It has been well-documented that sales of activity books, for both adults and children, took off during the pandemic, as did sidelines such as puzzles, journals, and games. The numbers have come back to earth a bit since then, with NPD Books estimating that sales of books and products falling into the categories of board and card games, puzzles, magic, word games, crafts and hobbies, journals, trivia, and the like collectively decreased 8% in 2021 compared to 2020. And sales are down 13.7% from January through July of this year, compared to the same period in 2021.
That said, these sectors remain stronger than before the lockdown, according to executives at publishing houses active in the space. They believe the trend will continue, as consumers pursue hobbies discovered or rediscovered early in the pandemic, look for interesting ways to pass the time while staying home more than in the past, focus on strategies for reducing stress and anxiety, and support their families’ learning. As a result, many publishers continue to introduce new products, extend key in-house brands, and expand existing programs in a variety of interactive, hands-on categories.
One area of particular interest is mindfulness, which goes hand in hand with interactive activities that take consumers away from their problems and help focus their thinking. This fall will see products pairing mindfulness with crafts, sketching, dot-to-dot, and doodling, not to mention prompted journaling.
Meanwhile, several children’s publishers, especially those focusing on educational content, are adding interactive formats for the first time, as well as expanding ongoing series. Activity books for children were up 1.4% in 2021, compared to a strong 2020, and are down just 2% in January through July of this year, compared to the same period in 2021, according to NPD. These formats fit with educational trends such as student-led learning and are a fun way for students to reinforce academic concepts beyond the walls of school. They can also help address the steep social-emotional challenges many young people are facing.
Licensed properties have always been a good fit with interactive book formats and sidelines, and a number of publishers are expanding their licensing rights, as well as acquiring new licenses, for these products. One standout: the LEGO® brand, which is a good fit for these categories and is driving sales for several publishers.
Other categories of note include advent calendars, prompted journals, and tarot cards. Following is a look at what some of the key players are up to.
Blue Star Press Expands Millennial Lotería Brand, Arts and Crafts Titles
Blue Star Press got its start during the adult coloring craze in 2015. After publishing 75 titles in its first four years, including several New York Times bestsellers, the company pivoted to arts, crafts, activity, and how-to titles such as Hand Lettering 101 and Mind Your Business: A Workbook to Grow Your Creative Passion into a Full-Time Gig. The company still publishes two to three premium coloring books per year, but “our bread and butter is creative, how-to, and interactive products,” cofounder Peter Licalzi says.
One of Blue Star’s early launches, Millennial Lotería (@millennialloteria), a partnership with artist Mike Alfaro, has become a flagship. “We immediately knew that Mike’s creative spin on this traditional game would be an instant hit with younger generations of Latinos,” Licalzi says. A parody of the centuries-old, bingo-like Mexican game Lotería, the brand has expanded into more than a dozen spin-offs, including the 2022 releases Millennial Lotería: Y2K Edition, coming this fall, and Millennial Lotería: Gen Z Edition, released in spring.
All told, more than 500,000 units of Millennial Lotería products have sold to date, and the company has created co-branded versions for Marvel, Tostitos, Playboy, and Disney’s Encanto and partnered with Target to create exclusive content. Blue Star’s first four puzzles, three of which are tied to Millennial Lotería, have launched within the last year. It will also debut an NFTería, the first drop of which will consist of 7,000 unique NFTs inspired by 46 cards in the Gen Z Edition. “We see this as an opportunity to introduce Lotería to communities who may not have otherwise heard about the game,” Licalzi says.
Beyond Millennial Lotería, Blue Star is releasing the 10th and 11th titles in its Korie Herold heirloom memory book series, Mom’s Story and Dad’s Story, as well as new card decks tied to bestselling titles such as Grandma’s Story and Grandpa’s Story. The Urban Quilted Home: Transform Your Space with the Art of Quilting is the fall follow-up to Wendy Chow’s Urban Quilting: Quilt Patterns for the Modern-Day Home, the bestselling quilting book in 2021, according to Bookscan. And the spring 2023 release of Watercolor Workbook: Flowers, Feathers, and Animal Friends is the follow-up to the bestselling watercolor book of 2021, Watercolor Workbook: 30-Minute Beginner Botanical Projects on Premium Watercolor Paper, by Sarah Simon (@themintgardener).
In the first quarter of 2023, Blue Star plans to introduce a series of kits, based on the Instagram account Little Felted Friends, with everything one needs to create realistic miniature dog figures. Finally, The Happy Homebody: A Field Guide to the Great Indoors, a book of activities for introverts by Elizabeth Gray (@thegraytergood) to be published in March, is getting a big push this fall.
Penguin Random House Publisher Services has distributed Blue Star Press and its Paige Tate & Co. imprint since 2019.
Chronicle Expands Adult LEGO® Line, Adds Mindful Crafts
Chronicle’s lengthy list of licensed products for Adult Fans of LEGO® (AFOLs)—whose numbers have grown during the pandemic—continues to expand. “Adults have just fallen in love with the brand,” says Christina Amini, executive publishing director for Chronicle’s art, entertainment, food, and lifestyle categories. Among several key product releases this fall and into 2023 is the 1,000-piece LEGO® Minifigure Rainbow puzzle. “It has Corn-on-the-Cob Guy, Mr. Gold, all the favorites,” Amini says. “People really gravitate to the minifigures.” They also gravitate to Chronicle’s LEGO® puzzles in general, driving sales of more than 1 million units to date.
Fall also brings a new edition of LEGO® Mystery Minifigure Puzzles. These are 126-piece mini puzzles that fans purchase without knowing which figure is depicted on their puzzle until it is assembled. Four of the six possible designs are shown on the box, while the remaining two are complete mysteries. The first set of six LEGO® Mystery Minifigure Puzzles, dubbed the Red Edition, debuted in fall 2021, with the Blue Edition coming out this fall.
On the book side, the key fall title is LEGO® in Focus, a release featuring detailed color photos taken by 50 toy photographers showing real-world situations, such as diving into the ocean and almost escaping a squirrel attack, from the minifigures’ point of view. The photos were taken and selected by members of two global LEGO® fan photography communities, Brick Central and Stuck in Plastic.
These fall titles follow six new adult LEGO® products released in spring 2022. An art book, LEGO®: The Art of the Minifigure, covers 40 years of history and includes never-before-seen images. LEGO®: Build Every Day is full of projects to spur creativity, by master model builder Alec Posta. LEGO®: Master Builder Notebook has prompts to spark creative thinking and a spinning wheel on the cover that allows readers to select from four titles to suit their mood. The image on the 1,000-piece LEGO® Ideas Minifigure Space Mission puzzle was selected through a contest on LEGO®’s fan incubator, LEGO® Ideas. Rounding out the list are two 2023 calendars, one of which offers a building prompt for each day of the year. More products are being developed for future seasons, including a botanical-themed puzzle tied to LEGO®’s botanical building sets, one of several new lines the toy company has introduced just for adults.
