Mere pop-up books are so yesterday. With Harry Potter’s final volume now old news, publishers in the $2.5 billion (approx. Rs10,125 crore) children’s book industry are trying new tricks. They are putting out vintage-looking picture books that are packed with extras such as cards, maps, letters and even a facsimile X-ray plate or model ship.
Recently, Candlewick Press published Mythology, the latest in a series that began with Dragonology in 2003 and continued with Pirateology, Egyptology and Wizardology.
The titles and their spin-offs have sold more than six million copies, according to Karen Lotz, president and publisher, and the series has inspired imitators. Candlewick and others now refer to the entire genre as “ology” books.
Bookology: Kids will read the books if the extras are in place.
One of the gimmicks of Candlewick’s series is that the books supposedly have been written by authors with curious names and backgrounds. Mythology, for example, claims to be written by a pre-Victorian adventuress known as Lady Hestia Evans. In fact, the book was written by Dugald Steer, the series’ editor.
Steer says he comes up with the concept for each volume and the era in which it will be set (the Wizardology book takes place in the Elizabethan age). Then he meets with the books’ designer, Nghiem Ta, to work out the extras, be they genealogy tables, “antique” coins or, in the case of Mythology, a yellow feather quill. The books take about nine months to research, write and produce, and where research doesn’t exist, such as with dragons, “I invent things,” says Steer.
These extras-laden titles help draw the 8- to 12-year-old “reluctant reader,” says Rick Richter, president of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. His company has found hits with books on pirates and Santa Claus, inspired by Candlewick’s “ology” books, and its Extreme Dinosaurs, out this fall, will include such pull-outs as an X-ray of a dinosaur head.
While many of these titles seem targeted at boys, Doug Whiteman, president of Penguin Young Readers Group, says his company has aimed at “girl-oriented subjects and formats.” His company’s Frederick Warne imprint had a hit with Fairyopolis, a facsimile diary of a young woman’s quest to find fairies among flowers, which has sold more than 400,000 copies since its 2005 release. Coming this fall are its How to Find Flower Fairies and Princess Alyss of Wonderland. Meantime, Scholastic’s Tangerine Press has sold over 200,000 copies of last year’s The Wandmaker’s Guidebook, which comes with a kit to make a magic wand; its follow-up, The Time Traveler’s Journal, is set for October. Vivien Jennings, owner of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kansas, US, says even children who are hooked on video games are drawn to the “interactive, engaging” nature of these books. They’ve become “standard and steady” sellers, she says.
These titles can cost two to three times as much to produce as a standard picture book, yet typically are priced at $20, just $5 more. So publishers need to sell them in volume to make a profit. Mythology has announced a first printing of 400,000—a big bet on a kids’ book that isn’t about a boy wizard named Harry.
Yet, not every enhanced children’s book succeeds. Beatrix Potter: A Journal, which includes such things as letters and a photo album about the creator of Peter Rabbit, came out last year, tied to the release of the Renée Zellweger film Miss Potter. The book met the same disappointing fate as the movie.
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