Here’s a preview of anniversaries that several children’s book publishers are commemorating at 2015’s BEA.
Kar-Ben Celebrates 40 Years
In 1975, longtime friends Judyth Groner and Madeline Welker launched a small Jewish-themed publishing company in Washington, D.C. They called their venture Kar-Ben Publishing, combining the names of their youngest children, Karen and Ben. Their inaugural title, Sally Springer’s My Very Own Haggadah, made its debut that same year and is still in print, having sold more than two million copies.
Today, Kar-Ben is an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group, headquartered in Minneapolis, and is the largest publisher of exclusively Jewish children’s books in the world. With nearly 400 titles in print, Kar-Ben publishes up to 20 new titles annually on a range of subjects including Jewish holidays, Bible tales, folktales, Jewish history, and the Holocaust. Among its popular offerings are The Mouse in the Matzah Factory, by Francine Medoff and Nicole in den Bosch, and The Patchwork Torah, by Allison Ofanansky, which won the 2015 National Jewish Book Award.
In this anniversary year, Kar-Ben’s Sammy Spider series—lighthearted stories of Jewish life featuring young Josh Shapiro and his family, and the curious spider who observes them—reached a combined sales total of 500,000 copies. Another highlight of 2015 is the publication of The Wren and the Sparrow, a Holocaust fable by former U.S. Children’s poet laureate J. Patrick Lewis.
Publisher Joni Sussman is looking forward to the imprint’s future. “I don’t think the love of a good story is going away, no matter whether the format is print or e-book,” she says. “The Jewish people are historically ‘The People of the Book,’ and interest in and commitment to books in our community is stronger than ever. Even the Torah, while it continues to be read in its ancient scroll form, is also widely available today in book format, e-book, and even audio.”
Visitors to Kar-Ben’s booth (C1765) can get in on the celebration by picking up a free 40th-anniversary poster and checking out the publisher’s four new titles that focus on Israel: Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel, by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Sarah Goodreau, a twist on Aesop’s fable; Meg Goldberg on Parade, by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum, about a girl’s dream to lead the Celebrate Israel Parade down New York’s Fifth Avenue; 3 Falafels in My Pita: A Counting Book of Israel, by Maya Friedman, illustrated by Steve Mack; and Colors of Israel, images of Israeli places and objects by photographer Rachel Raz.
Toasting 10 Years of Mercy Watson
Mercy Watson, the porcine star of the early reader series by Newbery medalist Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, first charmed audiences back in 2005 in Candlewick’s Mercy Watson to the Rescue. Six books, two million copies in combined sales, and lots of toast with butter later, Mercy’s adventures concluded in 2009. But fans’ love for her rolls on, and with the recent launch of the spinoff series, Tales from Deckawoo Drive, so does the fun of Mercy’s world.
DiCamillo revisits the pig’s familiar stomping grounds in this new series for slightly older kids that is also illustrated by Van Dusen. The inaugural volume, Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, was released last August and a second entry, Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon, pubs in August. “I kept thinking about those Mercy Watson books and how much fun they were to write,” DiCamillo says about returning to a favorite setting. “I was looking for a way back in to telling stories about Deckawoo Drive, and Leroy said, ‘yippie-i-oh,’ and that seemed like a request to me.”
To make things festive for Mercy’s milestone, Candlewick will be displaying a birthday poster and banner in booth 2857 and raffling off a Mercy Watson gift basket. In addition, the publisher plans to launch a new online Mercy Watson fan club in October.
Graphix: The Comics Pioneer Turns 10
Scholastic’s yearlong celebration of Graphix imprint’s 10th anniversary is well underway—and picking up steam. From its groundbreaking early days to its current vaunted status as the home to multiple Eisner Award winners and 14 New York Times bestsellers, Graphix has a lot to celebrate.
“When Graphix published the first book in Jeff Smith’s Bone series in 2005, there was really no market for book-length children’s comics,” recalls Scholastic’s David Saylor, v-p, creative director of trade publishing, and founder and editorial director of Graphix. “It felt like we were taking a leap into unknown territory.”
But Saylor was clearly onto something. Bone went on to be a huge success (the series has nearly seven million copies in print), and, he says, “my instinct, based on my own love for comics when I was a kid, that children’s books publishers should be publishing comics, has helped create the robust and varied market for children’s graphic novels that we have today.”
As parents, teachers, and librarians began to embrace graphic novels as enthusiastically as the young readers in their lives, Graphix continued to sign up an impressive roster of artists and titles. “My feeling that creator-driven comics could stir the imaginations of kids and get kids reading was further realized as we published such talents as Raina Telgemeier, Kazu Kibuishi, Doug TenNapel, Mike Maihack, Jimmy Gownley, James Burks, Frank Cammuso, and Jake Parker,” says Saylor. “We’re now in the middle of a new golden age of kids’ comics.”
At booth 1938–1939, Scholastic is touting two major September releases for Graphix: Space Dumplins, by Craig Thompson, the acclaimed graphic novelist’s first title for young readers, featuring a girl on a mission to save her dad; and Sunny Side Up, by the brother-and-sister team of Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, a semiautobiographical graphic novel about siblings and family dynamics. The publisher is giving away 500 galleys of each title. A special 10th-anniversary print created by Thompson is also being given away during the show.
A Fifth Birthday for Carolrhoda Lab
Carolrhoda Lab, the YA imprint of Lerner Publishing’s Carolrhoda Books, will celebrate its five-year mark in August. Known for its boundary-pushing fiction, the imprint has in a short time solidified its reputation as a leading publisher of literary teen fare by producing several award winners and finalists, and earning 37 PW starred reviews.
“We’re proud of these accomplishments, and we have exciting new books and plans on the horizon with our new executive editor, Alix Reid,” says Adam Lerner, CEO and publisher of Lerner. Reid took the helm at Carolrhoda Lab (and Carolrhoda Books) in late March. She had been editor-at-large at Lerner, and came to the company from the position of editorial director and v-p at HarperCollins Children’s Books.
Carolrhoda Lab will be showcasing seven fall titles at booth 1727, including The Anatomy of Curiosity (a follow-up to The Curiosities), which contains original novellas by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yanoff; Last Night at the Circle Cinema, by Emily Franklin, centering on three teens who spend the night locked inside a condemned movie theater; and Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez, a novel about race, set during the 1937 New London school explosion in East Texas.
This article appeared in the May 27, 2015 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.