Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, Usborne Publishing has endured as a publisher of uniquely accessible and exciting children’s books. As it embarks on a new trade partnership deal with HarperCollins, and after the loss of founder Peter Usborne, the publisher celebrates its storied history and embraces the next chapter.

PW chatted with Nicola Usborne, Peter Usborne’s daughter and managing director of Usborne Publishing, and publishing director Jenny Tyler, about the company, its collaborative business model, and what the 50th anniversary represents to them.

Nicola, it must be bittersweet that your father’s passing coincided with Usborne’s 50th anniversary. Can you share a little bit about what first inspired him to launch Usborne in 1973, and about his vision for the company?

Usborne: My dad went into children’s publishing, and started Usborne Publishing, when my brother and I were born. He always said that parenting was the greatest privilege he could possibly imagine, and that his entire career in publishing had been an extension of being a parent. He started publishing books for us, and for children everywhere, as he felt that the nonfiction books available at the time weren’t engaging or exciting enough. He believed passionately in the potential of all children, and thought they deserved the best.

We never stop innovating, but my dad’s vision stayed the same: put simply to “Do it better.” He wanted to create beautiful, fun, compelling books that children would love to read. He believed that no subject was too hard for a child if it was explained in the right way—and he wanted to make reading and learning just irresistible to children. We are very proud to continue his great legacy and take his life-long vision forward.

Tyler: Peter’s vision was revolutionary—there were information books for children at the time, but mostly they were aimed at schools and libraries, and they weren’t colorful or fun. Peter created something very different with Usborne—he wanted to produce books that satisfied children’s curiosity that they could enjoy and learn from. The emphasis was always on having fun.

Usborne has such a unique business model. What are the benefits of creating your books in-house? What are the challenges?

Tyler: Collaboration is very important to us. It’s much easier to go back and forth on things when writers and designers share the same space. We talk—a lot! It means we have ownership of the whole process, that all our books have a distinctive voice, and we maintain a trusted level of quality that people recognize.

All that planning takes time, though. It’s not quick and easy—we never rush anything out of the door. Writers will produce the text, but pictures do a lot of talking too—so to plan how these will work together can be challenging and requires a lot of shared thinking.

How do Usborne’s original guiding principles continue to inspire you today? How has Usborne changed and evolved?

Tyler: Peter was an exceptionally brilliant explainer and mentor. His values and vision have always been very clear to those around him, which is why Usborne books continue to stand the test of time. I see my role as continuing his publishing legacy and maintaining the level of quality and care he so successfully built.

We can’t rest on our laurels though. We must be aware of changes and developments that inform how relevant our books are. Fashion trends, illustration styles, and fonts all need to evolve over time. We’ve also moved both older and younger—our books start from birth, all the way up to 11th grade (and beyond!).

As you look back on the years, what are a few of Usborne’s greatest triumphs and accomplishments?

Tyler: I always feel the biggest sense of pride when I hear how our books have impacted people. It’s been quite amazing to read letters from people over the years, telling us that they were inspired by an Usborne book, and have since gone on to build their career in that subject area. Or children themselves, feeling compelled to share their favorite titles. A child wrote to us once saying "I thought books were boring until I discovered Usborne books."

Peter was a trailblazer in that sense—he took subjects that ordinarily were only written for adults, such as computing, and made them accessible for children. As a result, we have a vast, varied, and eclectic backlist explaining many things at many levels. From art to politics, there’s an Usborne book for (almost) everything.

From your perspective, what are some key characteristics that make Usborne titles so appealing to young readers?

Tyler: They start in the right place. By that, I mean where a child would start with their thinking. We follow their logic, and put the child first, always. Children very quickly decide whether they like a book—they won’t persist if they don’t and they’re the most critical audience of all. So, we have to make an impact in the limited time and space we have. And we do that in a few ways—we explain without patronizing, we give enough but not too much, we make them bright, colorful, and very often funny. We also use interactive elements such as flaps to make discovering information more entertaining, plus sounds and tactiles for the very young.

Peter always said that Usborne books should be "good enough to eat"—and we still stand by that—we want children to find our books irresistible.