The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio, has launched a children’s book publishing program, with the mission of extending the zoo’s reach to children everywhere. The nonfiction books, which will be written by local authors, will tell stories about actual animals at the zoo, as well about special programs there. The books will include photographs taken at the zoo, which was named the #1 zoo in the country in 2009 by the USA Travel Guide. The Columbus Zoo is home to 5,000 animals from 700 species and has almost two million visitors each year.

The book program was initiated by the Zoo’s former executive director, Jeff Swanagan, who died unexpectedly in June 2009. The program’s packager is School Street Media, which was started up by Tanya Anderson, founding editorial director of Darby Creek Publishing, after Darby Creek was sold to Lerner Publishing Group this past January.

The first two titles in the Columbus Zoo’s publishing program, which are out this month, are: Frenemies for Life: Cheetahs and Anatolian Shepherd Dogs by Dr. John Becker, the story of two cheetahs and two Anatolian shepherd dogs which have been raised together at the Zoo; and Beco’s Big Year: A Baby Elephant Turns One by Linda Stanek, about the first year in the life of a baby Asian elephant. Both titles were released with 10,000-copy first print runs, half in hardcover, half in paper.

Columbus Zoo intends to release three or four titles each year, and has one title scheduled to date for release next spring: Colo’s Story: The Life of One Grand Gorilla, the story of the oldest gorilla born in captivity.

The books are currently available at Columbus Zoo gift shops, local bookstores, and online. Lerner Publishing Group will handle all other sales, as well as subsidiary rights and distribution of the books. A portion of the profits made from sales of the Columbus Zoo’s publications will be donated to wildlife conservation programs.