Macmillan Children's Book Group will dive into new waters next winter with the launch of London-based Neon Squid Books, an imprint dedicated to publishing gift nonfiction books that make complex topics—such as archeology and medicine—accessible and intriguing to young readers. Announced here for the first time, the imprint is named for an actual aquatic creature distinguished by its ability to glow in the dark and to propel itself out of the ocean and glide in the air. Heading up Neon Squid are co-publishers Joanne Clark, Fiona Macdonald, and Sam Priddy, who all joined MCPG in mid-2020 from DK Publishing.

The trio’s shared experience at DK paved the path for their new venture. “Jo, Fiona, and I worked together for a long time, and very closely,” explained Priddy, formerly acquisitions editor at DK, who helms the acquisition and editorial duties at Neon Squid.

“That connection led us to take what we learned about publishing nonfiction at DK—and there is no better place to learn—in a new direction. We all have DK DNA running through us, which involves a close attention to detail and to high production qualities. When we approached Jon Yaged [president of Macmillan’s U.S. trade group] with our idea, he liked our notion of publishing gifty nonfiction with unusual approaches to subjects, and we all felt the imprint was a good fit with Macmillan.”

Neon Squid will initially publish about 15 titles a year, targeted at readers within the six to 12 age span, all generated in-house and released simultaneously in the U.S. and the U.K. Priddy noted that the co-publishers are committed to building a list of books “that have deep educational veins running through them and gripping angles that hook readers on page one. We select authors and illustrators who are able to take complex subjects and distill them in an insightful and engaging way.”

High-quality design and production are also top priorities in creating Neon Squid books, all of which are made from sustainably sourced paper. Design and art direction are the bailiwick of Clark and Macdonald, who were both senior commissioning designers at DK. “One of our shared passions is to make every subject as beautiful as possible by commissioning illustrators who can bring our vision to life,” Macdonald said. “We believe that no topic is too tricky for kids and, along with engaging narratives, quality illustrations are key to sparking an interest in things they don’t yet know they’re interested in—and can be the source of fascinations that last a lifetime.”

Clark underscored the imprint’s emphasis on variety and scope—in authors, illustrators, and subject matter. “We are aiming for a global appeal and have brought in writers and artists from around the world,” she said. “Our first list has a range of books that reflects our belief that kids are all so different—some are more into visuals, some more into narrative. We know how tough it is to capture kids’ attention in a world of digital distractions, and it doesn’t matter how you hook readers in—whether it’s great stories, intriguing topics, humor, or amazing illustrations—what matters is that their curiosity is piqued.”

A Look at the Launch List

Neon Squid’s debut list reflects the team’s emphasis on subject diversity and innovative storytelling angles. Due next January, the kickoff title is Tales of Ancient Worlds: Adventures in Archaeology by Stefan Milosavljevich, who as Stefan Milo makes videos about archaeology, anthropology, and human evolution (famously using a spoon as a mic) on his YouTube channel. Illustrated by Sam Cardwell, the book spotlights groundbreaking archaeological discoveries and techniques and the individuals responsible for them.

In February, Neon Squid will publish two titles, beginning with The Book of Sisters, in which sisters Katie Nelson and Olivia Meikle (creators of the What’sHerName podcast, spotlighting forgotten women in history) and an international roster of illustrators offer a tour of women’s history via the stories of notable sisters, including Cleopatra, who went to war against her younger sister Arsinoe; Native American siblings and star ballerinas Maria and Marjorie Tallchief; and tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams. This will be followed by Animal Sidekicks: Amazing Tales of Symbiosis in Animals and Plants by Macken Murphy (host of the animal podcast Species), with art by Dragan Kordić, which introduces the concept of symbiosis through pairs of animals.

Scheduled for March release are the inaugural titles in the A Day in the Life series, written in the style of nature documentaries: Big Cats: What Do Lions, Tigers, and Panthers Get Up to All Day? by Tyus D. Williams and Bugs: What Do Bees, Ants, and Dragonflies Get Up to All Day? by Jessica L. Ware, both illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat. And rounding out the launch list is an April title, The Hospital: The Inside Story, written by Christie Nwora, M.D. and featuring art by Ginny Hsu, which provides a behind-the-scenes look at how hospital professionals work together to keep us healthy.

Solving the Name Game

It’s a question that begs to be asked: why “Neon Squid?” Though the three co-publishers individually emphasized the close collaborative teamwork that is at the heart of Neon Squid, each acknowledged the impasse they encountered when selecting a name for the imprint. “With just the three of us making decisions, it’s usually easy since there’s always a clear majority,” Priddy said. “But we really struggled coming up with the name—it was quite a painful process, actually—since it was so important to each of us.”

When the name Neon Squid surfaced in their discussions, Macdonald recalled, “It resonated with all of us. Since we’re all passionate about nonfiction, we liked that it was a real creature that is naturally intelligent and curious—and also very cool and intriguing. It just seemed to fit with what we’re trying to do.”

“I am very impressed with people who manage to name their children easily,” Clark said. “We wanted the imprint’s name to reflect the list’s focus on looking at things in not the obvious way. Squids aren’t everyone’s favorite animals—but a neon squid both glows and flies, which is anything but usual. I think the name and the logo show what we’re all about.”

The co-publishers, who have not worked together face-to-face since arriving at Macmillan as the pandemic descended, are understandably eager to see the inaugural products of their remote collaboration. “It has been a difficult year for everyone with the lockdown, but nonfiction is doing well and seems to have weathered the storm, which is encouraging,” Priddy said. “We are hopeful that bookshops will reopen by the time our first books are published. They have been a year in the making, and we are very excited to get them out there.”