Albert Whitman & Company is gearing up for the 75th anniversary of the Boxcar Children in 2017 with new publishing, new branding, and new animation. The book series began in 1942 with Scott Foresman’s publication of Gertrude Chandler Warner’s first Boxcar book, illustrated by L. Kate Deal; Albert Whitman took over as the exclusive publisher in the 1960s.
More than 150 Boxcar Children titles are available including 19 written by Warner – with over 70 million copies sold worldwide. After a gap in the 1980s, when the hardcovers remained in print but there were no new releases, Scholastic secured a license in 1989 to publish original, modernized Boxcar Children paperbacks. That resulted in a resurgence for the franchise during the 1990s, according to Annette Hobbs Magier, Albert Whitman’s marketing manager. Albert Whitman has been publishing two to four new hardcovers per year since then; the franchise has also included boxed sets, graphic novels, and “specials,” which include activities in addition to a mystery.
Starting in February of the anniversary year, Albert Whitman will publish a five-book series with a continuing story arc, a first for the property, called The Boxcar Children’s Great Adventure. The five titles, which will come out every other month throughout the year, will each have their own story, with a broader mystery solved at the end of the arc. The new series also marks the first time the children have gone international, as the plot sees them returning artifacts to museums and other institutions on each of the continents. “It’s all very Boxcar Children,” says Hobbs Magier. “Everything they do is based in empathy. They’re very honest and helpful.”
Later in 2017, Albert Whitman will release a 19-book boxed set including all of Warner’s titles and a bonus component such as a journal. It is also putting together a collector’s edition of the first Boxcar Children book, with an oversize trim, full color illustrations, and tidbits about the series woven throughout. The company will promote the books and the anniversary at key trade shows, with a Boxcar-themed booth as well as giveaways including journals and tote bags.
The new publishing will be accompanied by a rebranding of the property’s look, carried over into a new logo and website. “With the anniversary in mind, we knew it was a good time to freshen up the logo,” says Hobbs Magier. “We were planning to update the website anyway, anniversary or no. It was very informational and didn’t really say anything to the kids. The new one is more engaging, more colorful, and much fresher. The new logo is simple, clean, and fun, but it has that same vintage feel.”
In 2014, Albert Whitman partnered for an animated feature film of the first Boxcar Children book, which was available on DVD and digitally through Netflix, iTunes, and the like. The company recently signed a three-picture deal with Shout! Factory and Legacy Classics to continue that series, starting with an adaptation of the second book, Surprise Island. The films will have the same director and producer as the first made-for-DVD production, but with a new distributor that offers a wider reach, according to Hobbs Magier.
After a limited theatrical release of the first movie in the northeastern United States this November, through Showcase Cinemas’ Kid Toons Family Matinees, and a rerelease of the of the first DVD in early 2017, Surprise Island will debut in the fourth quarter of next year.