Appealing to the kids’ book buyer Print
Written by Rhonda Sholar   
Wednesday, 29 May 2013 10:05 AM America/New_York

Publishing quality children’s books that sell demands considering all shopper motivations

Getting parents to exchange their hard-earned cash for a kids’ book can be a challenge in a down economy, but moms and dads will still plunk down the money if they are motivated.

“Purchases are made because of content,” said Laura Minchew, senior vice president and publisher of specialty publishing at Thomas Nelson. “Story, felt need, message, the look of the book—these things motivate a buyer.”

Publishers walk a fine line when it comes to price, consider how much is a consumer willing to pay and what value-added elements will make them feel they are getting a good deal. 

Overall, there is a changing landscape in kids’ books, including new authors, publishers and partnerships. 

This fall marks B&H Kids’ first full release cycle since re-entering the children’s market. Since its launch, B&H has seen its children’s books become best-sellers, its Firebird book receiving a 2013 Christian Book Award nomination from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, and more than 25 titles releasing this fall and winter. 

And partnerships are deepening product lines for companies like DaySpring, which recently entered into an agreement with Crayola, a company with a 99% brand awareness and considered the number-one brand by moms. Clearly, kids’ publishing is broadening and diversifying. 

In this year when children’s issues have taken center-stage, Christian publishers are addressing key issues that affect kids, including bullying, and are looking to provide books that relate to the new Common Core Standards national education initiative.


Best-selling Christian market authors have been dropping into kid space of late. 

“We’ve always had some of this movement, but the massive down-aging is huge,” said Mary Manz Simon, children’s market specialist, who will lead her 19th consecutive Children’s Trends Workshop at this month’s International Christian Retail Show. 

Examples of authors down-aging include Randy Alcorn, who wrote his first graphic novel for tweens for Kingstone Media. Eternity ($16.99) is a “testament to the sobering, yet hopeful word that Christ gave in the book of Luke,” said Art Ayris, CEO of Kingstone Media. 

The June release features artwork by Javier Saltares, a former Marvel illustrator on such projects as Wolverine.

Adult authors transitioning to writing for the younger set often receive a boost because women who purchase trade titles are most often the same purchaser of children’s books, said Annette Bourland, senior vice president and publisher at Zondervan. 

“These authors are trusted by parents and have an established platform,” Bourland said. “Consumers begin their purchase search by starting with a product or a person they recognize, then move outward from there.”

Bible teacher Joyce Meyer is one example of an author who has moved into kids’ books, finding success with her first two Zonderkidz titles, Every Which Way to Pray and Field of Peace. Meyer returned in May with two new kids’ titles. Wonderfully Made ($15.99) is the third in the “Everyday Zoo” series, and The Precious Princess Bible Doodle Book ($7.99) features 75 stickers and activities, including decorating a pair of royal slippers, designing a princess gown and creating an invitation to a royal ball. 

AudreyBunny-B&HKidsBest-selling author and blogger Angie Smith, wife of Selah lead singer Todd Smith, partners with a 20-year-old illustrator Breezy Brookshore for her first children’s book. Audrey Bunny (October, $14.99) is about a stuffed animal that fears her imperfections will make her less worthy of a little girl’s love. This B&H Kids story ties into Smith’s I Will Carry You, which details the passing five years ago of the Smiths’ newborn daughter Audrey. 

At Thomas Nelson, Max Lucado’s new holiday book for kids, Itsy Bitsy Christmas ($14.99), is a hardcover jacketed September release that tells the nativity story from a new point of view. 

Following Colleen Coble’s April release of Rock Harbor Search and Rescue (Thomas Nelson), a middle-grade novel based on her best-selling “Rock Harbor” series for adults, she returns in July with her first preschool children’s title. The Blessings Jar ($12.99) is a board book that celebrates the bond between grandparents and grandchildren and teaches little ones an important lesson about recognizing even the smallest of God’s blessings and being thankful for them all.

“Authors like Lucado and Coble are great writers with an established brand, core audience and a proven track record,” said Minchew. “They are ideal to partner with on children’s books because their strong stories with empowering messages can be easily translated for the younger crowd. “

Written by New York Times best-selling author Mark Batterson and illustrated by Antonio Caparo, The Circle Maker for Kids (August, $15.99, Zonderkidz) reveals the true legend of Honi the circle maker, a man whose bold prayer for rain saved a generation. 


Although some publishers forecast the death of the picture book two years ago, Simon said the format is still alive. 

