The publishing of early readers and first chapter books is big business, as can be seen by the multitude of series on the market from houses both large and small. Some of the series have had the same look and level configuration since they first launched, and others have been revamped and updated. Here we take a look at some of the recent changes in the easy-reader and early chapter book market.

Random House gave its

Step into Reading line a new design last year, which reconfigured its "steps" and gave the books a more simple, bold look. According to assistant editorial director Shana Corey, since the rebranding, the company has seen "an increase in both sales and in our presence on the shelves." In response to feedback from educators, they are debuting a new line extension, Step into Reading Write-In Readers. "They are narrative stories designed to get kids thinking and writing creatively," said Corey.

To help children visualize the connection between Random House's early reader line and its chapter books, the company has taken the Step into Reading look and applied a similar treatment to its Stepping Stones line of first chapter books. But it's not just the familiar arrow at the top of the books that is new in Stepping Stones; genre buttons have been added to the covers. With the books now divided into seven categories (classics, fantasy, fiction, true stories, humor, history and mystery), readers, teachers and booksellers can now easily see what genre a book belongs to, and find other subjects they may be interested in. Jennifer Arena, editor of the Stepping Stones line at Random House, said one reason for adding the genre buttons is, "We're hoping we can direct kids to a similar type of book that they already know and love."

Along with its new identifying marks, the Stepping Stones line is being relaunched this month with two titles from each genre for a total of 14 books. Seven more will come out in September and four others in December; by the end of 2005, all the backlist titles will be rebranded.

The relaunch of the line has had some unexpected benefits. "This project has given us a chance to see what we have in our backlist," Arena said. "Nobody realized what we had until we really dove into it. This is a great opportunity to reacquaint everyone with the great books we have." There are approximately 70 titles in the line, and new cover art will be added on an as-needed basis.

Established series in the line, such as perennial bestsellers Junie B. Jones and Magic Tree House, will not carry the genre buttons on their covers, but all will advertise other Stepping Stones books on the inside covers.

New Entries for a Classic


I Can Read line began in 1957 with the publication of Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak's Little Bear. The line now has over 200 titles in print, including that first book, which still sells in hardcover, and new things are happening for the line as well. Julie Andrews's Dumpy the Dump Truck character joins the I Can Read line this spring with the release of Dumpy's Apple Shop and Dumpy to the Rescue.

This fall, HarperCollins Children's Books is partnering with the Wildlife Conservation Society for a nonfiction line of early readers featuring photographic art. "It's the first time in a long time that we are using purely photographic art in the line," said Anne Hoppe, executive editor at HarperCollins. "The books contain information about the animals and about saving the animals." The first title in the series will be Tigers by Sarah Thomson.

Also, for the first time in the line's history, the I Can Read logo will be revisited. Starting in the spring of 2005, books in the line will, according to Hoppe, carry a "more prominent, younger and friendlier" logo and overall look. "We're also going to clarify the levels between the books," she said. "It's an overall stronger branding of the books." Frontlist titles will be the target for these changes. "The backlist is already very well established, and this will give our frontlist titles a good push," Hoppe said.

Teaching Skills to Girls

Pleasant Company jumped into the early reader market with the debut of the

Hopscotch Hill School line last fall. Robin Guernsey, senior marketing manager for book publications, said the company started the line because "as girls are entering kindergarten, what's missing from their curriculum is the softer skills that teachers sometimes don't teach, like finishing what you start, sitting still and good sportsmanship."

The first three books in the line, Thank You, Logan;Hallie's Horrible Handwriting and Bright, Shiny Skylar, impart real-life lessons about sharing, persistence and patience. The books, all written by Valerie Tripp and illustrated by Joy Allen, are aimed at children ages 4—6. Guernsey said so far the series has met the company's revenue expectations, and more titles are on the way, including two next month: Teasing Trouble and Good Sport Gwen.

The Reading Train

Launched in 1992,

All Aboard Reading is Grosset & Dunlap's line of leveled early readers. There are three levels in the line, and each book is marked with its corresponding "station stop" on the cover. Deb Dorfman, president and publisher of Grosset & Dunlap, said that when she first started at the company in 1991, she had all the covers in the line redone and brought up-to-date.

