A pioneer publisher of children’s illustrated nonfiction on both sides of the Atlantic, DK is entering the fiction arena with two action-based, character-driven series for young readers. Unsurprisingly, both series are rooted in relevant nonfiction subjects, adding an educational component to the fictional stories.
The Secret Explorers introduces an international group of curious kids who, when signaled, step through the Exploration Station to gather knowledge, fix problems, and solve mysteries all over the planet—and beyond. And in The Renegades: Defenders of the Planet, a graphic novel series, a band of intrepid adventurers grapples with environmental threats throughout the world.
Sarah Larter, DK’s publishing director of children’s books in the U.K., noted that the focus of both series, and their hybrid genre makeup, facilitates a smooth segue into fiction for the company. “We had seen that fact-based fiction is hugely popular in the market now, and our sales team felt strongly that we should publish fiction with a DK twist,” she said. “Running through these series are core themes and topics that we publish in nonfiction—and are now bringing to fiction.”
Larter and her editorial team worked with London-based packager Working Partners to create The Secret Explorers. “DK and Working Partners make a great collaborative team, with our nonfiction and their fiction expertise,” Larter said. “We met at Bologna last year and brainstormed the concept of the series and discussed topics we wanted it to cover. We include nonfiction content at the back of each book, and are lucky to have such a huge bank of assets at DK we can refer to and draw upon—facts, diagrams, and artwork—and transfer to the fictional content. We also have subject-savvy consultants for each book.”
Written by SJ King and featuring black-and-white illustrations by Ellie O’Shea, the series kicked off in July with The Secret Explorers and the Lost Whales and The Secret Explorers and the Comet Collision, which were followed in October by The Secret Explorers and the Tomb Robbers and The Secret Explorers and the Jurassic Rescue. Due in April 2021 are The Secret Explorers and the Rainforest Rangers and The Secret Explorers and the Smoking Volcano. Published concurrently in the U.S. and the U.K. in trade paperback and hardcover editions, The Secret Explorers will add two more titles in fall 2021 and, Larter explained, “we hope to expand the series to 12 books in 2022.”
Saving the Earth One Mission at a Time
Aimed at raising awareness of the causes and effects of climate change, The Renegades series grew from an online comic strip developed by students at King’s College London, led by creator Jeremy Brown and illustrator Katy Jakeway. Other contributors to the graphic novels are colorist Ellenor Mererid, illustrator Libby Reed, and writer David Selby.
The series’ title characters—science professor Katelyn and students Leon and Mo—use their unique superpowers to combat threats to the environment. The professor develops spectacles that provide glimpses of the future; Leon’s ability to become invisible makes him an ideal spy; and Mo wields a solar shield strong enough to fight off deadly foes. In their first caper, The Renegades: Arctic Meltdown, which released on October 20, the trio takes on a deadly methane monster, lurking beneath the melting Arctic ice, who if set free could end civilization. In their second rescue mission, The Renegades: Flames of Amazonia, due next May, the environmental crusaders, aided by a teen with her own superpower, battle fire-breathing creatures bent on destroying the Amazon rainforest.
Larter said that DK plans to add to its fiction offerings in the future, and that the editorial team “is looking into several series possibilities on subjects and in formats we can bring our strengths to.” Though The Secret Explorers and The Renegades were in the works before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the editor noted that the fact-based series lend themselves to at-home learning. “Our goal is not to beat kids over the head with the nonfiction components of these books,” she said, “but to create what we call ‘education by stealth’—where readers are entertained by stories and don’t necessarily know that they are learning as well.”