Baker & Taylor has announced the launch of a publishing program, Paw Prints Publishing, which, B&T told PW, will publish original book content for children ages three to eight for the library and trade markets. The line was founded with the mission of sharing stories that inspire conversation and foster empathy, and that reflect the experiences of young readers from all walks of life, including those who are underserved or underrepresented.

Diversity and social and emotional learning are at the heart of Paw Prints’ list, whose ideological coordinates were pinpointed by Amandeep S. Kochar, president and CEO of Baker & Taylor. “Our intention is to operate at the intersection of DEI and SEL,” he said in a statement, “to give a purpose and a sense of belonging to the children who will find themselves in these books and the parents who will reflect on the books while reading to their children. We are thrilled to bring stories to market that are needed and vital to the experience of children today.”

First Impressions

Paw Prints Publishing will release its debut titles across four series on June 28, with additional books to follow in summer and fall, for a total of 15 titles in 2022. All Paw Prints titles will be released initially in reinforced library-exclusive and e-book formats, and print trade editions of the June books will become available in September. The new line is distributed to the trade by Baker & Taylor Publisher Services.

The launch titles are Forever Friends, the first novel in the Jeet and Fudge series, which is cowritten by Kochar (and marks his debut as a children’s book author) and Candy Rodo. The three-book series chronicles the adventures of a Sikh boy and his labradoodle sidekick.

Rodo’s Mystery of the Library Cats opens the Baker and Taylor series, named for its two stars, library cats who travel to various cities in search of knowledge and a good read.

Celebrating Mr. Garcia’s Class, a series of picture books that feature differently abled children (and are vetted by speech and language pathologists and children’s therapists), starts up with Jeremy’s Big Role by Matthew Silvestri.

And A Not So Lonely Day by Deborah November and A Smile in Your Pocket by Jarrod Zayas are the first titles in Caring for Ourselves and the World Around Us, a series of storybook primers that are also vetted by children’s therapists and are designed to kickstart conversations about pillars of social emotional learning, including managing anxiety and loneliness and coping with such issues as food insecurity and absentee caregivers.

Every title will be available in English and Spanish across formats, and each is leveled by Fountas & Pinnell and Lexile Reading leveling systems. Additionally, all of Paw Prints’ content will be aligned to the standards established by CASEL (the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning).

Redefining and Expanding

With the introduction of Paw Prints Publishing, Kochar told PW, Baker & Taylor “returns to its roots” as a publisher. “The company has existed for 194 years, and gradually developed into a distribution business,” he said. “We are now the largest distributor of content in the library space, and we see many of our publishing partners doing excellent work bringing diverse voices and subjects to books. We decided that it is time we contributed to the cause of diversity and publish some of the stories that ought to be told. We want to utilize our platform to give kids the tools and content to see themselves in books they pick up at the library.”

Kochar acknowledged that accomplishing this goal will require some proactive if not remedial measures. “It is very hard for kids to have a sense of belonging,” he noted, “when they don’t recognize themselves in books. This is a problem when 52% of the main characters in children’s books are Caucasian—and the second largest group represented is animals.”

His commitment to this mission extends beyond his role as publisher, as evidenced by his inaugural foray into writing for children. Kochar, who practices the Sikh faith and has, in his words, “a full face of hair and a visually diverse identity,” explained that he focused the Jeet and Fudge stories on a boy “who is adopted and happens to be Sikh, but I didn’t want him to be differentiated.”

Kochhar continued, “There are more than a half million Sikh families in this country and a lot of kids face the challenge of growing up having to explain their visual identity. This series is fictionalized nonfiction that provides some education on diversity, equity, and inclusion, but is at its core a fun reading experience.”

Finding that balance in his own writing and in other Paw Prints books, ensuring that every young reader “instantly finds belongingness” at the library, and that Baker & Taylor solidifies its niche as a publisher and distributor of diverse, empathetic books that accomplish that, Kochar added, “are things I am personally passionate about.”