Beyond LEGO®, Chronicle’s fall 2022 titles include Mindful Crafts, a new series of four all-levels kits specifically designed to help the user be present in the moment, unplug, and slow down by doing a craft project. “People have gotten deeper into crafts, and they need more ways to unwind and be away from their phones,” Amini says. The first four kits are two paint-by-number and two cross-stitch editions, one each with a celestial theme and one each with a geometric theme. Each kit is created by a different artist and results in three finished pieces that can be gifted or displayed.
Doodle Lovely's Doodle by Number Series Heads to U.S.
Doodle Lovely, a Canadian marketer of books that use doodling as a tool for mindfulness and self-care, is entering the U.S. market, with Baker & Taylor distributing. The company’s flagship line is its Doodle by Number series, a unique, neuroscience-based concept for users looking for entertainment, relaxation, or therapeutic art. It is designed to help those who lack confidence in their doodling skills, as well as practiced doodlers, free their minds through structured creativity. “Doodling helps you transition to a peaceful place to recharge and reboot,” says Melissa Lloyd, founder. “This is doodling with a purpose. It’s mindfulness that can take just a few minutes each day.”
Lloyd says that while doodling has a reputation as a sign that someone is not paying attention, humans actually process 29% more information when doodling. Scientific studies have demonstrated, she says, that doodling improves concentration and focus, lowers anxiety, helps manage and process emotions, and increases playfulness in life and at work, which leads to more satisfaction.
Doodle by Number titles, which launched officially in 2021, are guided activity books with different themes to draw in customers based on their interests. “They can find something they’re passionate about and then reap the benefits of mindfulness and purposeful doodling,” Lloyd says. Five titles to date include the original, Doodle by Number, as well as editions for lovers of dogs, cats, flowers and plants, and holidays, with more being developed for future release.
In each, the user fills in blank images with circles, lines, or other patterns, as indicated by the numbers, to build 30 different pictures. “It’s the act of repeating the same doodle in a pattern that is beneficial,” Lloyd says. “You learn over time to instinctively do it as a creative process.” Each book includes content about why doodling is advantageous for mental health.
The line has extended into a 5.5-by-7.5-inch pocket edition, which is portable for travel or other out-of-home experiences. The first title is A Pocket Doodle by Number: A Sweet Guide to Calming the Chaos, for aficionados of sweets, while a second for fans of the seaside comes out in February 2023. Like the flagship line, the pocket editions include 30 activities.
Doodle Lovely also offers a guided journal, Creative Mind Happy Soul, its bestselling offering to date, which was called out as one of the top products of 2021 by Mindfulness Magazine. It includes content for tracking mood, spurring gratitude, prompting self-reflection, and encouraging personal growth, along with doodling exercises. All told, the journal includes more than 100 guided doodling or journaling activities, along with other content, for short daily mindfulness tune-ups. It also features a satin page marker, an elastic closure, and an expandable inner pocket.
Lloyd noted that both mindfulness for relaxation and the desire for more creative outlets are trending right now, making this a good time to expand to the U.S. market. The first titles should be in U.S. stores in time for the holiday season.
Highlights Releases Inaugural Kits, New Play-and-Learn Formats
Highlights, built on a foundation of making learning fun, is introducing several brand-new, interactive formats this fall. “We’ve heard from our research over the last year that people want off-screen time, so we’re introducing a lot of cool new formats that are ‘beyond the book,’ ” says Jodie Cohen, Highlights’ director of marketing.
In 2020, Highlights introduced its first Highlights Books of Kindness—ABCs of Kindness and Kindness Counts 123—and retailers have been asking for more similar content, Cohen says. In October, Highlights will release the Learning Kindness Activity Set for ages 3–6, the company’s first-ever kit. Published under the Highlights Press imprint, it includes a 96-page activity pad; five write-on, wipe-off pages; and a dry-erase marker and pencil in a reusable clamshell holder. The playground-themed content integrates messages about caring, cooperation, self-care, and the like as well as core Highlights features, such as Hidden Pictures and That’s Silly! puzzles. Also in the Books of Kindness range is Stick with Kindness Reusable Sticker Playscenes, a kit that features three double-sided, trifold playscenes in a resealable folder, along with 170-plus reusable vinyl clings.
A brand-new line under the Highlights Learning imprint for fall 2022 is Highlights Learn-and-Play. Each title includes more than 30 educational games and activities in a 64-page book, plus 24 or more write-on, wipe-off flash cards and a spinner or stamper. The first list includes ABC Spinner Games, Phonics Spinner Games, 123 Stamper Games, and Math Stamper Games.
New titles from Highlights Press this fall include two additions to The Highlights Books of Doing series. The first is The Highlights Book of How, a follow-up to the 372-page, full-color hardcover The Highlights Book of Things to Do, published in 2020. The similar-format, 340-page Book of How is full of answers, along with supporting activities and experiments, to questions readers have sent the company, such as “How was the moon formed?” and “How do humans grow hair?” “We’ve gotten so many letters from kids who want to know the science behind things,” Cohen says.
The company is also adding to its series of 160-page spin-offs of The Highlights Book of Things to Do this fall with The Highlights Book of Things to Do Indoors, which includes experiments, crafts, yoga poses, magic tricks, and other activities, plus creative prompts and space to doodle and scribble. Other upcoming interactive titles from Highlights Press include new books in its Highlights Fun to Go series—themed puzzle books with extras like game spinners, code wheels, and holographic stickers—and a new Giant Sticker Fun title, Giant Sticker Monster Fun, with 60 pages of puzzles and activities, a marker, and more than 210 oversize stickers.
Insight Editions Expands Ranges of Interactive Formats, Gifts
Insight Editions is known for its premium pop-culture offerings, from “art of” titles, cookbooks, and ephemera-filled books to gifts and stationery. “We’re doubling down on some of these new gift areas and expanding the resources we devote to them,” says Raoul Goff, publisher and CEO. “We’re looking at fun things we can create for fans to put into their home or office to enrich that space with characters and stories they love. We take great pride in doing things that no other publisher does and really pushing the limits of design and production.”
Perhaps the best example, Goff says, is the company’s program of immersive pop-up books. After publishing titles with pop-up innovator Matthew Reinhart for many years—their Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Guide to Hogwarts and Beyond earned a Clio Award for innovation and creative excellence in advertising, design, and communication in 2020—Insight Editions announced a new imprint, Reinhart Pop-Up Studio, as Reinhart’s creative home earlier this year. The imprint specializes in pop-culture pop-ups and other paper-engineered formats by Reinhart and other creators. This fall marks the official debut.
