Candlewick Press is publishing a new series of jacketed hardcovers for children with British designer Jo Ham, founder of HAM Editions and creator of Rabbit, the character featured in HAM’s flagship product lines. The first two titles will launch on September 12, through Candlewick in the U.S. and its sister company Walker Books in the U.K. and Australia.
Ham created Rabbit after a cancer diagnosis made her appreciate the small moments in life. “Rabbit, who I’d first drawn at college, became the mouthpiece of this movement,” she said. “Playful and full of humor, this clumsy, bravehearted character allowed me to use a simple silhouette to shine a light on the joy of the everyday.”
The character, always depicted in black-and-white silhouette, with occasional pops of gold leaf or color, is seen enjoying life’s simple pleasures, from watering a plant to jumping on a trampoline. “Jo’s striking silhouettes are expressive, playful, and funny, but they also offer huge appeal in their timeless minimalism and fresh sophistication,” said Karen Lotz, Candlewick’s group managing director, president, and publisher.
Rabbit appears on ceramics, textiles, prints, and greeting cards, sold in independent gift, home, book, apparel, and stationery shops and museum stores around the world, including West Elm, Colette Paris, Topshop, and Liberty; Cursive, Odin, and Measure Twice in New York City; and the Centre Pompidou in Paris and Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Collaboration partners have included The Body Shop, Mini, and Moncler, among many others. HAM’s Instagram site, devoted to Rabbit, has more than 85,000 followers.
Donna Cassanova, character publisher at Walker Books, first discovered HAM and Rabbit in 2013. She ordered some Skiing Rabbit cards to send out as holiday greetings that year, and when the delivery arrived at the office she found a note from Jo in the box, saying that she loved Walker Books and had a picture book idea. While that initial concept did not come to fruition, the conversations continued. In April 2020, as the Covid lockdown hit, Jo revisited the idea of creating books for children.
“Over the next two years, with detailed input from the character team on text and design direction, Jo created the small books that honor the established brand identity that existing customers have come to associate with Rabbit, and that also play to the strength of Rabbit’s wonderful body language and the innate slapstick humor that will appeal to small children,” said Katie Ring, editorial liaison at Candlewick Press. After regular Zoom meetings to share illustrations and discuss ideas, the first books were born.
The inaugural titles are Yippee! Rabbit, which focuses on the concepts of stop and go, and Uh-Oh! Rabbit, which examines up and down. A third title, Oops! Rabbit, planned for March 2024, highlights the concepts of on and off. More titles are planned for 2024, including potentially some holiday and bedtime books.
The process has been rewarding creatively for Ham. “Prior to the books, my illustrations typically captured a snapshot of Rabbit happily going about daily life,” she said. “Whilst this is still very much at the heart of what I do, the books have allowed me to go beyond those moments in time, broadening Rabbit’s story and building the character.”
The books have been well-received at trade previews and at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, where Walker and Candlewick’s stand featured a Rabbit wall.
“Jo is such a conscious creator, and really respects her retail partners,” Lotz said. “Plus, her fans are extremely dedicated. The way she has built her brand to date across various products and categories is inspiring, and we feel there will be a fantastic opportunity in bookselling to experience a little bit of the Ham magic.”