Founded in the U.K. in 2010 by Christopher Lloyd, a former journalist and educational publisher, What on Earth is a nonfiction children’s publishing house specializing in a hybrid format: the wallbook—an accordion-fold, heavily illustrated reference work that can also be converted into a lively information-laden poster. What on Earth’s titles are grade leveled and based around a timeline of facts, events, and historical figures. The books are richly illustrated by Andy Forshaw in a quirky cartoon style and are packed with information and detailed factoids.
In book form, What on Earth’s offerings are lively and fun, but it’s their unique ability to be converted into eye-catching six-foot-long laminated posters that really make them stand out from other reference works. In addition to the poster, each title includes a Wallbook Chronicle, a faux newspaper section featuring stories about historical events and personalities. The company also publishes the same titles in “posterbook” form, standalone 10-foot-long versions of the laminated posters priced at $49.99 each.
What on Earth entered the U.S. in 2017 in a distribution deal with Ingram Publisher Services. Four What on Earth wallbooks are available in the U.S.: The Shakespeare Timeline Wallbook, originally produced for the U.K. market, and three wallbooks ($19.99 each, or together in a collected edition for $49.99) on nature, science, and history produced for the U.S. market in partnership with the American Museum of Natural History. In a similar vein, the company is working in partnership with the Smithsonian to develop a new line of museum-branded wallbooks.
With annual sales of about $1 million, What on Earth is profitable, Lloyd said. As part of its ongoing expansion into the U.S., What on Earth is also developing a line of wallbooks focused on the 50 states. In partnership with the state of Illinois, What on Earth will release The Illinois Chronicles on Lincoln’s birthday next February to mark the state’s bicentennial celebration. The book will present a timeline of Illinois state history, this time using photographs rather than illustrations. The book is being produced in conjunction with the Lincoln Library, and the partnership will put two titles each in 5,000 schools throughout the state, free of charge, along with one 10-foot posterbook at each school plus a teachers’ guide. Based on the response to the Illinois title, Lloyd said he hopes to eventually produce similar books for the other 49 states.
Lloyd said his publishing philosophy is based on the notion of “personalized learning,” the understanding that you “can teach anything by using whatever topic a kid is interested in.”
The company’s offerings are overloaded with text and quirky details designed to appeal to kids. “We try to create an environment designed to capture a kid’s curiosity at home or at school,” Lloyd said. “We do it visually. Our wallbooks are detailed and expansive. Adults think they’re too much, but we don’t give a damn. We believe kids love detail. We don’t dumb things down.”