One notable product line from the imprint is Flip Pops, introduced in July. This brand-new format consists of a pop-up character that transforms from one look to another with the push of a button, packaged with background scenes and a foldout booklet. Two Harry Potter Flip Pops, Harry and Hermione, debuted at San Diego Comic Con, where the format was named one of the top 10 most exciting new products by the independent press covering the show. Additional versions will include DC Comics’ Batman and Joker, Stranger Things’ Eleven, The Nightmare Before Christmas’s Jack Skellington, and two Star Wars figures, Boba Fett and Darth Vader.
Also on the inaugural list from Reinhart is Stranger Things: The Ultimate Pop-Up Book, released in August. “This is a big deal to the fans, with a lot of buzz,” Goff says. “It is pretty extravagant, I must say.” Among other titles, Dungeons & Dragons: The Ultimate Pop-Up Book, which will release in spring 2023, is notable in that it incorporates gaming elements to allow for play within the pop-up D&D world. “We try to innovate and bring in more engaging elements with each title,” Goff says.
Some of Insight Editions’ biggest success stories in the past year were interactive pop-up and pocket portfolio–style advent calendars, with Friends: The Official Advent Calendar being a particular standout. Reinhart Studio is releasing a Harry Potter Hedwig Pop-up Advent Calendar this fall, marking the third for the property. Other new additions for this fall include Star Wars: The Life Day Pop-Up Book and Advent Calendar, commemorating the holiday in the Star Wars universe that is most equivalent to Christmas, and Dungeons & Dragons: The Official Countdown Gift Calendar: 25 Days of Mini Books, Mementos, and More!
Earlier this year, Insight Editions introduced a new licensed gift book format it calls ephemera kits. These are 16-page accordion-folded books with a 9.8-by-4-inch trim size that feature behind-the-scenes movie facts, trivia, and stories from a film set; film images and illustrations; and more than a dozen extras such as facsimiles of props, artifacts, stickers, and stationery. Star Wars: Jedi Artifacts was the first, in January, followed by Harry Potter: Dark Arts in July. In October comes The Batman: Mysteries of Gotham City, which includes stickers, mini-posters, a woven patch, keychains, a button, and other collectibles.
Another format that has seen strong sales in the past year for Insight Editions is its pop-culture tarot card sets, with titles such as the Supernatural Tarot Deck and Guidebook leading the way. Insight Editions is expanding that list, with Hocus Pocus, Stranger Things, and Lord of the Rings among the new titles for this summer and fall and more in the works for future seasons.
A new twist on Insight Editions’ IncrediBuilds program, which consists of pop-out wooden model kits, is the addition of color. Previous sets, including licensed examples such as Disney and Star Wars along with non-licensed products, have been plain wood. The first two color kits, Minecraft: Creeper 3D Wood Model and Nightmare Before Christmas: Jack Skellington Book and 3D Wood Model, come out in spring 2023. On the gift and stationery side, new releases include a Minecraft journal with intricate die-cuts, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Acceptance Letter Stationery Set, and Hanukkah Pop-Up Menorah: An 8-Day Celebration of the Festival of Lights.
Three brand-new licenses have been added to Insight Editions’ pop-culture portfolio in 2022, all with a focus on gaming. Dungeons & Dragons is a new license, as is Minecraft, which will, in addition to the titles mentioned, include a Block Stationery Set that transforms into a cube, in Steve and Creeper versions. In addition, the company signed a deal for Pokémon, with fall titles including Pokémon Wisdom: A Journal for Embracing Your Inner Trainer; My Pokémon Cookbook: Delicious Recipes Inspired by Pikachu and Friends; a boxed cookbook gift set that includes the cookbook along with an apron; and Pokémon: Trainer’s Mini Exploration Guide.
“As shoppers are returning to retail stores, they’re craving tactile, real-world experiences that these kinds of interactive and gift products can deliver,” Goff says. “The magic of a pop-up book popping up can’t be replicated online. We’re looking forward to working more closely than ever with trade and special markets partners to offer consumers reasons to shop in brick-and-mortar stores.”
The Shakespeare Game Leads Laurence King's New Releases for Fall
Laurence King is known for its many books and games tied to literary personalities and characters. In the second half of this year, it is releasing several new puzzles and games that fit that description.
Leading the way is The Shakespeare Game: Make Your Fortune in Shakespeare’s London! Designed for two to five players ages 8 and up, the game play involves participants collecting characters and staging as many plays as possible at theaters around London before their competitors steal their ideas or spread the plague. “It’s been about a decade in the making, so it’s really cool to see it come to fruition,” says Giuliana Caranante, Laurence King’s director of sales, marketing, and publicity. Players who do not have deep knowledge about Shakespeare will not be at a disadvantage in playing the game, and they will likely learn a lot about the author and his work in the process, she says.
Also this fall, Laurence King is releasing Matchmaking: The Jane Austen Memory Game, where players pair Austen’s most famous couples. “It’s a really fun twist on a memory game,” Caranante says. Agatha Christie Bingo, meanwhile, features 64 characters and clues from across the writer’s many books, ranging from Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot to instruments used in the crimes. In each case, the game comes with a leaflet or booklet that includes more information about the various literary elements highlighted in the game play.
The company’s series of 1,000-piece, 19-by-27-inch “The World of” puzzles has two notable new entrants. The first, The World of the Harlem Renaissance, “is beautifully designed, fun, and really informative,” Caranante says. The poster that accompanies the puzzle has text by professor Davarian L. Baldwin, an urbanist and historian, that describes the era and the people depicted, such as Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Du Bois. The second new puzzle, The World of James Bond, features an illustration that includes all of the movie Bonds, key villains, supplemental characters, classic gadgets, and cars. Its poster also includes many details about the films and the elements depicted.
Looking ahead, Laurence King is releasing a 200-piece puzzle and a 50-card matching game in November based on The Amazing Maurice, the first-ever film tied to Terry Pratchett’s first Discworld fantasy novel. And, moving away from literary subject matter, You Are the President, a board game in which each player is a senator from a different state, comes out this fall. The players debate hot topics, such as how to fund a new stadium, with the best ideas, as voted by the players, becoming law. Whoever passes the most laws collects the most points and is elected president.
Lerner: Fun New Workbooks Reinforce Key Book Series
Lerner is expanding its assortment of activity guides this fall, adding new interactive titles that support three of its key educational book series. “Learning doesn’t stop when you get done with a book,” says Karlyn Coleman, Lerner’s classroom marketing manager. “These are joyful and fun activities that are really needed during this time.”
