We asked children’s book publishers to tell us about some of their more recent efforts to market and promote books that encompass social and emotional learning themes. In addition to sharing how they connect with educators, librarians, caregivers, and counselors, publishers also pointed to some of the top titles they’ve been spotlighting in this area.
Author appearances and promotional giveaways at library and educator conferences, advertising in teacher- and librarian-centric journals, and creating an educator’s or reader’s guide rank as some of the most tried and true strategies employed by publishers when getting the word out about SEL-related books. Of course, depending on the author, or the book, this kind of familiar marketing can still feel fresh. Such is the case with author Susan Verde, whose wellness picture books—I Am Yoga (2015), I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness (2017), and the forthcoming I Am Human: A Book of Empathy (Sept.), all illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds—promote “the concepts of empathy, resilience, and inclusiveness, and really tap into the conversation we’re having now about the importance of social and emotional learning,” Hallie Patterson, associate director of publicity at Abrams, says. Verde typically leads children in yoga and meditation practices during her appearances; she will be on a national tour of bookstores and schools in September to promote I Am Human. Patterson notes that Verde’s books tie in nicely with increasingly popular yoga storytimes, which she says “incorporate both movement and mindfulness into one lesson, and a meditation activity can be a great way to help children calm down after an energetic movement song.”
As an example of putting marketing energies into educational conferences, Scholastic will be hosting an event focusing on what Lizette Serrano, executive director of educational marketing and event strategy, describes as “SEL books and more” for early childhood educators during the National Association for the Education of Young Children national conference in Washington, D.C., in November.
Creating physical kits of marketing materials remains a viable marketing approach, and certain books lend themselves to this treatment. Random House Children’s Books is having great success with a We’re All Wonders Classroom Kit and Educator’s Guide, which provides activities and discussion ideas for the books We’re All Wonders and Wonder by R.J. Palacio. The kit also contains information about the #ChooseKind campaign, the Certified Kind Classroom Challenge, and the Daily Wonder app, which all celebrate acts of kindness and are components of the ongoing initiatives inspired by Palacio’s bestseller and its subsequent companion titles. “We are hearing more and more from teachers that they are focusing on social and emotional learning, because it is such an important foundation for their students to have.” Adrienne Waintraub, executive director of school and library marketing, says. “Students are dealing with many different challenges in their lives, and teachers want to help them deal in a positive way.”
Waintraub says that using educational social media handles, posters with educator guides on the back, and thematic displays at conferences are among the typical tools in her department’s arsenal. But a recent proliferation of relevant books has inspired her team to do something new. “This year, we have a nice group of new titles that are perfect for this theme, so we have produced a Social and Emotional Learning Kit,” she says. It consists of a brochure that “discusses how picture books can help with teaching social and emotional learning lessons, shows how our books fit into the social and emotional learning framework, and gives a short teaching idea.” Stickers for students starring characters from the featured books are included as well.
At Macmillan, school and library marketing director Lucy Del Priore says highlights of SEL-related titles on her company’s list include last fall’s Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, which remains a bestseller and “is being used in and considered for many ‘one book, one school/community’ campaigns, as its message of acceptance and kindness is universal and timeless,” according to Del Priore. “We’re supporting one-book campaigns and encouraging teachers and librarians to make their own school or library a welcoming place with a newly created ‘All Are Welcome Here’ kit,” she adds. “Physical kits were distributed at the recent ALA and ILA conferences, and we’re placing print and online ads to offer a physical kit and/or downloadables (via wishtreebook.com/resources) for back-to-school timing.”
In addition, Del Priore says Macmillan is publishing an adult edition of Wishtree in January 2019 in order to encourage the group discussion appeal of the story. Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller is another Macmillan title appealing to those looking for social and emotional learning themes. “We displayed the book at all our winter and spring teacher-librarian conferences and already have attendees telling us they use the book for both one-on-one reading time and as a readaloud,” she says. “And the title alone gets as much attention as the ‘be kind’ message can, and is mentioned and heard everywhere—in the media, classroom, library, home, workplace.”
To support its 2017 title Mustaches for Maddie by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown, Shadow Mountain created a “Compassion in Action” kit featuring a reader’s guide, postcards containing concrete suggestions for how to show compassion, stickers, and thank you coupons that read “I noticed you being kind!” to hand out.
