During an all-hands planning meeting this past fall, the children’s team at Bonnier Publishing USA realized they’d hit a critical point. Their titles were coalescing around five themes, which they dubbed their “five pillars”: acceptance, anti-bullying, awareness, diversity, and empowerment. According to Sonali Fry, publisher of the children’s book group, “while we had already been publishing books connected to some of these themes,” such as Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie, which received a 2017 Caldecott Medal and a Coretta Scott King Honor, “we wanted to refocus our lists so that we hit every one of them.”
Bonnier Publishing USA publishes children’s books under three imprints: Little Bee Books (picture and board books, novelty, chapter, and nonfiction titles for kids up to 12 years old); Sizzle Press (licensed properties, media tie-ins, and pop-culture books from social media influencers); and the middle grade imprint Yellow Jacket, which will launch this summer with books for readers ages eight through 14.
Bonnier Publishing USA’s books for younger readers are designed to be entertaining as well as conversation starters, introducing kids to historic and timely topics such as discrimination and human rights. Books for older readers explore additional topics such as empowerment, mental health, grief, and loss. “We feel that now, more than ever, it’s important to give kids stories that reflect the world they live in and encourage them to imagine how they could make it better,” says Fry. While, she says, the kids’ team doesn’t limit its acquisitions to books focused on one of the pillars, “there’s often a natural connection to at least one. These themes unite the types of books we’re passionate about, which helps shape our lists and, in turn, define who we are as a publisher,” she says.
For instance, the picture book Trailblazer (Little Bee Books) by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, tells the story of the groundbreaking African-American ballet dancer Raven Wilkinson. It’s an inspiring true story about overcoming adversity and discrimination. “When the story mentions Brown v. the Board of Education,” says Fry, “it’s an opening to introduce tough topics such as segregation.” Prince Knight (Little Bee Books, May 2018) by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis is the publisher’s first picture book to openly address LGBTQ themes. It promotes acceptance and awareness through an adventure story in which two male characters find love. For slightly older readers, the middle grade novel The Prophet Calls (Yellow Jacket, November 2018) by Melanie Sumrow deals with a 13-year-old girl’s journey toward self-discovery and empowerment after being raised in a strict, extremely sheltered, and suddenly dangerous polygamist society.
Between last November and this March, Sizzle Press will have published three new books by social media stars Jessie Paege and Jojo Siwa that are focused on empowering readers. Paege’s Hey, It’s Okay to Be You (November 2017) and Think Beyond Pink (March 2018) connect to multiple pillars. Both titles are guided journals for tweens and teens based on Paege’s videos and social media presences. Paege examines issues relevant to teens, including breaking down stereotypes, managing fear, mental health, and sexuality, in a fun, accessible way. Siwa’s Be You Activity Book, aimed at kids ages seven through 10, explores similar topics, including empowerment and bullying, with a much lighter tone. “These books challenge the reader to dig a little deeper and hopefully embrace, rather than shy away from, sometimes uncomfortable topics.” says Fry.
“No matter the format, we strive for stories and characters that encourage empathy, bravery, and honesty,” says Fry. The publisher has big plans for its children’s list. “We are still growing.” says Fry. “We’ll continue to evolve as a publisher, but our goal will always remain the same: to entertain, empower, and inspire kids everywhere.”