The Center for Responsive Schools, best known for its Responsive Classroom social-emotional learning program and professional development materials, has announced a new children’s book imprint, Avenue A Books. Avenue A Books will launch in mid-May with a line of graphic novels designed to help readers ages five to 14 develop social and emotional learning skills. The inaugural titles are aimed at both the educational and trade markets.
First out of the gate are Ready for Read Aloud (May) by Jenny Rose, illus. by Lisa M. Griffin, featuring a second grader who is working up the courage to read her favorite book during readaloud time at school, and Charlie and the Octopus (June) by Rebecca Roan, illus. by Larissa Marantz, in which Charlie discovers that an octopus has followed him home from the aquarium. Six more titles are slated for release by the end of the year, and Avenue A has a plan to publish eight to 10 titles annually.
Christine Freitas, who came on board as CRS’s director of publications in early 2017, notes that part of the mission behind Avenue A is “to have readers of all different backgrounds reflected in our content” and to present characters and real-life situations that kids can relate to. In her view, graphic novels, which appeal to a broad audience that includes both confident and reluctant readers, “seem to be the perfect way to tell those stories.”
The idea for the imprint felt like a natural expansion for CRS, according to Freitas. “Our leadership team had seen so many books out there with strong messages about the core competencies of social and emotional learning that we need to develop in our kids to help them function in the world, and we knew we had the in-house resources to create that kind of content for students,” she says. “Our goal now is to use our resources to help children develop their own social and emotional learning skills, by producing a diverse line of books that appeal to them at their evolving developmental level. We hope our books can help them navigate challenges that they’re facing with friends, with family, or their community or surroundings.”
The name Avenue A is a “not-so-subtle reference to our location,” Freitas says with a laugh. “We’re located on Avenue A in Turners Falls, Mass.”
As Freitas’s team was considering imprint names, she says that they noted how Avenue A “implies so many other great things, like your first path to a goal or a destination; it’s the beginning of an adventure or travel.” She adds, “It’s also the beginning letter of the alphabet in terms of literacy. We just played off of that a little bit.”
Though CRS already had a publishing department in place for educational materials and marketing pieces, the ramp-up of Avenue A has brought some staffing additions and changes. “We were a small team to start, and we’re still a small team,” Freitas says. “But in addition to myself, Sera Rivers, who precedes me here, is our managing editor overseeing all the editorial functions, including acquisitions.” She adds that Rivers has “a deep background and interest in children’s book writing, so she was a perfect candidate to help build this team.”
Freitas notes that Karen Frasca was brought on as marketing manager at Responsive Classroom/CRS “as a result of us needing more capacity to launch this line.” Frasca has hit the ground running with Avenue A social media campaigns and a dedicated website. Plans for online advertising and email marketing, as well as further trade show promotional items, activity kits, and live author/illustrator events at schools, libraries, and bookstores are underway.
“I feel like we’re a small fish in a big pond,” Freitas says. “Where we intend to be a little bit different is we will have that educational aspect to our books. We’re really capitalizing on our expertise in child development and trying to give kids and teachers more tools for interpreting the world around them.”