This spring Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing will put out a graphic novel version of D.J. MacHale’s bestselling fantasy series, Pendragon, adapted by acclaimed comics creator and self-publisher Carla Speed McNeil. In addition, the house is launching two nonfiction-oriented comics series this summer and filling out its publication plans after announcing last year that it plans an ambitious initiative to encourage the publication of comics and graphic novels throughout its various children’s and young adult imprints.

The comics initiative at S&S is spearheaded by Liesa Abrams, senior editor at S&S’s Aladdin Paperbacks, and Ginee Seo, v-p, editorial director of S&S’s Ginee Seo Books at Atheneum Books for Young Readers. The publication of the Pendragon series by McNeil as well as Ignatz award-winner Hope Larson’s Chiggers, to be published simultaneously in hardcover (from Ginee Seo Books) and paperback in June, are the centerpieces of the budding S&S graphic novel program. Abrams also outlined plans to launch two nonfiction series: Before They Were Famous, based on Aladdin’s bestselling prose series, Childhood of Famous Americans, which offers fictionalized childhood biographies of famous individuals; and Turning Points, a new series placing fictional kids in adventure stories set in the midst of important historical events.

The first book in the BTWF series will be Albert Einstein by writer Vito Delsante, who has written for DC Comics and is also a manager at Jim Hanley’s Universe comics store in New York City, and artist Mike Lilly, who has also worked for DC Comics. The book is b&w, 128 pages and will be released in July.

Turning Points, explained Abrams, was an idea brought to S&S by agent Bob Mecoy. “It’s historical fiction that places kids in the center of big events,” said Abrams. The series will launch with two titles: Sons of Liberty, a story introducing the reader to the major battles of the Revolutionary War, written by historian Marshall Poe and illustrated by Xeric award-winning artist Leland Purvis, which will be published in June. And Little Rock Nine, also by Poe and illustrated by Ellen Lindner, which tells the story of the nine black students who desegregated an all-white high school in Arkansas after the Supreme Court’s famous 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that banned segregated schools. Abrams said that in 2009 Turning Point will take on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War in A House Divided, and the BTWF series will follow with Babe Ruth.

Abrams outlined plans to market and brand S&S titles under the Aladdin Graphics banner. “Aladdin Graphics is not an imprint, but a way to distinguish our graphic novels from the rest of the publishing program,” explained Abrams. “It relieves us from the pressure of releasing books every season and lets the program focus on finding the right graphic novels for us.”

Abrams said the graphic novel adaptation of Pendragon: The Merchant of Death will be released in paperback in May along with Raven Rise, volume 9 of the prose series, which is also published by S&S Children’s Publishing. The Pendragon prose series has sold more than three million copies. “The Pendragon books really lend themselves to comics,” she said, “and we’re trying to capitalize on the prose works by letting the fans know about the graphic novel and working to sell them both at the same time.” She said she has also visited schools with MacHale to preview the comic and get feedback, “and kids were fighting over the sampler.”

McNeil has been signed to adapt and illustrate the first two books of the Pendragon series. Abrams also emphasized that McNeil is working to create an adaptation that is “its own beast. Carla is very excited to be working on the book, and we want a graphic novel that stands on its own.”