Gator Aid

Not many people would be surprised to hear that Gretna, La.—based Pelican Books has published a collection of alligator poems for kids. But what has surprised just about everyone (Pelican staffers included) is that the January title Alligator Tales (and Crocodiles, too!) by Miles Smeeton, illustrated by Eric Grantvedt, sold 8,800 copies in just "three or four days," according to Pelican sales manager Joseph Billingsley. What was the source of this Gator aid? A glowing endorsement by National Public Radio commentator Daniel Pinkwater.

Pinkwater plugged the title as a "crackerjack of a book" just before 10 a.m. EST on February 3, during his segment on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday. At 11 a.m. the book was 1,497,533 in the sales rankings. By 11 p.m. Saturday night, the title had risen to the number 10 slot on that list. Though this amazing trajectory is actually typical of Pinkwater-featured children's books, publishers usually have little if any time to prepare for it. As Pelican publicist Stephanie Williams explained, "I sent a review copy to the producer and she called the Wednesday before to say that it would be featured on Saturday." Billingsley recounted a similar rush in the sales department. "Lots of stores are ordering 10 copies at a time and that's hard demand, not just potential sales, from all over the country," he said.

Sally Jordan, owner of Jeremy's Books and Toys in Houston, supports those findings. "We did not order it originally," she said. "But since the NPR mention, we have had at least five special requests for it. I ordered some in and I think it pairs nicely with Cajun Through and Through by Tynia Thomasie [Little, Brown]."

So far, the book has sold out of its first printing of 5,400 copies and, according to Billingsley, "is well into a second printing of 10,000 copies." Pelican is planning a major radio campaign focusing on the book's appealing aural qualities. Any back orders for Alligator Tales will be filled when that second printing—currently being produced overseas—arrives in early April. Luckily, that's just in time for Pelican's next push for the title. "It's our big book for National Poetry Month," Williams noted.

Corduroy's Country Cousin

Move over, Punxsutawney Phil. There's a new critter hoping to become a staple of the Groundhog Day tradition. He's Gregory the groundhog, furry star of the new picture book Gregory's Shadow (Viking) by the late Don Freeman, creator of Corduroy . Gregory began stirring in late December when the book was shipped to accounts and immediately began to sell. According to Tim Moses, director of publicity for special projects at Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, "several sales reps reported that the minute their accounts put the book out, it was flying off the shelves." Since then Gregory's Shadow has made a remarkable showing, landing on the New York Times children's book bestseller list for four consecutive weeks. But even more remarkable is that the book got published at all.

Viking senior editor Elizabeth Law was a bit stunned and, of course, very pleased to receive a call from Roy Freeman, Don's only child, in late 1998. "He told me that he had found a picture book among his father's things and asked if I wanted to have a look at it," Law explained. When the package containing two dummies and finished art arrived from Roy's home in Switzerland, Law said, "It was chilling. I felt like I'd discovered a treasure we never knew about."

The package also contained a letter to Don Freeman from former Viking editor Linda Zuckerman in which she had suggested editorial revisions, and according to Law, the text required only minor tweaking. "When Don died suddenly in 1978," Law said, "his career was still going strong and he had left a huge amount of material behind. To find something like this was a real thrill. It's part of the legacy of the golden era of children's books." Law is also working on a Freeman treasury to be published this fall.

Viking anticipated good things from the Gregory project, ordering a first printing of 40,000 copies. To date, approximately 25,000 copies of that initial quantity have been sold. "We really benefited from the timing," Law said. "We offered booksellers something fresh, right after Christmas, when not a lot of things are coming out. It was a Groundhog Day book, too, and there aren't many of those."

Booksellers—and teachers—clearly agree. "That book was great for us," said Jordan of Jeremy's Books. "We sold 15 copies. It was pretty much a teacher buy, because of the Groundhog Day theme." Gregory gave a strong performance at Whale of a Tale in Irvine, Calif., as well. "We sold out of it, all 10 copies," said owner Alexandra Uhl. "Teachers just liked to have something new on the topic." At this rate, it's probably just as well that Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of the winter selling season.

Hitting the Sale on the Head

Last October, Harcourt/Silver Whistle published an interactive picture book that's really getting the job done: My Little Red Toolbox by Stephen T. Johnson. Booksellers began buzzing over the title in June when they were able to try it out at BEA. Browsers could flip through the book and play with the removable, heavy cardboard tools on each page (they fit in like puzzle pieces). "We printed extra hammers for a giveaway and they seemed effective in getting our point across," joked Harcourt publicist Barbara Fisch. "People couldn't resist trying their hands at the pages. Stephen Johnson wasn't available for a tour, so the book has truly sold on its own merits."

Thus far, those sales have resulted in five trips to press, for a total of 150,000 copies in print, and two appearances on PW 's bestseller list. "That's one I didn't expect to do as well as it has," said Uhl of Whale of a Tale. "But it's doing great. We've sold a bunch—30 or so." Elly Gore, children's book buyer for the Harry N. Schwartz Bookshop stores in Wisconsin, reported a healthy audience for the book as well. "We featured it in our Christmas gift guide and as of today have sold about 100 copies in our six stores," she said. "But they weren't all holiday sales—we've also sold quite a few this year, so it's moved beyond gift giving."

