Two indie presses, both based in Brooklyn, are moving into children’s publishing. powerHouse Books, which is best known for photography and popular culture nonfiction, debuts its pow! imprint this fall. Akashic Books, publishers of gritty noir fiction and political nonfiction, had a surprise hit in 2011 with its children’s book for adults, Go the F**k to Sleep, and will launch Black Sheep in February 2014.

The move into children’s publishing made sense, according to powerHouse publisher Sharon Rosart, when company executives realized through its retailing arm – two bookstores in Brooklyn – the appeal of the kinds of children’s books that the stores’ buyers were stocking, which were books that mixed well with the rest of the store’s inventory. The kids’ section at the bookstore in the powerHouse Arena (which includes the publisher, the store, a gallery, and an event space, located in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood), “has drawn a lot of attention and has gotten customers into the store,” Rosart said. Likewise, powerHouse’s new bookstore, powerHouse on Eighth, in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, is also “very oriented to kids and families.”

The philosophy behind pow! books, Rosart said, is that they “mesh with the powerHouse vibe.” Like the 25 or so adult titles that powerHouse publishes each year, pow! releases will be “heavily visual” and a “little offbeat.” These books, she added, will “have a sense of humor with crossover into the adult market.”

Six pow! books will be released in September and October, five of them picture or board books with 15,000-copy first print runs: Almost an Animal Alphabet by Katie Viggers; Patchwork Helps a Friend by Jacqueline Schmidt, illustrated by Gail Greiner; There Are No Animals in This Book (Only Feelings) by Chani Sanchez; Put On Your Shoes by Dan Stiles; and Shadowville by Michael Bartalos. And for its sixth release, NERF: Ultimate Blaster by Nathaniel Marunas, powerHouse is targeting middle-grade readers as well as younger readers; its initial print run will be 75,000 copies. powerHouse plans to publish 10 to 12 pow! books a year at the start, with the intention of increasing output “season by season.”

‘Blown Away’ by YA

Akashic publisher Johnny Temple, said that his staff had been interested for years in publishing young-adult and middle-grade fiction, but “what held us back” was their feeling that they didn’t understand the genre well enough – despite, in particular, managing editor Johanna Ingalls’s eagerness to expand in that direction. The daughter of a children’s librarian, Ingalls was a fan of YA novels long before their recent surge in popularity among adults.

Recently, though, the Akashic team has been reading more YA titles, and Temple said he’s been “blown away” by what he’s read “in a growing genre,” singling out Jacqueline Woodson’s 2012 release Beneath a Meth Moon.

Emphasizing that Black Sheep titles will respect the conventions in YA literature – there not be excessive sex, profanity, or violence – and that they will appeal to “reluctant readers” as well as to readers looking for books that are “unconventional” and “unorthodox,” Temple said that the imprint will launch in February 2014 with two books that exemplify its mission, both by authors who have previously published with Akashic.

Changers Book One: Drew, a YA novel by T Cooper and Allison Glock, is the first in a planned four-book series about a protagonist who assumes a different identity in each book; Game World by C.J. Farley, a middle-grade novel, will include fantasy elements and illustrations. Akashic will release each book with at least a 10,000-copy print run in hardcover and trade paper combined, as well as simultaneous publication in digital formats (and possibly audiobook). Freelance consultant Jessica Powers will work with Akashic staff in editing Black Sheep books. Powers has edited books for Cinco Puntos Press and, as J.L. Powers, has written two YA novels: The Confessional and This Thing Called the Future.

Akashic intends to continue publishing 25 to 30 books, mostly fiction, each year, with three to five of those new releases being Black Sheep titles. “There’s not as much of a gap between YA and adult fiction as many of us thought there was,” Temple said. “We realized that there’s great crossover, in the same way that literary fiction and mysteries can cross over.”