The first-ever leveled reader line has just gotten a facelift. Step into Reading, created in 1984 by Janet Schulman, has been undergoing rebranding since 2001, when its publisher, Random House, decided the series needed a new look in order to stay competitive in the marketplace.

According to Heidi Kilgras, editorial director at Random House Children's Books and head of the rebranding project, "Branding was becoming a buzzword back in 2001, so we began to look at the branding of the series to make it more prominent." She wanted the books to look "more informative and consumer friendly," and wanted the information on the books to be "parent-friendly, very clear and very informative."

Of course, even the best-laid plans have disruptions. "Midway through the rebranding, Random House purchased Golden," Kilgras said. Golden's Road to Reading series, created in 1998, already had a presence in the marketplace, but the two series differed, mainly in the breakdown of their levels. Combining the two was a challenge because of those differences, but Kilgras saw the merger as a good opportunity to take a step back and "reenvision the line and the levels."

The new "steps" (1—5) range in age from preschoolers to grade four. Each book is clearly marked with its step, and a detailed explanation appears on the back cover to help parents choose the right book for their child's reading level. According to Kilgras, Random House used "a lot of feedback from accounts and parents, and drew from the successes of Road to Reading's brand in order to arrive at a simple, bold look."

Random House has rebranded roughly 225 titles from the backlist, and will have 250 titles in print once the new books from this year have been published. Almost all of the backlist SiR titles made it into the rebranding, and 95% of Golden's Road to Reading titles have been integrated into the line as well.

In weeding through the backlist to see what would be appropriate to keep, Kilgras kept an eye out for "timeliness, power of storytelling and how each title was selling." Random House is still looking to acquire the same types of stories for the series, Kilgras said, but she noted that "the marketplace and the size of our list make it more competitive to evaluate candidates for the line."

The rebranded books will be released at a rate of 15 titles per month, until all the backlist titles have been rolled out.

Golden's Road to Writing series, created to encourage creative writing in young children, is still in print, but Kilgras said, "we halted the frontlist program until we could reenvision it." New titles will be published in 2004 under the name Step into Writing.

The launch of the rebranding, set for May, includes promotions in various outlets. Among the offerings to booksellers: new spinner racks as well as a floor display (a first for SiR); and a summer reading program for consumers. Schools and libraries will be reached with print advertising, as well as with new parent guides and teacher's guides. Random House will also debut a new Web site devoted solely to the series,