Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing will introduce two new graphic novel lines aimed at emerging readers next year: Little Simon Graphic Novels, created for readers ages five to nine, will roll out in February 2021 under the Little Simon chapter-book imprint, and Ready-to-Read Graphics will debut next summer with graphic novels for the same audience as its Ready-to-Read leveled readers. All graphic novels will be published simultaneously in jacketed hardcover, paperback, and e-book editions.

The Little Simon Graphic Novels will launch with six titles, two books each in three series, with more titles planned for each series in summer and fall 2021. All are based on existing series: Dragon Kingdom of Wrenly, a spinoff of Jordan Quinn’s Kingdom of Wrenly chapter books; The Pup Detectives, loosely based on the Rider Woofson series but retooled for younger readers; and Super Turbo, adapted from the Super Turbo chapter books.

The first three Ready-to-Read Graphics titles are original stories, and each is the first in a planned series. Thunder and Cluck: Friends Do Not Eat Friends (Ready-to-Read Graphics Level 1) by Jill Esbaum, illustrated by Miles Thompson; Nugget and Dog: All Ketchup, No Mustard! (Ready-to-Read Graphics Level 2), by Jason Tharp; and Geraldine Pu and Her Lunch Box, Too! (Ready-to-Read Graphics Level 3), by Maggie P. Chang. All three are set for release on June 29, 2021.

Unlike what some other publishers have done, S&S has no plans to establish a separate imprint for all children’s graphic novels. “It’s a broad format, stretching across numerous categories and age groups,” said Jon Anderson, president and publisher of S&S Children’s Publishing in an e-mail. “Graphic novels have their own particular DNA and should be celebrated as such, so by publishing graphic novels across different imprints, it allows us to focus on the uniqueness of each individual title.”

S&S’s strategy is to bring the graphic novel format to their existing brands. “Instead of throwing [readers] into a brand-new format, we’re allowing them to remain in their comfort zone while exploring a new genre,” Valerie Garfield, v-p and publisher of licensed, novelty, and branded publishing, told PW.

The new books are designed to help children extend that comfort zone to include graphic novels. “Graphic novels have always been appealing to kids but there’s often great frustration with their ability to read them,” said Garfield, pointing out that young readers who are still learning basics such as reading from left to right, for instance, may have trouble navigating graphic novels. “By creating transitional books to guide readers into this format for both the beginning readers and the chapter books, we’re helping them navigate how to read a graphic novel with confidence, instead of just ‘dumping’ them into a new category,” she said. “Our programs have always been about building ramps, not gorges to cross.”

The Ready-to-Read graphic novels are designed with just a few panels per page, easy-to-follow layouts and stories, and limited vocabulary in the word balloons. Each book opens with an explanation of how to read a graphic novel. Reading levels of the graphic novels correspond to the levels of the prose books. The Little Simon Graphic Novels have more panels, more dialogue, and more complex stories. “What the series have in common is a build-up to showing kids how to read panels and how to easily follow those panels and the story on a page,” Garfield said.

Although Little Simon Graphic Novels are kicking off with adaptations of existing series, and Ready-to-Read Graphics will launch with original stories, both programs will include a mix of original stories and spin-offs within the first year. “For the chapter books we felt that introducing this new format to kids made sense with spin-offs,” Garfield said. “They are going into a new kind of book but with some familiarity with some characters or settings from the chapter books. Our goal always is to build confident readers, and that sense of ‘oh hey, this is familiar,’ even though they are on a new path, was important to us.” The Ready-to-Read Graphics were constructed specifically with beginning readers in mind. “As we were drafting the program we felt it made sense to start with the original stories that had been submitted to us, as we pieced together how graphics would look in a beginning reader world,” Garfield said.

Marketing plans for both graphic novel lines will begin with special mailings of materials and promotional items to booksellers. With Little Simon Graphic Novels, plans call for expanding on the Little Simon Chapter Books brand with outreach to the industry, consumers, teachers, and librarians, followed by a large-scale advertising campaign when the books debut in February. The Ready-to-Read Graphics campaign will focus on parents, educators, and librarians, with an educator’s guide to the books, marketing materials featuring Tharp’s Nugget and Dog characters, and a Ready-to-Read School Library Journal webinar with opportunities for educators to win classroom sets of the books. S&S will continue to promote the lines as new books are published and will include them in their ongoing “Drawn to Reading” graphic novel marketing campaign.