In a move that bridges two often disparate sides of the publishing industry—the children’s and adult markets—W.W. Norton Company has announced the launch of its first children’s book imprint, Norton Young Readers. Through the new venture, the publisher aims to expand the scope of its award-winning fiction, nonfiction, and poetry list by creating books for a new readership. Simon Boughton, who was most recently a senior v-p and publishing director of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, will take the helm of Norton Young Readers as publishing director, effective today.
Julia A. Reidhead, president of Norton, told PW that the launch is in many ways an organic extension of the company’s long history of publishing classic works from the children’s canon. “We have published occasional children’s books since 1928, and briefly in the 1960s. Then things sort of went quiet until the launch of the Annotated series,” she said. “We have the annotated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, the Brothers Grimm, Peter Pan, and Little Women. And most recently we published The Annotated African American Folktales by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Maria Tatar. These are books that have been read to children—the stories themselves have been read to children and the illustrations pored over. That series has been in our DNA for a long time.”
And although the long line of Norton Anthologies has had a prime place in classrooms nationwide, producing original trade books for young readers has, until now, remained untested ground for the publisher, “We publish for adults and college students and high school students. And we thought [with the new imprint] we could grow readers for life starting with the littlest ones, then middle grade and YA readers,” Reidhead said. She also highlighted the possibilities for young readers’ editions and series based on Norton’s extensive catalog of adult nonfiction. “We have such a deep quarry of wonderful nonfiction that young readers would be thrilled to discover.”
The idea of establishing a children’s imprint began to crystallize at the end of 2017, when Reidhead and Boughton were introduced by mutual publishing friends. “When I had my first conversation with Simon, I thought: he has the same passion for narrative and commitment to quality. This could be the right match.” Over the course of the next three months, Reidhead introduced Boughton to others from Norton, who shared her enthusiasm. “We all felt, this is a person who would thrive here and help us to thrive. We also thought it was a time in the marketplace where there’s a strong appetite for new narratives in nonfiction. That synchronicity pulled us in this direction.”
On joining Reidhead and her team, Boughton told PW, “Norton is a company that I have long admired. They occupy a special place in the industry, and it seemed to me that their strengths and identity as a publisher of adult trade books would transfer very nicely to a program for younger readers. They’re strong in adult trade and in college, and to some extent high school, so it seemed natural to me that those strengths would also help to shepherd new readers in.” Boughton added, “There’s always opportunity for fresh publishing, for a new program. Norton is a very editorially driven company. I’m excited about the authors, the plan to put nonfiction at the center, and I’m excited to be working at a company that I think can have a powerful voice [in children’s literature].”
Boughton brings decades of expertise in children’s publishing to his new role, having held high-ranking positions at a number of houses. In 2000, Boughton founded Roaring Brook Press at Millbrook Press, which sold the imprint to Holtzbrinck (now Macmillan) in 2004. After moving to Macmillan, he oversaw the 2006 launch of First Second, the publisher’s first graphic novel imprint. In 2009, he was named senior v-p and publishing director of Roaring Brook, as well as publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers. Prior to his tenure at Macmillan, Boughton worked from 1994 to 2000 at Random House, where he held the title of v-p and publishing director of Alfred A. Knopf and Crown Books for Young Readers, acquiring or publishing works by authors including Jennifer Armstrong, Faith Ringgold, Philip Pullman, and Jerry Spinelli. Boughton has also served on the board of directors of the Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader, and has worked with the Connecticut Center for the Book and the Association of American Publishers Freedom to Read Committee.
‘Starting Something New’
While the dates and details of the inaugural Norton Young Readers list remain to be finalized, Boughton speculated that the launch will likely take place toward the end of 2019. In terms of the breadth of the imprint, he said, “We’re cultivating a broad range of books, both in terms of age and category. Nonfiction is a particular strength for Norton and a particular interest of mine. Putting it at the center of the program is part of what’s exciting to me.” Boughton expects that the list will feature picture books and illustrated books, “for kids as young as elementary school age” through YA.
When asked what qualities will differentiate the imprint, Boughton said, “First and foremost: outstanding books. Fresh voices and fresh thinking. We’re contemplating this as an author-driven program. I’m looking for new and established strong voices in a range of categories.” He also highlighted the desire to build off of the publisher’s literary roster: “I want to draw on a couple of things from Norton’s existing catalog. They have a terrific brand, and I think we don’t often talk about brand in trade publishing, but there are a lot of adults who fondly remember their Norton Anthologies from college. The other thing they have is a great catalog of authors. There are opportunities to bring some of those authors across the divide from adult to kids’ books.”
Team-building for the imprint is still in the early stages. “Our start to new ventures is always gradual,” said Reidhead. “We’ll have a couple of support staff for Simon in the very beginning, and that will grow as the list grows.”
In considering the potential difficulties of starting a new imprint, Boughton said, “The challenge for me and for Norton is the same as it is for everyone: to highlight the books in a busy market. My goal is to publish the kinds of books that will get attention. Norton has such a great reputation. And great books stand out, if you talk to the right people and listen in the right way.” Reidhead echoed the importance of an open dialogue with members of the field, saying, “Librarians, journal editors, and other experts in children’s literature will be a welcome presence in conversations, and we’re going to learn from them.”
While mindful of the challenges, Boughton expressed his readiness to take on a new role. He characterized his departure from Macmillan last year as “a mutual decision to move forward. It was time for me to make a change creatively and for the business to have fresh leadership.” Describing the new opportunities that await him at Norton, he said, “It’s a great employee-owned company. I’m very excited about the culture and the people. Their independence and history stand for a lot, so it’s great to be going there and starting something new.”
Reidhead spoke of the company’s readiness to welcome Boughton and to enter the children’s market, “There’s just such universal excitement here about Simon’s arrival, and about entering this area [of books] that we think will be great fun. Our way of publishing books is going to add richly to this already very rich area of publishing.”