Lerner introduced its first three Read for a Better World Student Action and Reflection Guides in fall 2021, with one title each for grades PreK–1, 2–3, and 4–5. This fall, it adds science, technology, engineering, and math to the mix, with Read for a Better World Student Action and Reflection Guide: STEM, for the same grade levels plus middle school. The new guides put students in the role of a scientist while also boosting social-emotional and literacy skills through activities and prompts for hands-on skills-building.
In keeping with the mission of the first Read for a Better World series, the books encourage students to think critically about social justice and inclusion. The franchise is based on the belief that readers need a diversity of books to see themselves and the world of which they are a part and that these types of stories help enrich literacy and learning and build empathy and social-emotional skills. The brand includes fiction and nonfiction book collections for classrooms and families, summer reading take-home packs, educator guides, and professional development, as well as the activity guides.
Read for a Better World Student Action and Reflection Guide: STEM features 128 color, write-on pages with activities for both action and reflection, as the title says, both of which the company believes are necessary for building empathy and literacy. The guides connect to the books that are offered as part of the broader Read for a Better World series but also work as standalones.
Lerner is also introducing new activity guides this fall for its Words Are CATegorical and Phonics FUN series, both by Brian P. Cleary. Like the Read for a Better World activity books, these guides are connected to the book series but can be completed separately.
Phonics FUN, for preschool to grade 2, is a series of eight books, from The Hen in the Den, about short vowel sounds, to The Herd Came in Third, diphthongs and R-controlled vowels, all published in spring 2022. The Phonics FUN Activity Book features projects such as drawing pictures and writing poems to help reinforce the concepts.
The Words Are CATegorical series, meanwhile, includes 20 titles for grades 2-5, published from 1999 through 2014 and now available in 20th-anniversary editions. Titles such as A Lime, a Mime, a Pool of Slime: More About Nouns and Cool! Whoa! Ah and Oh!: What Is an Interjection? focus on different types of words. The Words Are CATegorical Activity Book includes activities such as a Mad Libs–style game to reinforce the use of nouns and adjectives and a Simon Says–style game where players learn antonyms by doing the opposite of what they are told.
National Geographic Kids Adds New Experiments Book to Brain Games Line
Like the nonfiction it publishes, National Geographic Kids’ activity books all include elements of learning and STEM. “Some are sciency fun, while others are classic puzzles with a science theme,” says editor Kathryn Williams.
A recent example is Brain Games: Experiments, which came out in May 2022. Tied to the National Geographic Channel TV show Brain Games!, the book contains hands-on experiments that are fun for kids while allowing them to expand their minds at home. Activities range from making foods taste different to creating illusions. Each has accompanying explanations of the science behind why the brain and senses can be tricked, how the body’s reflexes work, and how people make judgments on the fly. The book has both color photos, which illustrate the step-by-step instructions, and color drawings. “It’s a very rich and layered experience,” Williams says.
This is the first experiment book for the Brain Games publishing program, which includes a range of write-in activity books such as the Big Book of Boredom Busters, Mighty Book of Mind Benders, and Colossal Book of Cranium-Crushers.
In spring 2023, the publisher will be adding a new title to another interactive series, National Geographic Kids Puzzle Books, which includes Puzzle Book on the Go, the latest, published in 2021; Puzzle Book of Animals; and Puzzle Book of Space. The new title will be Puzzle Book of the Ocean. “These are small classic road trip puzzle book formats, with fun facts sprinkled in there,” Williams says. “They’re for kids that are not as jazzed about science.”
Also in spring 2023, there will be a book of personality quizzes, with flow charts and multiple-choice questions, to help kids figure out their shark superpower and similar traits. “There is light factual information woven in through the fun activities,” Williams says.
“We really try to get kids excited about the world, in all of our books,” she says. “Some kids try to read as much nonfiction as they can, but others don’t. These interactive titles are a way to get the second group involved. It feels like you’re not learning, but you are.”
Another backlist activity franchise is the Try This! line, with titles such as Solve This! Wild and Wacky Challenges for the Genius Engineer in You; Make This! Building, Thinking, and Tinkering Projects for the Amazing Maker in You; and Solve This! Forensics: Super Science and Curious Capers for the Daring Detective in You. The company also has an activity book companion to its fiction series, Explorer Academy. “We’ve always had lots of activity books,” Williams says, “but we’re getting more and more creative with them.”
PI Kids Innovates with New Twists on Classic Formats
PI Kids, an imprint of Phoenix International Publications, Inc., is best known for its sound books and other interactive formats. “Learning through play is what we’re all about,” says Susie Brooke, who was promoted to publisher earlier this year. “We try to add something to our formats to make them multisensory. We want to provide ways to engage the hands, eyes, and ears at story time, as well as draw young readers in with new licenses.”
One fall product that illustrates this philosophy is Spidey and His Amazing Friends Me Reader Jr., an electronic reader with a library of eight sound books. This is one of PI Kids’ bestselling formats, paired with one of the hottest preschool licenses of the moment, and, like many of PI Kids’ products, it is a first step toward independent reading.
Spidey has been paired with many of PI Kids’ other key formats as well. “Spider-Man has shown the fastest growth of any license for us over the past two to three years,” says John Russell, v-p of global licensing and marketing. “We’ve found the right mix of product and channels, and Spidey and His Amazing Friends is built just for preschool, which is our wheelhouse.”
Another new release is Disney Pixar Lightyear First Look and Find Activity Book and Giant Puzzle Set. The product has a look-and-find book with seven scenes from the film, as well as a 40-piece puzzle with a bonus scene. Other Lightyear formats include a Little Sound Book and a sound wristband-and-interactive book package.
The new Baby Einstein: Let’s Learn and Play! Book and Talking Flash Card Sound Book Set includes 50 double-sided flash cards that are inserted into a sound module, along with a book that gives caregivers ideas for other ways to play. “The brand is all about open-ended play and is a perfect fit for us,” Brooke says. PI Kids has long worked with Baby Einstein, first publishing sound and look-and-find books, then adding coloring and activity, cloth, and bath titles, and eventually, in June of last year, becoming the master publishing licensee. It is adding novelty board books to the mix, with four out now and more to follow, plus Kid Proof Books, a new durable paperback format. Disney Baby and Peppa Pig will also be among the six inaugural Kid Proof titles for fall 2022.
PI Kids innovates by looking at twists it can add to its core formats. For example, it is releasing an activity book, Let’s Go Potty!, with a potty-shaped button that makes flushing sounds, under licenses including Peppa, Blue’s Clues, and Paw Patrol. Its Quiz It sound format, featuring 300 questions and answers on early learning concepts, has an improved talking pen that can be used up to 20,000 times. It is adding scratch-and-sniff properties to some of its sound books and creating 3D Look and Finds, starting with Spider-Man, Jurassic World, and Moana.
