KWiL Publishing, a small press founded two years ago by Abby Nies Janowiec, an educator in Milwaukee, Wis., is turning the picture book category on its head this summer with the launch of the Rock Star Kids series. Rather than publishing books for children written by adults, KWiL is publishing autobiographies for readers of all ages—written by children. These young authors are, according to the company’s website, “doing incredible things with their lives.”
The 48-page hardcovers are meant to be in equal parts a life story and celebration of an art or skill presented in such a way as to “engage and inspire” readers, Janowiec told PW; the books emphasize themes of friendship, acceptance, and inclusivity. One or both of each author’s parents will co-author the book, which will be illustrated with photographs taken by professionals.
The first book in the series, Hello, Crochet Friends! Making Art, Being Mindful, Giving Back: Do What Makes You Happy, which will be released in July, was written by Jonah Larson, an 11-year-old crochet prodigy with a large social media following, including 200,000 followers on Instagram.
Larson’s mother, Jennifer, is the co-author of Larson’s autobiography, which begins with his adoption from an Ethiopian orphanage and chronicles how he took up crocheting at age five. Larson, who lives in La Crosse, Wis., has become a global sensation with his fiber handiwork—much of it given to family or donated to charity. Larson’s fiber art is also available for sale through his business enterprise, Jonah’s Hands; a website has just been set up, promoting Larson with sales of t-shirts and a jacket, with 20% of t-shirt sales going to Roots Ethiopia, a charitable organization located in the village in which he was born.
Roots Ethiopia supports children, families, woman-owned small businesses, and schools in that region. To date, Larson has raised almost $20,000 for the group.
While Larson has been depositing into a college savings fund profits from sales of his creations not donated to Roots Ethiopia, he also donates crocheted items and money directly to the orphanage from which he was adopted.
Janowiec said that she first heard of Larson through social media after a newspaper story in his hometown newspaper, The La Crosse Tribune, went viral. Subsequent media hits included a segment on NBC’s Today and a mention in Oprah magazine, as well as features in crocheting magazines in the U.S. and U.K.
“He was getting offers from the large New York City houses, but he and his mother thought that we shared the same vision for the story he wanted to tell—and she liked the idea of working with a Wisconsin publisher,” Janowiec said, disclosing that the two parties finalized a contract in less than a week in February. This month, the two parties agreed to publish Larson’s second book on patterns and craft; it is scheduled for September 2020.
Larson will go on a national tour in July promoting Hello, Crochet Friends!, the first time that a KWiL author is touring. While Janowiec declined to disclose the number of copies in the book’s first printing, she noted that it is “more than double” the number of copies initially printed for the rest of the press’s list of picture and early chapter books: Crunchy, Not Sweet by Amy Ward (2018); Hide & Go Seek-A-Saurus by Sheri Roloff (2018), which recently won the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Bill Fisher Award for best first children’s book; and Easter Elf by Rochelle Groskreutz and illustrated by Leah DiPasquale (Mar.).
While Baker & Taylor Publisher Services distributes all KWiL Publishing titles, Search Press, a U.K. publisher of arts and crafts books, will have exclusive rights to distribute Hello, Crochet Friends! in the U.K. and in Europe.
KWiL’s second title in the Rock Star Kids series is Read with Me—Stories, Book Reviews, & Braille: Making Meaning in the World by Louise Morrison, with her parents, Kristen and Andy. The book is a celebration of literacy by a seven-year-old in Chicagoland who is blind in her left eye and legally blind in her right eye, and learned Braille to read and write on her own. The book, which will be simultaneously published in Braille, is tentatively slated for release in spring 2020, though events involving the author to coincide with World Sight Day on October 10 and White Cane Day on October 15 are being scheduled.
While Janowiec, who holds an M.S. in literacy education, did not have a publishing background prior to launching KWiL Publishing (the name was inspired by her children’s names, Katy and Will, as well as a spin on the word for the feathered writing instrument), a love of books is in her blood. In the 1960s and 1970s, Janowiec’s grandparents owned and operated Brainard’s Bookstore in Crystal Lake, Ill., where her parents initially met.
Even though Brainard’s Bookstore closed long ago, Janowiec said, growing up always meant “being part of something important—part of a family that had once owned a bookstore and carried the awesome responsibility of selling people books. Bolstered by my family history and continued love of books, after four decades, I knew it was time to get back into the book business.”
This story has been updated with additional information.