In a category dominated by evergreen bestsellers—Seuss and Sendak, L’Engle and Rowling—it can be easy to forget how rich and varied the children’s backlist is. Take I Love My Hair! by Natasha Tarpley, illustrated by E.B. Lewis (ages 5–8), originally published in 1998: the 2001 trade paperback edition has sold 103,000 copies with continued strong annual sales. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers executive v-p and publisher Megan Tingley says internal numbers put the title’s sales higher thanks to its popularity in the school and library markets—200,000 trade paperback copies total, and another 100,000 board book copies.
The publisher is releasing a 20th anniversary trade paperback edition in April. Tingley, who calls the title one of her “all-time favorite” acquisitions, had read a collection for adults edited by Tarpley—Testimony: Young African-Americans on Self-Discovery and Black Identity (Beacon, 1995)—and a colleague at Beacon put the two in touch. While looking for a project to work on together, Tingley asked Tarpley if she’d ever considered writing about African-American girls and their hair.
“At the time, there wasn’t much if anything that spoke to this part of the life experience of African-American girls. Now it’s not the only book out there of its kind,” Tingley says, citing as examples Princess Hair by Sharee Miller (Little, Brown, 2014) and Crown, a Newbery and Caldecott Honor book by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James, which covers similar territory with boys. “We wanted to position the book for today’s market and give it another opportunity at retail.”
Little, Brown plans to promote the title widely with a media push at the ALA conference in June and at beauty and natural hair shows.
At Holiday House, deciding what from its extensive history to refresh and reissue is the playground of Elizabeth Law, who joined the publisher as backlist editor in 2017. Since the investment firm Trustbridge acquired Holiday House a year earlier, the publisher has focused on “expanding and aggressively building trade business,” Law says, and backlist is a big component of that focus.
“Holiday House has a library with a first edition of every title they have published in chronological order,” she says. “It’s a treasure trove. It’s absolutely fascinating to watch our world change through these books and see what could have new life.”
The first reissues include a 40th anniversary edition of Tomie dePaola’s The Popcorn Book (Oct.; ages 5–8) that fixes the colors in the 1978 cover art, which had been printed incorrectly, and also updates language referring to indigenous people. Repackagings of the rest of dePaola’s nonfiction titles for the same age group will follow in the coming seasons, with new designs and artwork for The Cloud Book (1975), The Quicksand Book (1977), and two formerly out-of-print titles: Cats and Kittens (originally published in 1979 as The Kids’ Cat Book) and The Christmas Tree Book (originally published in 1980 as The Family Christmas Tree Book).
The publisher is also releasing a new edition of A Child’s Calendar (ages 5–up), featuring poems by John Updike and originally published by Knopf in 1965. Holiday House released a 1999 edition with illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman, who was awarded a Caldecott Honor for the artwork. The book depicts her multiracial family and she and her partner Jean Aull in some of the spreads, which made it an early favorite among LGBTQ readers. The title has never gone out-of-print and will be reissued in January 2019 with a new cover.
Old Stories, New Zeitgeist
Norse mythology is hot—just look at the popularity of Neil Gaiman’s 2017 book of the same name (318,000 print copies), the characters of Thor and Loki in various Marvel movies, and the TV show The Vikings. But there was an earlier bellwether of this trend. New York Review Books’ top seller from its Children’s Collection is D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaires, with an introduction by Michael Chabon (ages 5–9). Since its 2005 publication, it’s sold more than 112,000 copies, and it does particularly well around the holidays.
At Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the perennial strong seller is historical rather than mythological. Girls Think of Everything, which is about women inventors, was written by Catherine Thimmesh, who won the Sibert Medal for Team Moon, and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, who won Sibert and Caldecott honors for The Right Word. The book, intended for readers ages 10–12, has maintained steady sales since it was published in 2000. But HMH children’s senior v-p and publisher Catherine Onder says that “in the past six years, sales began to seriously uptick, followed by exponential growth in the last three years,” when it went from selling 17,000 print copies in 2014 to 51,000 in 2017.
Girls Think of Everything has already sold almost 10,000 trade paper copies this year. In October, HMH will release an updated version with 50% new material that Onder says “expands coverage of inventions and inventors to better reflect our diverse and technological world.”
Eoin Colfer tapped into Irish mythology with a dash of James Bond for the eight-book series he launched with 2001’s Artemis Fowl (ages 10–14), which has sold well over four million print copies. Disney-Hyperion is coordinating with Disney Studios on a repackaging effort and a slate of projects around the series, including a movie version reportedly based on the first two books, which is scheduled to open in August 2019.
“This is the first time a Disney-Hyperion book has been turned into a Disney movie,” says Stephanie Owens Lurie, Disney editor-at-large and former editorial director. “Having it in house is fantastic because we can be a lot more embedded in the process. There have been many more studio marketing and publishing marketing meetings; the studio is being very respectful of the books.”
First up: new editions of all eight titles, with updated covers. Disney-Hyperion will release two new editions per month from October through January. Plans for 2019 include a boxed set of the first three repackages in paperback, a movie tie-in edition, and four new books—related to the Artemis Fowl world and written by other authors—from sister imprint Disney Press. In February 2020, to coincide with the movie’s DVD release, Disney-Hyperion will release The Fowl Twins, which launches Colfer’s spin-off series.
In May, the Scholastic Gold paperback imprint will launch with 14 critically acclaimed and award-winning middle grade novels, including the Pura Belpré winner and summer reading mainstay Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Scholastic Press, 2000, ages 8–12). Each revamp will include extra content; for instance, Ryan’s book will include a q&a with the author, suggested activities related to the book, and an excerpt from her 2016 Newbery Honor book, Echo.
“It’s an immigrant story, a fundamentally American story, and it’s Pam’s grandmother’s story,” says Tracy Mack, v-p and publisher of Scholastic Trade, who edited the book. In an author’s note after the end of the novel, Mack says, Ryan writes more directly about her grandmother, “so it’s very personal and meaningful for readers to find that out.”
Ryan traveled extensively and used her skills as a former teacher to do grassroots marketing at schools, Mack says. And with each new book of hers, Scholastic has a fresh opportunity to promote her backlist. The 2015 publication of Echo coincided with Esperanza Rising’s 15th anniversary, and the publisher created bookmarks with one title on each side for events and trade shows.
Another picture book that sells well for Scholastic year after year is 2001’s Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees (Orchard; ages 4–up), which has sold 469,000 copies in hardcover. When Scholastic’s Cartwheel imprint released a board book edition in 2012, sales spiked across all accounts, and the board book has gone on to sell 1.6 million print copies.
Scholastic v-p, publisher Ken Geist attributes the book’s popularity to its message: “It teaches kids to be themselves,” he says. The book also offers a lesson to publishers who are looking to find new readers for their backlist titles, in the guise of giraffes learning to dance: “If one approach doesn’t work, try another.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misidentified Ken Geist at Scholastic. He is v-p, publisher, not editorial director.