Gecko Press, a six-year-old children’s book publisher in New Zealand, is entering the U.S. and Canadian markets by partnering with Lerner Publishing Group’s new book distribution division, Lerner Publishing Services. Gecko will work with LPS to publish the company’s key frontlist titles, ranging from board books to preteen novels, that have been adapted for the North American market.

Gecko decided to partner with Lerner after discussions with “many publishers and distributors over a number of years,” in the words of Gecko publisher Julia Marshall, convinced company executives that Lerner best suited its needs. “They are very respected in the industry; they are very enthusiastic about Gecko Press books; and I like them as people,” Marshall said in an email interview, adding that she’d visited Lerner’s offices in Minneapolis last year, and was impressed with the employees’ “quiet professional pride.” It was also important to Gecko, she said, that its titles not get lost in a larger distributor’s bigger list. Lerner Publishing Services, which was officially launched in May, distributes books for a half-dozen clients.

Previously, Gecko had sold rights to its titles on an individual basis in the U.S. and Canada. Marshall said that Gecko wanted to establish itself as a savvy publisher of high-quality books before partnering with a U.S.-based distributor. “It was a natural step to first enter the U.K., and test whether we can achieve good sales by presenting the books under the Gecko Press brand,” she said. “Our success there has spurred us into the U.S.”

Gecko publishes a total of 12–15 titles annually, which are distributed by Bounce! Sales and Marketing in the U.K., Scholastic in Australia, and Random House in New Zealand. Myrick Marketing has been retained by Gecko to assist with marketing and publicity in the U.S. and Canada; Myrick also represents Lemniscaat and NorthSouth Books.

Gecko will publish six books in the North American market this fall, and three in spring 2012; they intend to increase this number to 10-12 releases each year. The fall titles are all picture books: Anton Can Do Magic by Ole Konnecke; I Am So Strong by Mario Ramos; Bravo by Moni Port, illustrated by Philip Waechter; Odd Bird Out by Helga Bansch; Friends: Snake and Lizard by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Gavin Bishop; and Duck, Death, and Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch. Friends: Snake and Lizard is an original release and will retail for $16.95; the other five are translations and will retail for $17.95.

Marshall emphasized that adapting Gecko’s books for the North American market is key to the company’s strategy for success stateside. North American editions will feature revised spellings – from British English into American English. Cover art and formats will sometimes be tweaked for this market as well.

Marshall said she is aware of the continuing debate over the future prognosis for picture books, but she expressed confidence about entering the North American market during a challenging time, because of the company’s great success in the U.K. market, which has been experiencing a downturn in picture book sales. “The strength of our books is that they stand out, because they are clearly different to books typically published in English-speaking markets,” Marshall said. “I think there are still a lot of people who like good books, with a strong story and illustration, and high quality production.”