Kingfisher expands its list of nonfiction children’s books this month with the debut of Kingfisher Readers, a line of illustrated books featuring topics designed to capture the interest of children reading on five levels, from those just beginning to read to those reading fluently. The books are leveled according to the standards developed by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell in Matching Books to Readers: Using Leveled Books in Guided Reading. Thea Feldman serves as Kingfisher Readers’ U.S. editor, and Ellie Costa is the line’s literacy consultant.

The idea for Kingfisher Readers was sparked by the widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, explains Brian Buerkle, Kingfisher’s associate publisher and director of marketing. “By the summer of 2011, most states had adopted these curriculum standards, which demand that 50% of the text students encounter in the classroom in grades K-5 is informational text,” he says. “Prior to the initiative’s implementation over the next few years, approximately 80% of the text that students encounter is story – picture books, fictional chapter books, and the like. That leaves only 20% of the time to focus on key informational topics like history, science, and mathematics. The new standards represent a strategic shift.”

This change, Buerkle says, offers “an immense opportunity for Kingfisher and other nonfiction publishers that target the classroom.” He believes that the new curriculum model will also affect kids’ reading habits outside of school. “What children are reading in school will trickle down to the family level, and children are going to be looking for more nonfiction and informational books outside of the classroom,” he says.

The publisher expects to publish between 20 and 30 Kingfisher Readers annually. The inaugural March releases are Butterflies and Baby Animals by Thea Feldman, What Animals Eat by Brenda Stones, Dinosaur World by Claire Llewellyn, and Pirates and Ancient Egyptians by Philip Steele. Due in May are Colorful Coral Reefs and Trains by Feldman, Your Body by Stones, Volcanoes by Llewellyn, Weather by Anita Ganeri, and Rainforests by James Harrison. Twelve more titles will be added to the line in the fall.

Each Kingfisher Reader will be released simultaneously in a $12.99 paper-over-board edition and a $3.99 paperback edition. Though schools are the key market for the new line, Buerkle hopes that the books will eventually have a trade presence as well. “The trade market is heavily into series when it comes to leveled readers, and I’m not sure we have that critical mass just yet,” he says. “But possibly we will in a year or two, as we build a backlist.”

The publisher has launched a Web site, which features supplemental downloadable activities and a free audio download for each title.