Concerned about children’s brain development in an increasingly digitized society, pediatrician John Hutton, owner of Blue Manatee Children’s Bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio, decided to do something about it: this spring he launched Blue Manatee Press, a children's book imprint, out of his bookstore. The first three books, board books for ages up to 3, written by Hutton and illustrated by Andrea Kang, came out in May—Blanket, Pets, and Yard—as part of Hutton's Baby Unplugged series. He anticipates a total of nine volumes in the series.

Hutton explained that Baby Unplugged was inspired by his medical training and experiences. “Younger children are exposed to activities that are not good for them,” he said, criticizing electronic media and devices for being touted as educational, when they are really harmful to a baby's development. “Baby Einstein actually takes children out of the world,” he insisted.

The series “celebrates the old-fashioned icons of childhood," Hutton told PW, “things you don't have to plug in or turn on, like real pets, playing in a yard, cuddling up in a blanket to comfort oneself.” His ultimate goal, Hutton said, is to make it clear to parents and others that the “old-fashioned retro things” in childhood provide essential educational experiences for children that modern technology cannot match.

The initial print run for each book was 1,750. To date, more than 60 copies of each have sold, with Pet being the bestseller. In addition to being available at Blue Manatee, the books are also being sold at the Cincinnati Nature Center, the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital gift shop, and the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. Blue Manatee is also offering the books online through its Blue Manatee Boxes program of baby gifts for children that are hand-selected and boxed by store staff. Hutton is hoping to make Blue Manatee publications available at other bookstores, and is considering taking a booth at the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association fall trade show to promote both the imprint and the box program.

As an author and publisher, Hutton wants to fill the same niche his bookstore fills: providing books for younger readers, such as board books and phonics readers. He also hopes to publish a YA novel he's already written under the Blue Manatee imprint. Of the bookstore’s four full-time and 12 part-time employees, Hutton and events coordinator Kelli Gleiner also work on the publishing program.