Based in East London and New York, Magic Cat Publishing, an imprint of Abrams, came onto the children’s publishing scene just two years ago. Established by Rachel Williams and Jenny Broom, the company has built its business around STEM-based, illustrated nonfiction for families, with a focus on nature and the environment; wellbeing and mindfulness; exploration and discovery; and people and their stories. Having won the best new independent children’s publisher at the Independent Publishing Awards in the U.K. and the prize for the biggest growth in international business in 2022, Magic Cat will publish its 30th book with Abrams in North America this fall.
Veterans of entrepreneurial publishing for more than a decade, Williams and Broom helmed several other predominately nonfiction-centered children’s imprints prior to establishing Magic Cat. “In the past decade, Rachel and I had founded Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick,” Broom said. “And then we started Wide Eyed Editions for Quarto, before additionally becoming publishers of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, where the Little People Big Dreams series kind of became another business in and of itself.”
Yet the duo had long aspired to launch their own company, “an independent house with creativity at its core, to be owned and operated by women,” Williams explained. What she described as “a natural career break” surfaced when Broom left Quarto to have a baby in 2018. And the following year, they hatched their dream by establishing Magic Cat.
Williams and Broom own the majority share of the company, but wanted to find a long-term partner in North America that understood their mission and was looking to grow its list of family-focused nonfiction. After they approached Michael Jacobs and Andrew Smith at Abrams and learned of their interest in partnering with Magic Cat, the two teams went on to set up Magic Cat as an imprint of Abrams. “Rachel and I have known and loved the Abrams list for many years, and we have always revered their approach to book making and publishing, and their appreciation of the book as an art form,” Broom said. “We felt that we could complement, rather than compete with, Abrams’s already awesome children’s lists with an illustrated nonfiction program. We work closely with Andrew and Jody Mosley to curate and sell the list, and we have a New York-based editor, Mary Jones, who works with us on all aspects of creating our books.”
A Smooth Launch Across Continents, Sales Channels
As a start-up, Magic Cat tripled in size during the pandemic and now employs an internationally diverse creative team of 19 individuals. The size of the list, which debuted with six books, has also expanded, with 16 new titles due in 2023 and, Williams said, “plans to grow in 2024 and beyond.”
Most Magic Cat titles (65% of which qualify as STEM-themed) are released in the same publishing season in both the U.K. and the U.S. “Interestingly, there seems to be more correlation between the two markets than we originally anticipated,” Broom said. “I guess so much of publishing lives online now, which was especially true through the pandemic, and we all share the same internet! So the books that take off in one market definitely seem to get a boost in the other.”
Distributed by Hachette in North America and spanning an age arc from preschool through middle grade, the Magic Cat list has received an enthusiastic reception across a spectrum of markets. “Our sales make-up is a really interesting cross-section, actually,” Broom noted. “The indies have been absolutely key to us getting the word out about our books, plus gift and specialty accounts have also been strong supporters of the list. We’re also starting to see increasing awareness and support in the school and library channels after receiving some starred reviews and finally being able to attend events like ALA this year.” Additionally, Magic Cat staffers’ efforts to build a community around the list on social media has resulted in increasingly strong online sales.
“Over the last decade, the nonfiction category has exploded with beautifully designed books that reach a wide readership, and by publishing books like Animalium: Welcome to the Museum [Big Picture Press, 2014], we helped to pioneer this trend,” Broom said. “But we wanted the Magic Cat list to do even more: each one of our books acts like a tool to help readers navigate a difficult world and bring a sense of calm to daily life.”
Some Stars of the Show
A trio of top-selling Magic Cat titles exemplify the editors’ commitment to what Williams described as “establishing a brand around a book from the outset and creating a complementary program of spin-offs and partner titles.”
The first, Slow Down: Bring Calm to a Busy World with 50 Nature Stories, was written by Williams and illustrated by Freya Hartas. Published in 2020, this book encouraging children to take the time to appreciate the natural world is now sold in 30 languages and has more than 500,000 copies in print. A follow-up, Slow Down and Be Here Now: More Nature Stories to Make You Stop, Look and Be Amazed by the Tiniest Things by Laura Brand, will pub in March 2023. “Slow Down published just as the world was grappling with Covid lockdowns and extended periods of isolation,” Williams said of the book’s success. “I wrote it as a way of appreciating nature’s everyday wonders. For many of us with little kids, that’s all we were able to manage on most days during the height of the pandemic.”
Another strong seller for Magic Cat is If You Go Down to the Woods Today by Rachel Piercey, illustrated by Hartas, the debut book of the Brown Bear Wood duology, which was released in March 2021. Its sequel, Grand Old Oak and the Birthday Ball, will follow in August 2023. “If You Go Down to the Woods Today has been published in 27 languages and has more than 250,000 copies in print, and the Independent named it the U.K.’s best children’s poetry book of 2021,” Williams said.
And Grow: A Children’s Guide to Plants and How to Grow Them by Rizaniño Reyes, illustrated by Sara Boccaccini Meadows (published last March), will be joined by a companion in 2023: Glow: A Family Guide to the Night Sky by NASA scientist Noelia Gonzales, illustrated by Meadows.
Other titles that Williams and Broom are pleased to be adding to Magic Cat’s list are Meowsterpieces: A Cat’s Guide to Art…And Life! by Jenn Bailey, illustrated by Nyangsongi, starring a mother cat and her kittens, released this month; and The Handbook of Forgotten Skills by Elaine Batiste and Natalie Crowley, illustrated by Chris Duriez, a guide to timeless projects aimed at inspiring a love of craftsmanship, due in September 2023.
Developing the Magic Cat list is a deeply personal mission for Williams and Broom. “Our motto is ‘Open a book, open a mind,’ ” Broom said. “We believe that curiosity starts when kids engage with their grown-ups around a printed page. Around the time we founded Magic Cat, Rachel and I had both become moms and had a really strong desire to make books that didn’t just look great but would help our own children understand and navigate an increasingly complex world. We started to think of our books as visually compelling, design-led tools to help foster conversation and learning around topics that matter to children and families today. Covid has shown us that whatever challenges fall in our way, books create space for well-being and joy—and create hope for the future.”