New licenses in PI Kids’ portfolio include Gabby’s Doll House from NBCUniversal and Mighty Express from Spin-Master, with the first titles in fall 2022, and Boat Rocker Productions’ Dino Ranch, Skydance Animation’s Spellbound, and Penguin Random House’s Peter Rabbit for 2023. “During Covid-19, retailers were reluctant to consider new properties or new formats and stuck with the tried and true,” Russell says. “But we seem to be seeing an openness to new formats and properties now.”
Rebel Girls Gives Readers Motivation to "Be the Change"
With its 2022 branding campaign theme, “Be the Change,” Rebel Girls is reminding its readers that, like the women portrayed in the Rebel Girls books, they have the power to create change. “We are thinking about how to not just inspire but also to activate,” says Michon Vanderpoel, head of book sales at Rebel Girls.
Part of that mission includes adding more interactive and multimedia content to its offerings. One example: Rebel Girls has been including QR codes in its Rebel Girls Minis—themed paperback collections featuring the stories of 25 women—that take readers directly to the new Rebel Girls app. There they find 15-to-20-minute original audio experiences that add context to the stories, such as giving an idea of the kinds of music the women highlighted might have been listening to. All told, the app includes more than 100 immersive stories, with new content added each week.
On the publishing side, Rebel Girls is adding more interactive formats meant to prompt reflection and conversation. “It’s the next step on the Rebel Girls empowerment journey,” Vanderpoel says. Quizzes for Rebel Girls was released in August and contains 50-plus personality quizzes, with questions such as “What’s your STEM style?” Questions for Rebel Girls, published in 2021, includes more than 300 questions for girls to consider or discuss with their parents. Separately, Rebel Girls’ latest box set, the Dream Big Box Set, which collects all five Rebel Girls Minis to date, also includes an interactive journal.
The “Be the Change” message is tied to this year’s flagship book release, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Inspiring Changemakers, which includes stories about the likes of activist Greta Thunberg and inventor Riya Karumanchi. Monthly activations on different themes—such as Be Connected, Be You, and Be Curious—are pushed out in the brand’s consumer newsletter, on social media, and to bookstores, culminating in a celebration on October 11, the International Day of the Girl.
High-profile partnerships with Nike and Athleta have supported the “Be the Change” message as well. With Nike, a three-month, 360-degree partnership included an activity booklet and information about 12 female footballers who are on Nike’s athlete roster and participated in this year’s UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 tournament, as well as audio content on the Rebel Girls app and nike.com. For spring 2023, Rebel Girls is publishing its initial guidebook, Growing Up Powerful, the brand’s first-ever foray into prescriptive nonfiction.
Last but not least, earlier this year Rebel Girls released its first board book, highlighting stories from the inaugural title in the series, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (2016), with age-appropriate content and simplified artwork. “These are empowerment stories for babies,” Vanderpoel says. An image of a rocket hidden on each page adds an interactive seek-and-find element.
Red Chair Press Teaches STEAM Through "Jesse" Mysteries
Red Chair Press, a small independent publisher in Western Massachusetts, got its start in 2009 and offers children’s fiction and nonfiction ranging from early to middle grade readers, with school and public libraries being its biggest customers. It also sells into trade bookstores, especially its middle grade titles.
Much of Red Chair’s nonfiction contains some STEM or STEAM content. One successful program that focuses entirely on STEAM is the Jesse STEAM Mysteries for ages 7-11, published under the Red Chair Press Books for Young Readers imprint. Two sets of five books were published in 2020.
In the books, amateur sleuth Jesse, her mischievous cat, and a group of friends solve everyday mysteries using science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Books range in length from 64 to 72 pages, with four-color illustrations throughout, and retail for $8.99 for the trade paper edition.
Each title focuses on a different STEAM concept. The Secret in the Jelly Bean Jar, for example, is about estimating and calculating an area. The stories take readers through the scientific method as the characters analyze the problem, test their hypothesis, and conduct an experiment. A friendly professor makes an appearance in each book to explain the science behind the phenomenon, using illustrations to aid understanding. In the back is a makerspace activity that the readers can try at home or in school.
The mysteries are of high interest to readers. “Kids really gravitate to books like The Vomit Vortex, where one of the characters throws up on a playground ride,” says Keith Garton, Red Chair’s general manager and publisher. By spinning a pitcher of milk and splattering mud with their bicycles, they learn what happens when a person throws up. “It all comes together in a real-life experiment where readers create a vortex in a plastic liter bottle.” Red Chair Press offers educational guides for each book in the free resources section of its website, and all the titles are available as audiobooks on the major distribution platforms.
Virtually all of Red Chair’s titles include social-emotional learning content. “That’s been an important part of our business since we were founded,” Garton says. The publisher’s first series was Funny Bone Readers, collections of humorous stories centered on character development.
One of the company’s most successful launches, released in spring of this year, is Roosevelt Banks and the Attic of Doom by Laurie Calkhoven, a middle grade novel about a young boy whose family is expecting a sister and who enlists his friends to help him move into a scary new attic bedroom. “It got some nice reviews and won a Franklin IBPA Award,” Garton says. The book is the second Roosevelt Banks title, after 2020’s Good Kid in Training.
Advent Calendars with Sound Lead RP Studio's New Products
RP Studio, an imprint of Running Press specializing in gifts and paper goods, is debuting its first two advent calendars, both of them licensed products aimed at adults. To differentiate them from the rest of this growing segment, the company is taking advantage of sound capabilities developed for Running Press’s RP Minis line of kits. Some of the calendars’ daily doors open to sound clips, some reveal trinkets, and the last day yields a mini book. “We try to add the mini books to as many things as possible,” says executive editor Shannon Connors Fabricant. “We’re known for this from the RP Minis, and it makes the product feel different to the consumer.”
One of the calendars features Bob Ross, a license that has been successful across Running Press’s imprints. “It’s an in-house favorite, and we’re always looking for new things we can do,” Fabricant says. The sound clips are inspirational messages in Ross’s own voice. “They’re introduced with a snippet of ‘Joy to the World,’ since that’s what he brings us, especially at Christmas.” The second calendar highlights A Charlie Brown Christmas, in collaboration with longtime Running Press partner Peanuts Worldwide. Its sound clips are of the songs from the holiday special, and its mini book is a full retelling of the story. Both calendars are trifold so they can be displayed.
RP Studio produces a range of products on mystical subjects, from puzzles to deluxe sets containing card decks and guides. The imprint launched a 500-piece mystical puzzle program in 2021, with releases to date including Crystals, Tarot, and Zodiac. New for fall is Palmistry, which, like the others, is in a deluxe case with a 32-page illustrated book.
