Whether kids are age four or 14, their reading tastes are changing constantly. Those on both the publishing and retailing ends of children's books try to take full advantage of the fortunate fact that the consumers of their products are continually growing into new reading levels, new areas of interest and new school curricula, requiring a fresh crop of books at every step.

PW's request for information from publishers about how they promote their backlists elicited descriptions of generic programs as well as specific campaigns. Supplementing their responses is input from booksellers on publishers' promotions that have worked in their stores and on their own strategies for selling the backlist.

The Personal Touch
The allure of children's authors and illustrators -- and that of costumes bearing the likeness of beloved book characters -- is enormous, affirm publishers and retailers. They agree unequivocally that store visits draw crowds and sell significant quantities of backlist books, even if the event is planned around the release of a new title. Laura Numeroff's extensive late spring and summer tour for her latest collaboration with Felicia Bond, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, stirred up tremendous interest in their earlier works, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and If You Give a Moose a Muffin, reports Virginia Anagnos, director of publicity for HarperCollins Children's Books. She notes that booksellers "went all out in their efforts to stage lively in-store events, including hosting pancake breakfasts or passing out coupons for local restaurants that serve pancakes," with the result that during the time of Numeroff's tour, combined sales of Mouse and Moose were up 58% over the prior year.

Booksellers are quick to cite Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith's recent tour -- their first of national scope -- for Squids Will Be Squids as especially effective in boosting sales of this duo's several previous picture books. Viking published Squids in September with a 309,000-copy first printing. Judy Bowler, a backlist buyer for children's books at Tattered Cover in Denver, recently hosted this author-illustrator team, whom she describes as "funny and crazy in a very good way. Their visit seemed to make customers look again at their other books -- and buy them." According to Tim Moses, director of publicity of the Penguin Putnam Young Readers division, "There is no question that this tour bumped up sales of The Stinky Cheese Man, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and Math Curse, likely by 20%, though we don't have exact figures."

Anne Ginkel, co-owner of Hobbit Hall in Roswell, Ga., notes that whenever an author visits her store, she takes pains to build up an interest in that person's backlist books as well as the newest release. Such is the case with this month's appearance by Jan Brett, on national tour to promote her new Putnam title, The Night Before Christmas. A story-and-craft session held during the week before Brett's stop at Hobbit Hall focused on the author's The Mitten, which, Ginkel explains, "helped kids and parents have her earlier books in mind when they came to meet her over the weekend."

Plenty of customers had Brett's backlist very much in mind when they arrived at San Marino Toy and Book Shoppe, also on the author's itinerary. "We had stocked up on the author's previous titles and we sold a ton of them, certainly a greater number of her backlist books combined than of the new book," observes San Marino's Anne McGann. "And I talked with customers who were purchasing a copy of an earlier book they already had at home, just so that they could have it autographed."

Even without sending an author on tour, it behooves publishers to devise clever ways to promote an author's backlist titles on the heels of a new release, often with attractive terms from the publisher on combined frontlist/backlist orders and with display materials. For example, for the November publication of Jez Alborough's latest Bear book, My Friend Bear, Candlewick offered retailers a large stand-up likeness of the books' stars, Bear and Eddie, with a minimum order of 10 titles of the new book and three each of Where's My Teddy? and It's the Bear! As a creative extra, the publisher threw in a roll of Polaroid film to entice booksellers to photograph young customers with their faces in the stand-up's die-cut hole, posing as Eddie.

The Lure of Costumes and Contests
Though an author can only be in one place at one time, costumes based on favorite book personalities are often made in multiples, allowing more than one Cat in the Hat, Amelia Bedelia or Lyle the crocodile to appear in stores, libraries or schools on any given day. For younger children, these three-dimensional impostors can be more exciting than a flesh-and-blood author, and can certainly make youngsters insistent on leaving a store with at least one book starring the character they have just met.

Sally Bulthuis, manager of Pooh's Corner in Grand Rapids, Mich., not surprisingly given her store's name, owns her favorite costume. "Winnie-the-Pooh shows up quite regularly in our store," she says, "and kids are always thrilled to see him. We also plan at least six in-store events annually where other costumed characters appear. These and author visits absolutely help sell the backlist."

At Barnes and Noble, where both borrowed and company-owned costumes make frequent appearances, director of children's books Steve Geck describes these characters as "incredibly popular. They do a great deal to help promote not just new books, but all of the books featuring that personality."

Two publishers have just recently created their first character costumes to promote steady backlist sellers. As part of its 25th anniversary celebration of Marjorie Weinman Sharmat's Nate the Great, BDD produced a costume enabling a look-alike of this young sleuth to promote the 20-book Delacorte series bearing his name.

Harcourt Brace's bat costume based on the title character in Janell Cannon's Stellaluna made its debut in fall 1997 and is currently booked well into 1999. (Borders has purchased a second costume, which is making the rounds of the chain's outlets.) According to senior publicist Sarah Shealy, bookstores report that visits of this furry-headed bat "have kept attention on this book and have helped ensure the consistency of its sales, which are now approaching 900,000 copies." A new Stellaluna activity kit to help retailers organize in-store events is also available from Harcourt Brace.

