Fifty years after Peter Usborne founded Usborne Publishing in London, with the goal of revitalizing children’s nonfiction, the independent company has announced a new U.S. trade distribution partnership with HarperCollins. The first U.S. list was released this fall with 253 titles, selected from its backlist of bestselling series and one-off books, as well as new titles. Usborne books have previously been available in the U.S. through EDC, which will continue to sell Usborne titles in the U.S. through home sales consultants.

“We have carefully curated a launch list for the U.S. trade, with consultation with HarperCollins U.S., American retailers, and our in-house U.S. team, dedicated members of our sales and marketing teams, who work closely with HarperCollins,” said managing director Nicola Usborne (the daughter of Peter, who died last March at the age of 85). “We have books in multiple formats for every age and stage, and to answer any question any child might have, and we’re excited to grow our U.S. presence to bring our broadest range to American readers.”

Nicola and Jenny Tyler, Usborne’s longtime publishing director, are continuing Peter’s mission of publishing children’s books that entertain as well as teach. When her father founded Usborne in 1973, Nicola explained, “He thought nonfiction books were too dry and serious, and not engaging enough for children. He believed that children could understand anything, and were innately interested in learning about the world, but that learning and reading could sometimes be intimidating or off-putting. He thought that books needed also to be fun, approachable, and what he called ‘pick-uppable’ so children would want to read them as much as they wanted to read comics or watch TV.”

And from that belief emerged Peter Usborne’s publishing vision of “stealth learning,” which involves creating books whose readers, Nicola said, “are learning while having fun, and nothing feels arduous.”

Such titles are in evidence on Usborne’s debut U.S. list. That’s not my puppy… by Fiona Watt, illustrated by Rachel Wells is a new, sparkly edition of the inaugural book in the That’s not my... series, which has sold 30 million copies worldwide since launching in 1999; and Sticker Dolly Dressing: Rainbow Unicorns by Fiona Watt, illustrated by Antonia Miller, an addition to this series that has sold more than 34 million copies since its 2006 debut.

A pair of interactive sound books pubbed in October: Don’t Tickle the Unicorn! by Sam Taplin, illustrated by Ana Martin Larranaga; and Taplin’s Farm Sounds, with pictures by Federica Iossa. And due in December are Lift-the-Flap Questions and Answers About Dinosaurs by Katie Daynes, illustrated by Marie-Eve Tremblay; and 100 Things to Know About the Unknown by Jerome Martin, Alice James, and others, illustrated by Federico Mariani, Shaw Nielsen, and others.

A Closely Collaborative Work Force

Peter Usborne also built an innovative creative model for his new house—a structure that still stands strong a half-century later. Tyler, who noted that Peter was her mentor for almost 50 years, said he created an in-house team of writers, editors, and designers who collaborated with him and each other on a daily basis, “until the book was, he felt, right for the readers—bright and colorful and as unlike schoolbooks as they could possibly be.”

Usborne’s nonfiction books are still generated, written, and designed in-house, with staff members working together at every step. “We want to completely control what, how, and when we publish, as every book must adhere to our incredibly high standards,” Nicola said.

Tyler pointed to another constant that distinguishes Usborne from most publishers—a practice also implemented by Peter. “Though subject experts are on hand to advise and correct mistakes, experts do not write our nonfiction books,” Tyler said. “Peter believed that they simply know too much and don’t start where a child would start. The best results come from the writer and designer both discovering the information for the first time and sharing their newfound enthusiasm with the reader.”

Usborne’s books published into the American market will continue to originate from the publisher’s London office, and “are carefully adapted and edited to make them suitable for the U.S. market,” Nicola noted, adding, “You’ll never see anyone driving on a particular side of the road in any Usborne book!” The publisher is also looking for opportunities to create books specifically aimed at American readers. New U.S. and U.K. editions of a title will be released simultaneously when feasible.

Losing her father this year was difficult for Nicola and her family, but she found solace in the fact that he was able to participate in some of Usborne’s 50th anniversary commemoration. “I am so pleased that my father was still with us for the start of this momentous year and could join us for our first celebration at the Bologna Book Fair,” she said. “He loved a party—particularly one celebrating books and reading! And he was so proud that his beloved company and his vision for publishing for children had reached such an incredible milestone.”