life? This season sees case studies in each method.
Scholastic is orchestrating a backlist campaign around the bestselling middle grade graphic novels of Raina Telgemeier, four of which have won Eisner awards. To promote the titles during an off year for the author, the publisher will offer gift-with-purchase buttons that reference the books’ covers; other promotional plans include social media initiatives and a new book trailer.
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers is pursuing a different design strategy with its 10th anniversary reissue of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, about an art student in Prague and her dealings with the supernatural. The paperback boxed set features three redesigned covers, a new author’s note, and excerpts from Taylor’s sketchbooks. Alvina Ling, v-p and editor-in-chief at LBYR, says the books’ original covers “are pretty iconic, but they were feeling a little dated to us.” With redesigns, she says, the question is always, “Do we want to fit into the aesthetics of what’s selling right now or do we want to feel different?”
Art director Karina Granda says the Smoke and Bone repackaging strikes a compromise. “Over the past few years the YA market has become very illustration-heavy, so we wanted to pursue covers that met the expectations of potential new readers of this series,” she says. At the same time, Granda found that “many books in this space are very dark or monochromatic,” so she commissioned artist Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic, whose art is “neon and vibrant and emotional.”
The idea, Granda says, is to “appeal to the teens of a new decade.” This speaks to the goal of backlist promotion more generally: to give a book another shot at the front.
Ahead of the September publication of Three Keys by Kelly Yang (Scholastic Press, ages 8–12), which PW’s starred review called the “complex yet accessible” sequel to her 2018 debut, Front Desk, Scholastic is promoting the first book on social media and will feature Yang on its online children’s platform Home Base.
The books follow Mia Tang, a tween who works at a motel with her Chinese American immigrant family. Front Desk, which won the 2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature, has sold 97,000 print copies since its release, and sales of the 2019 trade paperback have been on the upswing in recent weeks. PW’s starred review of Front Desk called Mia’s story “one of indefatigable hope and of triumph over injustice.”
Similarly, the Quarto group hopes to give a second lift to recent backlist children’s titles that are up-to-the-minute in their focus on diversity and identity. 2019’s The Power Book (Ivy Kids, ages 7–11), which features an international roster of authors and illustrators and includes a foreword by Roxane Gay, discusses such cultural heroes as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., and draws attention to power imbalances throughout society. Angela Corpus, senior marketing manager at Quarto, says she plans to offer this and other children’s titles to educators as curricular supplements this fall. “We’re trying to find ways that we can support teachers with our books,” she says, whether that help comes in the form of videos from the book’s authors or activities that teachers can incorporate into lessons plans.
Corpus has similar aims for Step into Your Power (ages 9–12) by Jamia Wilson, executive director and publisher at Feminist Press. The book, illustrated by Andrea Pippens, was published by Quarto imprint Wide Eyed Editions in 2019 and aims to help young readers reckon with their identity by offering inspiration and laying out strategies for overcoming obstacles. Quarto is promoting Step into Your Power in conjunction with other middle grade books by Wilson: the recently released Big Ideas for Young Thinkers and 2018’s Young, Gifted, and Black. Together, Corpus says, the titles help young readers “ask big questions and find answers.”