Lonely Planet Kids, the children’s imprint of travel media brand Lonely Planet, has announced the appointment of Hanna Otero as publisher. The hire is part of the house’s ongoing expansion in the North American market. Beginning on January 8, Otero took the helm from former publisher Tim Cook.
Also joining Otero in the children’s imprint’s N.Y. office is Lisa Ford, who has been named production manager. In addition, there are plans to bring on an art director, editor, and commissioning editor for the team, which currently includes art director Andy Mansfield in London. As part of the imprint’s reorganization, Nora Rawn, senior editor of illustrated nonfiction, and an incoming art director will be based in N.Y., reporting to Robin Barton, associate publisher of illustrated nonfiction in London.
Lonely Planet began publishing children’s books with a packager in 2011, and launched its own children’s imprint in 2014. The Lonely Planet Kids list now approaches 100 titles. Piers Pickard, managing director of publishing in London, told PW, “Our sales are really good and they’re growing each year. In 2017, we published 22 kids’ books. In 2018 we’ll do 27, and in 2019 we’re looking to do around 35.” Of the U.S. expansion, he said, “We want to make books that work everywhere. And that means putting a bit more emphasis on the American market.”
Popular Lonely Planet Kids books this past holiday season, according to Pickard, included The Dinosaur Atlas, which presents information on dinosaurs in the form of maps, and The Incredible Cabinet of Wonders, a collaboration with 12 renowned museums from around the world. Other notable titles of 2017 included How Animals Build and the First Words series. Across all formats, Pickard said the brand’s mission is “kickstarting the travel bug” in young readers.
As the children’s imprint grows, the group is seeking new ways to reach wider audiences. Pickard said, “We’re roughly doubling the size of our children’s team and looking to at least double our list. We’re very much a branded publisher, but as we enter the kids’ arena, we’re finding that we can have a wider footprint.” In particular, he cited potential for growth in board books, picture books, and novelty formats.
Otero brings expertise in a wide range of formats for young readers. She joins Lonely Planet from Sterling Children’s Books, where she served as editorial director, overseeing middle grade fiction, picture books, nonfiction, and novelty and board books. Otero began her career working for Teach for America. She said, “I had always loved kids, and that experience ignited my love of learning.” She then set out to combine those two passions, landing in educational publishing, at Frank Schaffer Publications and McGraw-Hill Education, and in 2002 she helped launch Barnes Noble’s Flash Kids line of educational products.
Otero said of her recent move, “Children’s is a newish category for Lonely Planet. I’m excited to take the goodwill people already have for this brand and bring it to a new audience. The challenge is finding ways to meet kids where they are today—to bring them topics that will fascinate and engage, and pull them away from all the other things competing for their attention.”
Speaking of potential areas for growth, Otero described what she sees as a current trend of children’s books taking on “fascinating topics in a fun way. There’s an appetite for increasingly sophisticated subject matter in younger age groups.” She pointed to Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (Timbuktu Labs) and Sourcebooks’ Baby University series of board books, which includes Quantum Physics for Babies by Chris Ferrie, as examples of this trend. “There are all kinds of interesting new ways of bringing nonfiction to kids,” she said. “It opens the door for us to focus on culture, history, architecture—topics that seemed academic before—and give them a fun treatment.”
Otero emphasized the imprint’s continued commitment to introducing different cultural experiences to young readers through books. Having grown up in an Air Force family, and having lived all over the world as a child, she said, “I was exposed to new cultures and new ways of living, which really shaped me as a person. That’s something I want to bring to kids. And I think that’s what Lonely Planet means to people: the idea of adventure and discovery.”
Pickard echoed the importance of the brand’s global perspective. “It’s an interesting time politically. Parents want their kids to be looking outward at the moment, as global citizens. And it seems like that’s an area where Lonely Planet has a lot to say.” He described plans for new books building on the theme of multicultural exploration. “In 2018, we’re very excited about a title called The Kids Book, [which profiles] 75 kids from around the world—their life in their words. That will be the focus of our marketing this year. We’re figuring out how we can get [the children featured in the book] talking to other kids around the world.”
Otero also noted the ongoing push, across the children’s publishing industry, for more diverse books. “What I think Lonely Planet can do is to come at diversity from a different angle,” she said, “showing all of the things people do around the world, and how they make us both different and the same.”