One of the most popular Christian authors of today is writing for children for the first time ever. Simon & Schuster’s Paula Wiseman Books imprint is publishing a series for middle grade readers based on Karen Kingsbury’s bestselling Baxter Family series, which is aimed at adults and is currently published by S&S's Howard Books imprint.
Kingsbury's Christian fiction titles—including over 25 books in the Baxter Family series—have sold more than 22 million copies worldwide, according to the publisher, and the new Baxter Family Children trilogy will follow the childhood stories of Brooke, Kari, Ashley, Erin, and Luke Baxter, as told from the young characters' viewpoints.
“In today’s culture it seemed of utmost importance to write a series anchored in traditional family values,” said Paula Wiseman, v-p and publisher of the imprint. "For years, [Karen's] readers have been asking for something they can share with their children. Now with these books, Karen is going back in time."
Kingsbury is writing the middle grade series with her son, Tyler Russell, and the first book, Best Family Ever, is slated for publication on February 5.
“It was actually Tyler’s idea,” Kingsbury told PW when asked why she wanted to write fiction for younger readers. “He was in the middle grades when I was writing the adult books, and he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be incredible for readers to see these characters when they were young and share the books with their kids?’ There is a generation of readers who are dying to share these stories with their kids.”
Also speaking to PW, Russell explained the inspiration behind the series and his goal while writing the backstories for the children of the Baxter Family.
“Everybody takes ownership of the Baxters—I think they’ve become a representation of all families— everyone has that one sibling who has gone astray, or has a parent who has gotten sick,” he said. “They’re relatable and they are going through all the up and downs of life, and readers like to see that they’re not alone in that. Our goal and our dream is that kids in this age group can see that even if it’s bumpy and difficult, they can make it through.”
The Baxter Family Children series will explore what publisher Wiseman calls “classic growing pain issues,” such as self-acceptance, developing character, and the bonds of family. For example, in Best Family Ever, the Baxters cope with news that they’re moving, including the pain of letting go and learning to embrace change. The book will also feature the spiritual practices of the family.
“It would feel forced for me to not include faith elements, and they happen organically—whether it’s someone who is angry with God, or fearful—the spiritual themes are natural to the story,” Kingsbury said.
With an initial print run of 175,000 copies, S&S is planning a marketing and publicity campaign for Best Family Ever that includes author interviews, a book tour featuring school visits, a Family Activity Kit featuring games for parents and children, and a book trailer. The second book in the series, Finding Home, is set for spring 2020, to be followed by the third yet-to-be-titled book.
“There’s early talk of the series going beyond three books as well, so we’ll see what happens,” Kingsbury said. “If people fall in love with it like we really think they will, we will continue.”
“I’d love the opportunity to tell more stories to that generation and create more readers in it; it’s really an honor and important to do that,” Russell added.
In addition to the middle grade series, the Baxter family is being adapted into a television series by actress Roma Downey and Lightworkers Media in conjunction with MGM Studios. The Baxters is expected to air on a major platform in fall 2019.