Instead, “parents are using print books as a vehicle to spend screen-less high-quality bonding time with kids,” she said.

But Simon cautions publishers to be realistic about pricing these books. Her advice is straightforward: “Forget a $14.99 SRP.”

The picture book may not be dead, but Noelle Pederson, manager of Lion Hudson Distribution for Kregel Publications, said there have always been very few buyers in the Christian market willing to pay for them. In fact, she believes this category seems to be suffering in the Christian market even more than in the general market. 

“I suspect it may be our tendency to value utility over aesthetic,” she said. “Why buy a book like Creation Song [Kregel backlist] that has imaginative, colorful, hand-drawn illustrations when it’s simply Genesis retold?” 


However, even with this resistance and the emerging market for electronic children’s content, people are willing to pay for value-laden products that fill more than one need, she added. 

For instance, a Bible story that includes reusable stickers, such as Stories Jesus Told Sticker Book, hits a sweet spot because it is affordable, at $5.99, and educational. Also, these are the kinds of books that Christian retailers can compete with, as parents are unlikely to discover them online and e-books can’t offer such tactile activities.

Ideals Publications also wants to build on the potential to capture a  child’s attention and allow for interaction between parent and child. 

“With so much multimedia competition, we have found that adding flaps or textures or sound to books can enhance their appeal,” said Peggy Schaefer, publisher at Ideals. “We’ve partnered with VeggieTales to create books with music and with flaps, and we have a line of holiday and inspirational books with music and with texture such as Happy Thanksgiving Day! (September, $8.99).

B&H Kids executives have realized that kids’ books tend to be price sensitive, so the publisher is planning promotions and specials to allow retailers to offer titles at competitive levels. 

“Our fiction titles are all longer books, in the 45,000-50,000-word length designed to match what kids are buying at B&H from authors like Rick Riordan,” said Dan Lynch, publisher at B&H Kids.

It also should be noted that the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) requirements have drastically changed the process of manufacturing children’s books, making novelty books much more expensive to produce. 

“However, since novelty has been an integral part of Kregel’s children’s book program, we have decided to recommit to this category,” Pederson said. “Thanks to our international partners, we have been able to make this commitment while still keeping retail prices at the same level.” 


This has allowed books from Kregel like The Night Jesus Was Born, which features six press-out tree ornaments, and My Pop-Up Bible Stories, with a pop-up on every page, to be offered.

Price on such titles can be trumped under certain circumstances, however, like when a book is from a known brand or author, won an award, hit a best-seller list or is recommended by a trusted entity, Bourland said.

“I think retailers have a real opportunity to recommend the ‘not on a best-seller list’ product to customers because they trust retailers to ‘filter’ all the options,” she said. “I know the concept is not new, but consumers need the direction whether it is in-store, via email or on a retailer site.” 


Novels in cartoon format continue to be a popular genre, particularly with the middle-school crowd. Even reluctant readers find that illustrations provide entertainment value and hook kids into looking for the next in the series of general market books like “Bone,” “Captain Underpants” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” 

“We are a visual society,” Simon said. “As a result, we’re seeing fewer pages of gray typeface and more visual elements (diary formals, email, scribbles) integrated within the text of middle and tween books. We’re also seeing every imaginable front cover on full-text Bibles for kids.”

Zondervan is looking for ways to “fun up” the content of its books—and also acquire more middle-grade content that meets these needs, Bourland said. One example is the upcoming “Howard Boward” series, written by Ron Bates. The first book, How to Make Friends and Monsters (August, $12.99), is about Howard Boward, a genius science geek who tries to work his way up the UP (über-popular) ladder. 

“We have also been building our nonfiction line with four-color designs, illustrations and graphics, like in Our Constitution Rocks, Bourland said. “You can expect more four-color products aimed at this age group.”

Beyond these, Zonderkidz is looking for ways to add white space and create visuals that will make the text less heavy for readers ages 8-12. 

Thomas Nelson introduced the first in the “Nerdy Ned Bible Stories” series last year, featuring Bible stories told through a fictional character plus all the extra elements kids love—journaling space, room to doodle and humorous commentary. 


“This title was really a product of looking at what was popular with this age group and creating quality product to match,” Minchew said. 

And in March, DaySpring announced an agreement with Crayola’s Color Wonder technology based on licensing agreements with Zondervan on the Princess Parables, Beginner’s Bible and Berenstain Bears brands.