Publishers say that special events such as consumer sweepstakes and bookseller contests also effectively fuel backlist sales. According to Jane Ginsburg, marketing manager of the Archway and Minstrel lines, Pocket Books' teen-targeted sweepstakes promoting its Clueless titles "was a terrific way to generate sales of the earlier books in this series." Widely promoted (on UPN during airings of the tie-in TV series; in Girl's Life magazine; and in Chronically Crushed, the series' April installment), the sweepstakes offered the winner, in Ginsburg's words, "the ultimate slumber party -- a trip with a few friends to California to visit the Clueless TV set."

A bookseller contest to stage a Lilly-inspired in-store event was the cornerstone of Greenwillow's recent promotion of Kevin Henkes's Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, which has sold more than 300,000 copies since its 1996 publication. Timed to coincide with the release of the Lilly Book and Doll Package, the contest promised the winning store a visit from Henkes. As part of the promotion, retailers ordering a minimum of 25 books from the author's "mouse" uvre received a 52% discount. According to Tracy van Stratten, publicity manager for children's books at William Morrow, this promotion increased sales of Henkes's backlist by an estimated 20%.

And it made Hobbit Hall's Anne Ginkel one happy bookseller. Her store's first-prize-winning, week-long Lilly extravaganza sent a purse-toting costumed character into local schools, where store staffers read the story and helped students complete a craft project. The culminating Saturday event drew 200 Lilly fans -- some dressed like their heroine, as suggested -- to Hobbit Hall to make purple purses and briefcases (the latter tailored to purse-pooh-poohing boy readers), take part in a scavenger hunt and write or draw tributes to their teachers. "This event really pulled our community together," Ginkel comments. "We made a lot of new friends. We were expecting big sales for Lilly, but we sold out of every one of Henkes's titles that we had on the shelves."

Seasonal Celebrations
Holidays often give publishers and booksellers a ready handle to showcase backlist books with relevant themes. For example, Morrow shipped free Halloween treat bags to its accounts this fall, featuring art from Diane DeGroat's Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet. And the people on Peter Rabbit's home turf are gearing up for their Easter promotion featuring Beatrix Potter's classic tales. In 1999, booksellers who order Frederick Warne's Easter bulk pack will receive an activity kit, trading cards and a display easel and will automatically be entered into a sweepstakes to win one of five oversized plush toys of Peter Rabbit. Warne and Puffin will also produce a floor display, shaped like a basket and filled with a preselected assortment of bunny -- or Easter -- related titles.

Of course, no other period sets cash registers ringing as loudly as d s the Christmas gift-buying season. Retailers observe that a number of backlist books -- most notably Chris Van Allsburg's The Polar Express and Jan Brett's The Wild Christmas Reindeer -- are perennial favorites that need no extra promotion. Yet publishers have devised some merry ways to revitalize other holiday backlist books, including packaging them with toys or dolls or adding a musical component.

A successful example of the latter is Candlewick's October re-release of Susan Wojciechowski's The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, with art by P.J. Lynch, first published in 1995 includes a CD reading of the story. The publisher has sold out its 80,0000-copy printing of this new edition (the total in-print figure is 590,000 copies), which includes a subtle plug for another Candlewick backlist title illustrated by Lynch: a reading of Amy Hest's When Jessie Came Across the Sea.

The holidays bring out creative streaks in retailers as well, among Bulthuis at Pooh's Corner, who describes an enormously effective promotion that the store planned around The Christmas Miracle. For the third year, her store, which is located in a small shopping center, will decorate the mall's tree with hand-carved wooden ornaments based on the book's characters and made by local artists. "The first year we sold in excess of 500 copies of the book," Bulthuis reports, "and last year we sold 200"; she expects to match that number this holiday season.

And the holidays will no doubt also ring in some extra business at Jeremy's Books and Toys in suburban Houston, where owner Sally Jordan gives new life to backlist books by packaging them with bears from the Beanie Babies collection. Jordan has had great success packaging these bears with such titles as Yankee Doodle by Stephen Kellogg, We the People: The Constitution of the United States of America by Peter Spier and Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go!

Other Ways to Tout the Backlist
Marketing departments don't miss a beat during those months without a major holiday; they shape backlist promotions offering special discounts around such events as African American History Month and National Physical Fitness Month. Some backlist pushes revolve around themes that have no ties at all to events on the calendar. One innovative multithemed promotion is the Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers Program, which offers participating accounts co-op funds and an adaptable display with a mobile header. Stores must purchase a minimum of 50 books -- culled from all of the company's imprints -- spanning six themes, including medieval times, dinosaurs, ballet and Newbery/Caldecott winners.

Most children's booksellers find the days of summer anything but sleepy, as stores swarm with students looking for books to fulfill summer reading requirements. All retailers queried take advantage of the special terms many publishers offer during this season, especially on award-winning books that are likely to appear on lists of recommended titles.

Retailers repeatedly cite Simon &Schuster, HarperCollins and BDD as having the most appealing summer reading promotions. At BDD Books for Young Readers -- which d s a separate print run of slightly smaller, reduced-price editions of between eight and 12 titles for its annual summer offer -- publicity director Judith Haut notes that the company ships more than one million copies during each year's promotion.