As for decks, fall releases include Black Tarot, an illustrated deluxe tarot deck and guidebook from author Nyasha Williams; Resilience Alchemy, a self-discovery and empowerment deck and guidebook by Maude White; and a lighthearted licensed version, the Harry Potter Weasley & Weasley Magical Mischief Deck and Book, with 40 cards and a 3-by-5-inch paperback guided journal. “It really fits the definition of fun and games,” Fabricant says of the last example.
RP Studio is highlighting pop-culture properties in its assortment of games and puzzles. Bob Ross, for example, is featured on a memory matching game for adults this fall; there are also plans for a seek-and-find double-sided puzzle in 2023. Spring 2023 will see the release of a two-in-one double-sided Harry Potter Quidditch puzzle.
The newest entrant to RP Studios’ series of trivia decks with episode guides is The Gilmore Girls. These sets include an 88-to-96-page booklet containing synopses of every episode, along with 200 trivia questions on 50 cards. The series already includes Friends, The Office, and The Golden Girls; a Seinfeld edition is in the works.
“Fall is our fun time,” Fabricant says. “We’re very Q4-oriented and want to capture that joy of the season for the consumer.”
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Press Expands Children's Program
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Press, founded in 2017, sees children’s publishing as an important way to get its message out to young consumers. “Our vision is to create a world where all life—animal life, plant life, human life—thrives together,” says Georgeanne “George” Irvine, director of publishing for the SDZWA. “That starts with children.”
Over the past three years, SDZWA released 11 books in two collections, including two new titles this fall. Raising Don: The True Story of a Spunky Baby Tapir, is the latest addition to the SDZWA’s Hope & Inspiration collection, which represented its first foray into children’s books. These are 10-by-10 photographic nonfiction hardcovers for ages 6-10 that tell the true story of animals from the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park that have overcome challenges. Some of the stories also include life lessons about topics like bullying and resilience.
“The idea is to have the children get to know an individual animal with an interesting story,” says Irvine, who is also the author of the Hope & Inspiration books. “That will inspire them to care about that animal, then the species, and then nature in general.”
A collection of illustrated picture books for a younger audience followed. These titles highlight animals in their habitats, inspired by the SDZWA’s eight eco-conservation areas around the world. Each has an engrossing fictional story with a happy ending that integrates an age-appropriate conservation message. In this fall’s title, Sloth’s Treehouse Inn, readers learn about sloths’ shrinking habitat, while A Wish for Pangolin is about wildlife trafficking. The books end with a nonfiction spread about the threats to the species and the steps people are taking to rectify them.
The two collections will continue with new books over the next three years. Additional books and series are also being developed for future publication.
Until recently, the SDZWA children’s books were sold mostly through the San Diego Zoo’s own retail channels, zoo and museum shops across the country, and Amazon. Blue Sneaker Press, an imprint of Southwestern Publishing, is now helping the organization make a push for retail. Southwestern, known for its custom publishing programs for museums, zoos, aquariums, and other nonprofits, has been working with the SDZWA since 2008, distributing guidebooks, exhibit books, and business books, in addition to the more recent children’s book program.
Skybound Puts Villain in Starring Role with New LEGO® Ninjago Graphic Novel
Skybound Entertainment launched its new young adult and middle grade graphic novel imprint, Skybound Comet, this summer, starting with three original graphic novels released through the Skybound imprint at Image Comics. A key title to look forward to later this fall is LEGO® Ninjago: Garmadon, which releases to the comic book direct market on November 16 and to trade bookstores on November 22.
The book, based on one of the leading LEGO® toy and entertainment brands, collects five comic books released starting in April of this year. The series is the first project under Skybound’s licensing deal with LEGO® and its master publisher AMEET, announced in June 2021.
LEGO® Ninjago: Garmadon centers on a villain, introduced as a minifigure in 2011. “He disappeared from the animated series and hasn’t been seen since,” says Sean Mackiewicz, Skybound’s senior v-p and publisher. “This is a canon story of what’s happened since we last saw him.” The character has been wandering through the countryside and comes upon Two Moon Village, which is being extorted by a motorcycle gang, and the townspeople convince him to intercede, leading to a battle between Garmadon’s former associates and a tribe of bears. The question is, has Garmadon turned over a new leaf or is he still trying to defeat Master Wu and the ninja? “The story has all the action and the spectacle you need, but it also has huge emotional heft,” Mackiewicz says.
The all-ages, 128-page, $12.99 book, by rising writer/artist Tri Vuong, will be backed by a heavy marketing campaign targeting bookstores, libraries, and educators, encompassing trade advertising, review mailings, email preorder blasts, social media campaigns, a publicity campaign, branded panels at Comic Cons, virtual and in-person book tours, and events with LEGO® fans.
Skybound Comet launched in June with Clementine Book One, the first in a trilogy by Tillie Walden set in the world of The Walking Dead franchise, created by Skybound founder Robert Kirkman. Other initial titles include Everyday Hero Machine Boy, by Vuong and Irma Kniivila, and Sea Serpent’s Heir Book One, the first of a fantasy trilogy by Mairghread Scott and Pablo Tunica.
The imprint has also announced three new graphic novels for release in spring and summer 2023. They include Scurry, a collection of a webcomic series created by cartoonist Mac Smith; a new edition of Outpost Zero, by Sean Kelley McKeever and Alexandre Tefenkgi, which Skybound originally released in 2018; and Michelle Fus’s Ava’s Demon, another webcomic collection. Skybound is a creator-driven multi-platform entertainment company that is involved in film, TV, online content, virtual reality and interactive content, tabletop gaming, and licensing and consumer products, as well as comics.
Mindfulness and Creative Expression Merge at Spruce Books
Spruce Books, one of the three imprints of Sasquatch Books, recently published a new title by artist Peggy Dean, founder of the educational social media platform The Pigeon Letters. Mindful Sketching: How to Develop a Drawing Practice and Embrace the Art of Imperfection is Dean’s latest guide to establishing a drawing practice to stay in the moment, express creativity, and enjoy the process without self-criticism. Readers from teenagers up can work through the concepts in a sketchbook as they proceed through the guide.
The book covers the basics of why and how to begin mindful sketching and offers step-by-step exercises and prompts to guide the reader along the way. “People think they can’t draw, so they don’t,” says Sharyn Rosart, Spruce’s publisher. “In this book, you just draw what you see and feel. You make something that’s yours and that you enjoyed creating. You feel like you’re given permission to not be perfect.”
Fans find Dean’s work relatable. “The author has been open and vulnerable around mental health and how using drawing and sketching to allow more mindfulness in a sense saved her,” Rosart says.