Crayola Color Wonder Paints is a mess-free creative system of clear inks and paints that only show up on Color Wonder paper. Products retail between $1.49 and $12.99. 

B&H Kids is working to add digital elements into its kids’ products. The Big Picture Interactive Bible Storybook (October, $16.99) was developed with a free “augmented reality” app that brings the art to life in 3-D. That line will also have a fully designed full-text Bible coming early in 2014.


With the new Common Core State Standards, the way students learn in school is changing, and there is an elevated importance being placed on nonfiction or “informational texts.” As a result, publishers are being encouraged to expand their nonfiction/educational lineup. 

“This has strong potential for development of nonfiction, especially for the homeschool and Christian school market,” Simon said. “I have not seen this reflected, yet, in publisher offerings.”

Thomas Nelson knows this has become a huge topic in the school and library space and is “diligently looking for the holes of where we can create products to fit those needs,” Minchew said. “Common Core compliance is a sizable task and will take some time for full implementation.”

Kregel got on board early because of its partnership with Lion Children’s Books from the U.K. The United Kingdom requires every school to incorporate religious education at each level of the curriculum. Because of this requirement, Christian publishing in the U.K. has long been serving this need. 

However, when Kregel Children’s Books first partnered with Lion to bring their successful religious education resources to the U.S., the books were not well-received. Books like The Three Billy Goats’ Stuff, which is used to teach Christian morals, were rejected because of its lack of overt Christian content. The U.K. publisher’s wide range of resources on world religions, such as The Lion Encyclopedia of World Religions, has met similar resistance. 


Pederson said the rejection has been thorough enough that Kregel has decided not to distribute books of wisdom stories and fables that are used in the U.K. to teach cultural awareness and Christian values.

Zondervan’s Bourland sees the Common Core standards as “a gift to the publishing world.”

The publisher has begun the process of putting the standards on the back cover of books when it makes sense. Common Core Standards will be listed and addressed on back ad copy for all Zonderkidz biographies such as the backlist titles Defender of Faith: The Mike Fisher Story; Through My Eyes: Young Reader’s Edition; and Grace, Gold and Glory by Gabrielle Douglas; various fiction series when educational items are woven in organically such as “The Enchanted Attic” series by L.L. Samson; nonfiction middle-grade and early reader books; beginning reader books such as “I Can Read”; and 8-by-8-inch books such as the “Berenstain Bears” series. 

“It’s exciting to be able to give guidance both to gatekeepers such as teachers and librarians as well as consumers when it comes to publishing for readers up to 18,” Bourland said. 

B&H Kids is taking the step of adding Parent Connection, either printed in the book or provided online. It offers a key Bible passage related to the book’s content, activities tied to the book’s theme and family discussion questions—all of which become a teaching aid for parents. As a result, every kids’ project has a means for the adult to teach the lesson in the book more intentionally, engaging children in conversation. 

An example of this is Troy Schmidt’s Little Tree Found (September, $12.99). The book includes several pages helping parents walk through the true story of Christmas with the allegory presented in the book, leading to a salvation prayer.


Children are growing up in an era of school violence and nearly every child will face or witness bullying at some point in their lives. Children’s authors recognize these as major concerns for kids and have become more adept at weaving bullying themes into storylines, from picture books to Young Adult titles.


“Darker themes and the shadow of violence have been in the YA category,” Simon said. “However, there is such tragedy fatigue today that publishers might be hesitant to introduce in fiction the extreme violence that has made headline news.” 

Bullying, emotional harassment, belittling and exclusion are topics that Simon expects to be addressed more openly than in the past. 

Thomas Nelson recognizes the need for faith-based books that broach the bullying subject in a manner that is helpful to kids and models a healthy way to deal with the problem. 

Minchew said the company has just signed best-selling author Nancy Rue for a series that deals with bullying. The books will target middle school, specifically girls bullying each other. 

Ideals Books has a strong focus on preschool and kindergarten, so the company hasn’t addressed violence or bullying. 

“We realize that bullying can start even at a very young age, but we have taken the approach of encouraging positive behavior,” Schaefer said. “A great example of this is the 2002 book Heartprints from P.K. Hallinan.” 

The book defines a “heartprint” as “the impression left behind by a deliberate act of kindness,” and in the book, the author uses rhyming verse to suggest all the little ways a young child can leave a positive mark on the world. 

“We know from the mail he receives that teachers across the country appreciate and use his message in their classrooms,” Schaefer said.