Neither the apple nor the acorn falls far from the tree—or the branch—as evidenced by Scholastic’s new Acorn line aimed at children ages four to seven who are just beginning to read. Sporting the tag line, “Illustrated early readers that plant a love of reading,” Acorn is an offshoot of the publisher’s Branches line for slightly older, newly independent readers. The new line breaks ground next May with four titles, which will be released simultaneously in hardcover and paperback, and feature three or more self-contained stories and full-color art.

Scholastic senior editor Katie Carella, who is at the editorial helm of Branches and Acorn, noted that her former experience as a teacher of first, second, and third grades made her acutely aware that there was a dearth of appealing books available for those readers. “Children at these ages are at that early stage of their reading careers, when it is crucial that they discover reading magic, and come to realize that books can open whole new worlds for them,” she said. “Children need strong book choices available to them at every reading level. I saw huge gaps in my classroom library, and my teaching experiences are ultimately what drew me back to book publishing, because I wanted to address the needs of these early and transitional readers.” The editor’s instincts yielded strong results: under her direction, Scholastic launched Branches in 2013, and in just over five years, the line has released 21 series that have an in-print tally of more than 16 million copies.

Acorn was a natural outgrowth of Branches, Carella explained. “We had such amazing success with Branches and heard much positive feedback from parents, educators, and librarians, who told us that the books had made their children or students readers, and that they wanted more! So we decided to develop a line aimed at readers in first grade, who are just starting to read on their own. Our goal is to expand the breadth of the Acorn list to include various series in different genres to provide readers with many choices. That is so very important.”

Carella and Scholastic’s art and design teams added features to Acorn’s offerings that distinguish the books from other early reader lines. “With individual, self-contained stories, there is no pressure on readers to finish the entire book in one sitting, and they will have a sense of accomplishment if they read just one or two of the stories,” said the editor. “While Branches, as a transitional line, aims to build reading stamina and fluency, with cliffhangers at both chapter endings and book endings, to incite kids to go on to the next book in the series, with Acorn the goal is more about building the confidence of beginning readers.”

The 5 ½ x 7-inch trim size of Acorn books, which are either 48 or 64 pages in length, is also a departure from many early reader series, Carella noted. “These are chunkier than most books aimed at this level reader,” she said. “The Acorn format looks a bit younger than the Branches books, but the books look more sophisticated than most early readers. There’s nothing quite like them in the marketplace.” The new line also features interactive back matter comprised of a drawing lesson based on the story’s characters and a story prompt to encourage kids to expand on the book’s plot.

Three of Acorn’s four debut books launch new series and include color-coded speech balloons: A Crabby Book: Hello, Crabby! by Jonathan Fenske, introducing an ornery crab and his perky pals; Norm Feuti’s Hello, Hedgehog! Do You Like My Bike?, in which the title character discovers why his friend is reticent to ride Hedgehog’s shiny new bicycle; and Unicorn and Yeti: Sparkly New Friends by Heather Ayris Burnell, illustrated by Hazel Quintanilla, centering on two very different creatures who find common ground and forge a friendship. The fourth title on the inaugural list is a repackaged edition of Dav Pilkey’s A Friend for Dragon; additional books in the Dragon series will be added to the line in the future.

Regarding the number of books that will be added to the Acorn list annually, Carella explained that there is no specific title-count target. “We are dedicated to growing the new line as quickly as possible, and growing it strategically, as we did with Branches,” she said. “We are picky about what we add to the line, but we do have a lot in the pipeline.” The second crop of Acorn titles, due next summer and fall, include the debut title in the Mister Shivers series by Max Brallier, illustrated by Letizia Rubegni; the first two installments of Princess Truly by Kelly Greenawalt, with illustrations by Amariah Rauscher; the second Dragon and Hello, Hedgehog! titles; and the second and third volumes in the Crabby and Unicorn and Yeti series.

“We are really excited about having this chance to give beginning readers so many choices—and about meeting them where they are, noted Carella. “Kids deserve so much, and we are very happy that we are able to give it to them.”