Meanwhile, Spruce began publishing a new series tied to The Just Girl Project, starting with The Just Girl Project Book of Self-Care, last fall. The Just Girl Project is a girl-power movement, founded by Ilana Harkavy, with nearly 1 million followers, that encourages self-love and the expression of one’s true self. The books support the same message, accompanied by colorful illustrations by Erica Lewis and motivational messages to help readers embrace their passions, be honest, and take ownership of their struggles. The second book in the series, The Just Girl Project Self-Love Journal, comes out in fall 2022.
Another new fall title is Finding Self-Compassion, a workbook by professor and psychiatrist Sydney Spears, a leader in the study of self-compassion. The idea, backed by science, is that women should treat themselves as if they were their own best friend, reducing the anger and self-criticism that they often experience. The approach is motivating and leads to increased emotional well-being. The fact that the author is a woman of color is important, Rosart says. “The face of self-help has all too frequently been a white face, and we’re happy that with this book we’re helping change that.”
This fall, Spruce’s parent company Sasquatch is rereleasing two of the five journals in its bestselling series, 52 Lists—sales are approaching 1.5 million since its release in 2015—with new covers. “This series has been so successful, and it’s what inspired the Spruce Books imprint,” Rosart says. “It’s all about self-expression, self-knowledge, emotional intelligence, and intentional living but moves it away from a ‘worky’ kind of feeling and makes it pleasing to read. It’s practical, relatable, and often funny content that people want to share with their friends.”
New Journals Added to Tuttle Publishing's Gift Line
Tuttle Publishing, founded in Vermont and Japan in 1948, publishes English-language books and gift products, all with Asian themes. Its first gift items—gift wrap books with tear-out sheets of authentic Asian art, such as papers created from scanned kimono fabrics—were introduced in 2015 and remain among the company’s bestsellers. Currently, Tuttle releases about 10–15 new gift products per season.
New to the gift line this fall is a series of eight hardcover and paperback journals, some dotted and some lined, featuring traditional Asian imagery on the covers and a note on the back about the provenance of the image. The hardcovers, retailing for $16.99, have 144 pages, a ribbon bookmark, and premium end papers. Cover images include Hiroshige’s Cherry Blossoms, Batik Blue Clouds, Hiroshige’s Snow on Mount Haruna, and Golden Waves.
The paperbacks, meanwhile, are 144 pages, with a back pocket for receipts and notes, and retail for $12.99. Designs include Cute Kokeshi Dolls, Healing Mushrooms, Shibori Indigo Butterflies, and Hiroshige’s Spotted Lilies.
Journals are doing well in the gift market and elsewhere, says Christopher Johns, Tuttle’s sales and marketing director, making this a good time to enter the category. “We offer something really unique,” he says, “because we hunt down distinct imagery no one else has.” The company plans to expand the journal range going forward, adding versions with blank interiors and more contemporary designs, including manga themes.
Origami paper packs and kits have been a staple of Tuttle’s gift line for years. Sales increased exponentially during the first few months of the pandemic lockdowns, both online and at retail, Johns says, and the products continue to do well.
In kits, the new Origami Orchids Kit: 20 Beautiful Die-Cut Paper Models, created in cooperation with the Smithsonian’s North American Orchid Conservation Center, is a key product for fall, accompanied by Blue & White Origami Stationery and Deluxe Origami for Beginners kits that include a booklet with eight projects, designed by professional origami folders to match the papers included. Tuttle also is adding new Origami Paper sets, such as Japanese Shibori, Hokusai Prints, Japanese Chiyogami, and Rainbow Colors, in 100-, 200-, and 500-sheet packages, to its wide existing assortment. All are on premium uncoated papers with optimal characteristics for folding and tearing.
In addition, Tuttle is releasing two new note card sets, Psychedelic Patterns and Marbled Patterns, in the fall, packaged in sturdy boxes that can double as keepsakes. The company also has a line of 12 puzzles, mostly photographic, including one of sushi that is among its most popular to date.
Patterns such as shibori, a Japanese tie-dyeing technique that is currently trending in the U.S., are released across a variety of products in the same season to make a bigger impact at retail, Johns says. Retailers have embraced Tuttle’s new counter displays for its origami paper and note card sets, which are free with orders of 20 units or more.
Union Square & Co. Doubles Down on Puzzlewright, Purchases Knock Knock
Union Square & Co., the consumer-facing name of Sterling Publishing since the beginning of 2022, sees opportunity for growth in puzzles, stationery, calendars, and gifts across the company. This is part of its broader strategy, also adopted at the beginning of the year, to become a best-in-class traditional trade publisher with a more focused list.
Puzzlewright, the company’s pen-and-paper puzzling imprint, is one area of focus. “Puzzlewright is a really important part of the company and of the makeup of the backlist,” says Amanda Englander, who joined the company as editorial director for adult trade publishing in July 2021. While most of Sterling’s imprints took on the Union Square & Co. brand, Puzzlewright—along with the Sterling Ethos mystical publishing imprint—retained its former name, thanks to its strong positioning with consumers and retail buyers. “Puzzlewright was already successful, so we wanted to double down on that strategy and build from there,” Englander says. “We want to make sure the list is known by as many customers as possible and expand the brand to other audiences as well.”
One of the first steps was to take some of the puzzling content into calendars. Puzzlewright’s top brand, Martial Arts Puzzles—the different belt colors signify level of difficulty—will extend into a sudoku-themed tear-off daily desk calendar for 2023, followed by another daily calendar in 2024, and will be a tentpole of Union Square & Co.’s new calendar program, launched in August 2022. Other new and future calendars across the company include the Official Dictionary of Sarcasm 2023 Day-to-Day Calendar, Jane Austen 2023 Engagement Calendar, and The Modern-Day Witch 2023 Wheel of the Year 17-Month Planner, based on a bestselling Ethos series.
Another area of focus is products that combine puzzling with mindfulness. The first two, Connect with Calm: Dot-to-Dot Puzzles for Relaxation and Connect with Calm: Dot-to-Dot Puzzles for Mindfulness, will release in spring 2023. Another new series, Pause for Puzzles, will follow in a later season, starting with titles for crosswords, word search, and sudoku. The imprint also is adding trendier puzzling titles, one of the first being a book of 1990s pop-culture crosswords in fall 2023.
Working with up-and-coming constructors and those who represent different points of view is also a priority. One example for spring 2023 is Tough as Nails Crosswords by Stella Zawistowski. “We’re leaning into the fact that she is a female creator, a group that is underrepresented in the puzzling space,” Englander says.
Finally, Puzzlewright’s long-dormant kids’ imprint, Puzzlewright Junior, is being refreshed and relaunched this fall, starting with five backlist titles: Crossword Puzzles for a Road Trip, Crossword Puzzles for the Weekend, Sudoku Puzzles for a Road Trip, Sudoku Puzzles for the Weekend, and Word Search Puzzles for a Road Trip.