Companies also pump life into backlist titles by celebrating landmark anniversaries of a book's publication with point-of-purchase displays, party kits, special discounts and stickers. Under development at Workman is an in-store event kit to herald the 10th anniversary of Elizabeth Koda-Callan's 11-book Magic Locket series, which has a total of 3.6 million copies in print.

Two steady backlist sellers -- Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak -- are each currently marking 35 years in print. BDD is supporting the former occasion with TV advertising, retail endcap promotions and posters for booksellers; since May it has shipped 200,000 units of its newly repackaged version of this title and the rest of L'Engle's Time Quartet.

To commemorate the anniversary of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are HarperCollins shipped posters and counter displays to stores in October. The publisher feted the author at a recent party in New York City, where 200 guests watched a costumed Wild Thing present him with a real cake.

Spring 1999 promotions are planned for the 30th anniversary of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a Philomel title, and for the 60th anniversary of Grosset and Dunlap's Little Toot by Hardie Gramatky. Ludwig Bemelman's perpetually youthful Madeline will be 60 as well, and Puffin is offering retailers a 36-copy bulk pack of assorted Madeline titles along with an activity kit encouraging stores to throw Madeline birthday parties. There's an angle to this promotion that big-hearted Madeline would certainly applaud: the kits suggest that retailers ask each child attending a party to bring a gift to be donated to Kids in Distressed Situations, a national charity.

Making Media Connections
Another recent event also put this birthday girl -- and the books she stars in -- into the spotlight. Last summer's feature film Madeline appreciably boosted sales of backlist titles, even though the publisher did not issue a movie tie-in edition. Puffin's Peggy Guthart reports that sales figures of these titles, exclusive of special sales, jumped an impressive 55% this fall over the prior year. Sales of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach and Matilda also enjoyed sizable sales hikes when films based on these novels were released in 1996.

Featuring splashy cover art or stills quickly identifiable by media-savvy kids, official tie-in editions to films, TV shows or home video releases can jump-start interest in backlist titles, as is evident with Pocket Books' movie tie-in to Lois Duncan's I Know What You Did Last Summer, sales of which have reached 517,000 copies since its release in October 1997. In contrast, Pocket's earlier edition of this thriller sold only 326,000 copies between 1989 (the earliest date the publisher can track sales) and the present. "This book has been a steady, perennial backlist seller for us," comments Pocket's Ginsburg, "but the movie edition has sent sales off the charts. It shows you what a movie connection can do."

When this film took off at the box office, BDD, which owns the rest of Duncan's backlist (and has just acquired the rights to I Know... as well), wasted no time reissuing the author's other books. They used cover art reminiscent of the style used on the movie poster, described by Haut at BDD as "very hip and very edgy, in a way that clearly appeals to teenagers." Indeed it seems to do just that: since BDD began reissuing Duncan's books last March, the company has seen a 300% lift in sales. And, living up to what Haut calls BDD's "motto for backlist marketing: to repackage, reissue, repromote," the company has new editions planned for three other books that are the basis for forthcoming home videos: Lloyd Alexander's The Black Cauldron, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Shiloh and Wilson Rawls's Summer of the Monkeys.

Long a book hero of millions of children, Marc Brown's Arthur obviously has hit his stride as a TV star, which immediately sent sales of Little, Brown's Arthur titles soaring to heights that now range from 300% to 500% over prior sales of individual books since the 1996 launch of his PBS-TV program.

Little, Brown, which holds the rights to Lucy Cousins's first two books starring Maisy the mouse, and Candlewick, Cousins' current publisher, are looking forward to her February 1999 TV debut. After Maisy begins airing on Nickelodeon, all of Candlewick's Maisy backlist will ship with shelf-talkers and cover stickers calling attention to the TV show.

Booksellers generally have few complaints about publishers' backlist marketing efforts. They praise companies' ongoing programs to reformat and freshen the look of vintage and contemporary classics that are the backbone of any store's business. Retailers also speak favorably of publishers' efforts to offer attractive terms on special backlist offers and to provide floor and counter displays that allow them to showcase backlist titles along with new releases.

Several booksellers issued pleas that publishers continue to update their backlist catalogues, which they find very useful in keeping their shelves stocked. "These catalogues are essential, especially with all the recent mergers in the industry," says B&N's Steve Geck. "The are indispensable tools for keeping the backlist alive and selling. Having a catalogue in front of you with a picture of every book nudges your memory and makes you think of titles you'd perhaps forgotten."

Retailers sound a more urgent, decidedly passionate note on the topic of publishers keeping children's books in print. "With all the merging of publishing houses," laments Hannah Schwartz of Children's Book World in Haverford, Pa., "I'm afraid that companies are letting too many books go out of print, because they are looking more and more at the numbers rather than the consistency of sales. Not a day g s by when a customer d sn't request a book that I can no longer get. This is a far more serious problem today than it was a decade ago, and I am greatly concerned."

Certainly this is a message worthy of consideration during these shaky times in the book business, when the backlist, more than ever, represents a reassuring constant for both bookseller and publisher.