Chronicle Books has acquired Handprint Books, and the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based children’s book publisher will become a Chronicle imprint beginning with its fall 2008 list. Handprint, which was founded in 2000 by former Dutton president and publisher Christopher Franceschelli, has been distributed by Chronicle since its inception. Chronicle will continue to distribute select titles for Franceschelli’s other company, SmartInk Books, which packages picture books for international and domestic companies including Penguin and Scholastic, and publishes a few books under its own name as well.

Franceschelli will head Handprint from Brooklyn, which is just one benefit that Bill Boedeker, children’s publishing director at Chronicle, sees in the new relationship. “It’s great to have Christopher in New York as [a set of] eyes and ears working for us,” he says. “Having Christopher increases our bandwidth.” Boedeker points to Franceschelli’s industry experience and contacts as additional advantages.

Franceschelli also sees multiple benefits in Handprint becoming a Chronicle imprint. “Over time it’s become clear that it’s hardly easy to be a completely independent small publisher,” he says. “You want to be able to say to an author or artist, ‘We’re going to market your books every bit that they deserve.’ I felt that someone like Chronicle is in a much better position than I am.”

Chronicle will handle Handprint’s contracts, royalties, marketing and production, which will allow Franceschelli to concentrate on the books editorially. “My joy in publishing is the shaping of books,” he says, “not in figuring out how to get three different estimates from printers or getting a royalty statement made up—the essential, but perhaps not as pleasurable, bits.”

Chronicle will have editorial input in his lists and pay the advances and royalties, “so we’ll definitely be involved,” Boedeker says. But he agrees that having Franceschelli focus on editorial content is a key part of the new arrangement. “We wanted to allow him the creative freedom to go and explore and make discoveries on his own,” he says.

Franceschelli says he had founded Handprint as “a place where I could publish idiosyncratic but hopefully also very saleable books,” and that while he had the ability to publish a broad array of titles during his tenure at Dutton, “the size of the house meant I was becoming ever more removed from the books.” He first approached Chronicle about distributing Handprint’s books because he felt they had compatible publishing philosophies and because of Chronicle’s commitment to its children’s and adult titles alike, strengths that Franceschelli believes will continue to be an asset in the companies’ new relationship. “I wanted to be able to rely on someone like Chronicle who had the clout to be a presence both in the trade and in the institutional market, and who also shared quite a similar and independent vision of what publishing is,” he says. Handprint currently has a backlist of around 40 titles.

Handprint’s first list as a Chronicle imprint will consist of a single title, Mama’s Kiss by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Dan Baxter (the illustrator’s debut book). The imprint is scheduled to issue four to six titles annually, but both Franceschelli and Boedeker agree that the list sizes are not set in stone. “We have an easy relationship with Christopher,” Boedeker says. “It’s more the process of discovery that we’re looking forward to. Christopher has always felt like part of the family, and this formalizes that relationship.”