Meanwhile, Union Square & Co. increased its presence in the gift and stationery space with the acquisition of Knock Knock. “It was a natural fit for us,” says Emily Meehan, who joined Union Square & Co. as chief creative officer and publisher in January 2021. “It’s in the pen-and-paper space but more product-focused. This is an area that we could leverage and get to scale quickly.”
Knock Knock encompasses two brands. The first, Knock Knock, sells stationery such as paper pads, sticky notes, notebooks, journals, and decks. “It has a distinct point of view,” Meehan says. “It’s a quirky, tongue-in-cheek, irreverent brand with a bit of snark.” She looks forward to bringing back some of the company’s archived content, such as Roadtrip, Baby Shower, and Work-from-Home Bingo Sets publishing this fall, as well as a new product, Books on Tape, that consists of literary quotes printed on washi tape, coming in spring 2023.
The other brand, Em & Friends, was founded by artist Emily McDowell and offers greeting cards by McDowell and other artists as well as gift products. “It’s more empathy-focused,” Meehan says. “It’s aspirational and inspirational but modern, with a ‘you-got-this’ sensibility. Em & Friends is known for putting into words things that are difficult to say, whether it’s about bereavement or ‘I messed up.’” Spring 2023 plans include a significant Mother’s Day card release as well as a positive affirmation deck, Gentle Reminders, by artist Barry Lee. Products releasing in fall 2022 include the One World a Day Journal and the menopause tracker and journal Is It Hot in Here? Or Is It Just Me?
Union Square & Co. will also be taking some of Knock Knock’s formats into other imprints. One upcoming example is Robin Arzon’s empowerment journal, Welcome, Hustler, which publishes later this year, in a similar format to Knock Knock’s undated planner and weekly agenda notebooks, Crush Those Goals, Make a Plan, and WTF. “We want to leverage what they do well,” Meehan says. “They’re strong and innovative product makers.”
West Margin Press Adds to Its Children's Activity Book List
The children’s list of West Margin Press, an independently operated publisher that is part of the Ingram Content Group, is best known for its picture books. Its first foray into the activity book segment was in 2016, when it acquired the Build It! series of LEGO® construction books for kids as young as age five, by author Jennifer Kemmeter. That series has expanded to a total of 17 titles, as well as inspiring a spin-off line, Play It!, that teaches young children to play the piano. Building on the success of those two series, the company has recently launched two brand-new activity book programs and is actively seeking others.
“At the time we purchased Build It!, there were really no LEGO® construction books for this age group, and most are still for older kids and adults,” says Jen Newens, publisher. “We redesigned it to be more market-friendly, and it really has been successful, so we added more titles.” The Build It! books are infographic, teaching very young children how to create builds from LEGO® bricks through step-by-step photographs and diagrams. Themes include dinosaurs, monsters, the Wild West, race cars, the medieval world, trains, sea life, robots, farm animals, and world landmarks, among others. The most recent, Build It! Christmas, was published last year.
Play It!, authored by Kemmeter with piano teacher Antimo Marrone, launched in 2019. The music-learning system involves putting colored stickers or sticky notes on a keyboard, which allows very young children to learn to play by color. The initial list included three books, one with public-domain children’s songs, one with simple classical tunes like “Für Elise,” and a Christmas title. In spring 2022, it introduced a fourth title in the series, featuring jazz and folk songs. The books include a primer on how to read sheet music and some basic techniques as well.
“Our activity books served us really well when people were sheltering in place,” Newens says. “We feel like the interest in the activity format will continue, so we want to expand that.” To that end, the company launched a series of Puzzler’s Guides last year, starting with The Puzzler’s Guide to Alaska: Games, Jokes, Fun Facts & Trivia About The Last Frontier. It will add similar titles for Oregon and California in the spring and fall of 2023, respectively.
West Margin has recently acquired another new activity series, Totally Weird Activity Books, by two childhood friends, illustrator Mark Penta and writer T.M. Murphy. This series is for an older elementary school–aged audience. The first two titles, Creative Coloring and Far-Out Fun and Super Strange Story Starters, are being published on Oct. 18, with a third, Unusual Objects in Fantastic Places, releasing April 25, 2023. All three include a cartoon panel at the front about how the author and illustrator became friends and why they wanted to make these books.
“The series is a little funky and goofy, with a cool illustration style,” says Alice Wertheimer, marketing manager. “The authors are on a mission to get kids creating, and we love that message.”
Workman Introduces My First Brain Quest, Refreshes Core Brand
Workman’s latest addition to its cornerstone Brain Quest brand is My First Brain Quest, which launches with a series of six board books in winter 2023. “We wanted to partner with and support caregivers and kids, from the earliest learning opportunity, starting at a few months old,” says Karen Edwards, Workman’s editorial director, educational resources. “There’s no manual for parents out there that helps them prepare their children for school, and My First Brain Quest provides some guidance that is pedagogically sound and fun. And it will help establish learning as a place of joy for the children by the time they hit school.”
My First Brain Quest, for kids up to age four, encompasses fun and accessible books about foundational subjects, including numbers, reading, basic science, and social-emotional learning. The initial board books include two themed First Words titles, one about the home and one about science in the world around us. Accompanying them are four skills books, on ABCs, 123s, shapes, and colors. Q&A panels throughout each book prompt learning through conversation. “They’re structured to guide the parent, as well as make the experience rich,” Edwards says.
The first six titles publish in January 2023, followed by another First Words title and two more skills books later in the year, with additional releases planned for 2024. The line will also expand into other formats beyond board books, such as the My First Brain Quest Learn to Write Workbooks in fall 2023.
The core Brain Quest decks and workbooks have also gotten a refresh as the brand celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2023. New features include links to the Brain Quest website, where parents can find special questions, exercises, and tips to help prepare their students for what’s next. Stickers, always part of the Brain Quest program, are used more intentionally, Edwards says, such as to mark progress in a tangible way. There are also technology sections at all grades, covering topics ranging from hardware and software to logical thinking and coding. The Q&A Smart Card decks also include technology sections as well as additional information in the answers, to give context and help strengthen the learning. The rebranded products will debut in May 2023.
Brain Quest, which has more than 56 million copies in print across the entire brand, got its start with decks of grade-leveled question-and-answer cards for preschool through grade six. Since then, the brand has expanded into workbooks, summer workbooks, and learn-to-write workbooks. To appeal to middle and high school students who grew out of the core Brain Quest assortment, Workman introduced its Big Fat Notebook series of curriculum-based study guides for grades six through eight. The Big Fat Notebook titles expanded into high school in 2020 with math and science-based study guides.