At Tatnuck Bookseller in Worcester, Mass., children's book buyer Lorna Ruby observed that the book's interactive components were a boon to handselling. "We love that book," she said. "All I had to do was go to the saw page and pull it out—the saw noise sold it for people." Ruby also commented that My Little Red Toolbox is not just for boys. "A lot of girls like to emulate their dads and play with tools, too. We sold 30 copies over Christmas, and it's still going." With results like that, it looks like Harcourt is working from a good blueprint.

The Wonderful Wizard of Pop-Ups

What do you get when you pair a talented artist with a classic text? In the case of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Commemorative Pop-Up by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by Robert Sabuda (Oct., S&S/Little Simon), you end up with a bestselling picture book. Sabuda's talents as a paper engineer have been well established by such popular titles as A Christmas Alphabet and Cookie Count and have earned him a loyal fan base. That core group of admirers will likely expand with this latest work, which breathes new life into a story that already had plenty of fans of its own.

Early buzz on the book started with a promotional giveaway of 5,000 pairs of "Emerald City"—green 3-D eyeglasses that were distributed at BEA and fall regional trade shows. By December, the book had become a fixture on the New York Times children's bestseller list (where it has remained for 15 weeks to date) and it was recognized on a number of year-end "Best Books of 2000" lists, including those of PW , Newsweek and USA Today . Sabuda's Wizard of Oz wizardry has also been featured on television, including a 20-minute segment on Martha Stewart Living , which first aired February 13, and the Oprah Winfrey Show , during a program discussing classic books, which aired on February 22.

To date, Wizard has 138,000 copies in print, with an "aggressive printing planned to last through 2001," said S&S publicity director Tracy van Straaten. The labor-intensive printing and hand assembling of the pop-ups requires a five-month turnaround time. In order to more accurately plan print quantities, Robin Corey, v-p and publisher, novelty books and media tie-ins at S&S, said her department tracked the book's rate of sale on a daily basis. "We try to anticipate as best we can, so that we can work with the manufacturers and order books in stages," Corey explained.

On the bookstore front, Sabuda created a foil-accented Oz floor display and, according to van Straaten, her department shipped 1,640 of them to accounts across the country. Display or not, booksellers seemed genuinely happy about the book. Gore of Harry N. Schwartz exclaimed, "We've sold hundreds and hundreds of it. I jumped on that book early, in a big way. I love the technology; the paper engineering is outstanding. That twisting tornado is especially wonderful for us living in tornado country. He's out-Sabuda'd himself!" No wicked witch in sight, for Sabuda, the yellow brick road seems to be leading straight to sales success.

Seal of Approval

What a difference an award can make. On January 15, the ALA's Association of Library Service to Children division announced its annual awards, including the Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King and Printz prizes. In most cases, sales for the winning and honor titles have kicked into high gear, demonstrating the prestige of those awards.

After the titles are announced, Newbery and Caldecott winners are expected to receive, on average, additional initial sales of 100,000 copies, based on orders from schools and libraries nationwide. This year's titles are certainly on their way to that estimated figure. Newbery winner A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (Dial) currently has 128,300 copies in print, following an order for 90,000 copies placed on January 16. Caldecott choice So You Want to Be President? by Judith St. George, illus. by David Small (Philomel) boasts a total of 178,000 copies in print, which includes 130,000 copies ordered since January 23. Miracle's Boys by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam) won the Coretta Scott King author award, boosting the title's in-print figure to 42,000—37,500 of those ordered after the award. And the Printz Award winner, Kit's Wilderness by David Almond (Delacorte), has close to 70,000 copies in print, with 35,000 ordered since January 15.

The honor books in each category are experiencing a sales bump as well. According to PW 's polling of publishers, most post-awards reprint orders for honor books roughly doubled the pre-awards in-print figure. As examples, Newbery Honor winner Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick) has 110,000 copies in print, 55,000 of which were ordered post-announcement. Caldecott Honor recipient Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, illus. by Christopher Bing (Handprint) had an initial printing of 15,000 copies, and 40,000 more were ordered as of January 15. And Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, illus. by Betsy Lewin (S&S) has 196,000 copies in print, with 90,000 of those ordered post-award.

Though going out of stock on a particular title is not pleasant for booksellers or publishers, it's bound to happen in the case of award announcements or other unexpected media attention. Happily, many booksellers understand the situation when it comes to award winners. Ruby of Tatnuck Bookseller said: "We have an awards display with space set aside for the winning titles that are out of stock. We let people know they're coming. And people are going to buy the award winners whenever they come in; these are not really lost sales just because we don't have the books immediately."

Gore of Harry N. Schwartz observed that "the award winners don't sell in the huge numbers they used to after the announcement. But one of my managers pointed out that it's often because we have already sold our customers those books all through the year because we thought they were so good." Sally Jordan of Jeremy's Books and Toys agreed: "So You Want to Be President? was selling already," she said. "And that's what you want—a book that's going to sell whether it has a gold seal on it or not."