Turning to digital marketing plans, SEL was the focus of two recent Candlewick Classroom for Teachers e-newsletters that included relevant book titles. “We are always looking for opportunities to promote social and emotional learning, which we see as a natural extension of the themes of empathy and understanding that suffuse so many of our titles,” Kathleen Rourke, executive director of sales and marketing, says. In addition, Rourke mentions an issue of the e-newsletter showcasing the works of author-illustrator Bob Graham, whose work she says is “widely beloved for its thoughtful, sensitive portrayal of feelings.”
Newsletters play a big role at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, too. As Victoria Stapleton, executive director of school and library marketing, reveals, “We are doing a dedicated issue of our Little, Brown School & Library newsletter that will focus on SEL titles, of which we’ll have quite a few across age groups, with tips for using these books in an educational setting, audio and video assets, and further readers advisory suggestion.” And in looking at key offerings from the LB list, Stapleton says, “On the social and emotional learning front, we always start with Todd Parr, who has a truly unique connection to his young audiences. Few authors are able to communicate with that age group as he does.”
Social media figures prominently in most publishers’ marketing efforts. “Our Pinterest boards are a key form of outreach,” says Phoebe Kosman, assistant director of marketing, publicity, and events marketing at Candlewick. Under its Candlewick Classroom for Teachers account, the company has created boards devoted to numerous topics appealing to teachers and librarians, and has one dedicated to Social and Emotional Learning (using the hashtag #SEL). Other featured boards include #WeNeedDiverseBooks, #OwnVoices, Immigrant Experience, and #ReadKindBeKind.
Candlewick initiated a #ReadKindBeKind campaign back in 2016 grounded in the idea that, as Rourke puts it, “stories allow the sharing Zand empathy. Understanding and empathy foster kindness.” The company created a dedicated Pinterest board containing relevant #ReadKindBeKind book titles, promoted the hashtag across other social media channels, and produced and distributed #ReadKindBeKind bumper stickers. The #ReadKindBeKind Pinterest board has more than 3,700 followers.
Macmillan leverages social media in other ways, as well. Del Priore says her team “coordinates efforts with our advertising and promotions department to focus on social media influencers who have teacher/librarian followers, and use digital tactics to find teachers and librarians who have purchased similar titles.”
Earlier this year, Lee & Low’s literacy specialist Katie Potter hosted a webinar for educators on using diverse books to teach social and emotional learning. During the presentation, she spoke about how she researched and developed an extensive Social and Emotional Learning Diverse Reading List, and highlighted exemplar titles for the key social and emotional themes. “The response was great,” Hannah Ehrlich, director of marketing and publicity of the webinar, says. She adds that the booklist has been “incredibly popular” with educators thus far. Links to both of these projects can be found on Lee & Low’s website (leeandlow.com).
At Simon & Schuster, v-p and director of education and library marketing Michelle Leo touts one of the online resources: “Our Book Pantry recommendation program is one of the primary ways we promote these types of books to teachers and librarians,” she says. The Book Pantry website bills itself as a guide to book discovery and provides “teaching and literary resources for your classroom and library.” Among the offerings are such features as Seasonal Spotlight; Author of the Month; and access to reading guides, catalogues, and an archive of the publisher’s seasonal book preview presentations.
On its website, Sourcebooks offers a resource page for educators and librarians, highlighting titles that have educator or discussion guides, lesson plans, or activity books. SEL titles can be found under the Social Responsibility and Growth Mindset sections on the page, and include the What Does It Mean to Be...? series by Rana DiOrio from Little Pickle Press (which became an imprint of Sourcebooks Jabberwocky last year).
Hitting the Target
As the children’s book imprint of the American Psychological Association, Magination Press has some advantages when it comes to spreading the word about its SEL-related titles. “Our core audience is librarians and teachers who also have a degree or some sort of other related training in psychology or counseling,” says Jason Wells, marketing director for APA Books and Magination Press. “They help us get our message out to a wider audience. We also have a unique connection to school counselors and social workers, who use our books to help improve kids’ lives.” Magination does dedicated email marketing to these groups and can target mailings to the APA’s member psychologists, more than 100,000 in all. And, as Wells explains, “unlike any other publisher, nearly all of our books have built-in notes to parents and caregivers, so the story can be read, then the content discussed.”
For some of Candlewick’s more targeted efforts: “We reach out to organizations that promote social awareness and character education in schools,” Rourke says, “such as Social-Emotional Learning Alliance for Massachusetts, which advocates for SEL in all Massachusetts schools, and Open Circle, which provides an SEL program for grades K–5.”