Other changes to All Aboard Reading over the years have included the addition of the line extensions All Aboard Math and All Aboard Science. Last month, All Aboard Poetry was launched; the first two titles, both second level readers, are I Brought My Rat for Show-and-Tell by Joan Horton, illustrated by Melanie Siegel; and Grasshopper Pie and Other Poems by David Steinberg, illustrated by Adrian Sinnott.

According to Dorfman, Penguin gets "a lot of support from the school market, as well as from the Scholastic book fairs." The bestselling All Aboard Reading titles at the moment are those that feature licensed characters. Penguin, through its various imprints, publishes Strawberry Shortcake, The Wiggles, Tomie dePaola's Barker Books and the Dick and Jane early readers. "Our generic titles are good sellers," said Dorfman, "but the licensed characters do best. Licensing in general is hot right now."

Ready, Set, Go

For fall 2003, Harcourt gave its line of easy-to-read books,

Green Light Readers, an updated look and added new features to all 44 titles. The series, which debuted in 1999, was updated "to make them even more appealing and exciting to the reader," according to senior editor Michael Stearns. "We also hoped to expand the retail presence of the series."

The changes involved include adding story-related activities to the back of all the books to enhance reading comprehension, creating brighter, bolder covers with a more retail-friendly look and inserting a page of reading tips for parents. The levels were restructured as well, Stearns said, "so that they were skill-based rather than age or grade-based."

The Second Time Around

Simon & Schuster's

Ready to Read line has had its ups and downs throughout the years. According to Ellen Krieger, v-p, associate publisher of paperbacks for S&S Children's Publishing, "The line was started by Susan Hirschman around 1969, when she was at Macmillan, and then there was a long period after she left the company that we didn't publish the series. Then after S&S bought Macmillan, we relaunched Ready to Read in 1996, with new full-color covers for the backlist and a more series-driven look."

The line currently has more than 120 titles in print, and several S&S imprints feed into the Ready to Read line, including Simon Spotlight and Little Simon. The company has recently started a level one series (Robin Hill School), is beginning to publish nonfiction into its other level one readers and in spring 2005 the first Eloise title will appear in the early reader line.

Something for all Readers

Orca Book Publishers, based in British Columbia, started a chapter book line in 1999 called

Orca Young Readers, for ages 7—10. This fall Orca Echoes will debut a younger line of chapter books, for ages 6—8. Andrew Wooldridge, editor at Orca, said the new line was started because "we were seeing appropriate manuscripts, and we are doing picture books and books for ages 7—11, so this was an age range we weren't covering." The Echoes line will launch with three titles, including A Noodle Up Your Nose by Frieda Wishinsky.

Since 2002 the company has also been publishing a line of books under the Soundings name—short stand-alone novels, about 13,000—15,000 words—written for teens who have a reading level of grades two to four; 18 titles are currently in print. "It is widely accepted that reluctant readers are mainly boys, but there are many girls also reading below grade level," Wooldridge said. "With the Soundings series we have tried to offer books for both sexes and cover as much ground as possible. We have been encouraged by the response we have seen to this series. We have heard that competent readers are picking them up for a quick read and that English as a Second Language and adult literacy students are also reading them."

The Ever-Changing Market

When asked about the changes that the early-reader market has experienced over time, Arena at Random House mentioned that chapter books in this genre didn't really exist until about 20 years ago. "You need something like early chapter books to bridge you between early readers and 200-page books for older children," she said. "Kids are so proud when they can get through a whole book and they become more comfortable reading."

Krieger at S&S spoke of a few points that are key to how easy-to-read books are being published today. "In the early days, easy readers weren't leveled," she said. "They were more focused on authors and stories and books for kids to read on their own, not on teaching kids to read. Now parents are more focused on getting their kids to read at a younger age, and they rely on these books to help them teach the kids."

Krieger also mentioned the growing number of early reader programs available as something that has changed. "I think as a category, everyone is struggling, but it's less the economy and more the proliferation of the programs. So many publishers have jumped on the bandwagon, so there are a lot of people getting a part of a share of a market that is finite."

Even with new early reader and chapter book lines cropping up season after season, sales for each publisher's series remain steady, and new titles and line extensions are being added as well. By all accounts these books are reaching their intended audience and meeting their goal of hooking new readers.