As publishing professionals, as readers, as bibliophiles, most of us can name a few or several or even a whole lot of books that have shaped our lives. Many of us can’t even remember a time when we weren’t surrounded by books. Childhood trips to the library were filled with wonder and awe at all the colorful books that were available to take home, to borrow for a few precious days. Bookshelves creaked under the weight of board books and picture books and chapter books. Bedtime equaled storytime, snuggling under the covers to read to or be read to by someone we loved.
Many of the books we loved as children have serious staying power. Nancy Drew books have been in print for more than eighty years. Classics such as The Velveteen Rabbit (1922) and Good Night Moon (1947) have been charming children for generations. Some of the best loved and most enduring children’s books, such as The Boxcar Children, were published right here in the Chicago area.
In fact, The Boxcar Children, the lovable series of mysteries for young readers, is published locally by Albert Whitman & Company. Based in Park Ridge, Albert Whitman has been publishing award-winning children’s books for nearly a century. Launched in 1919, the house focuses on board books, picture books, novels, and nonfiction titles for children and teens. Whitman publishes about forty books a year and serves an audience that varies from babies to teenagers. The company was founded by—surprise!—Albert Whitman, who, according to the company’s website, spent his entire life in publishing, first with Hammon Map & Atlas Company and then Rand McNally. He founded Albert Whitman & Company in Chicago, retiring thirty years later, in 1949. Today, the house remains independently owned and operated.
Barely three miles southeast of Albert Whitman & Company is Norwood House Press, another indie children’s publisher. Norwood focuses on materials for schools and libraries, publishing paperbacks, hardcovers, ebooks, and educator resources. Not quite a decade in the making, Norwood strives to publish books that meet the needs of K–8 librarians and teachers. The house has roughly four hundred titles in print, including popular series such as Team Spirit, Smart About Sports, Dear Dragon, and Matt Christopher. Some of the house’s newer releases include Mummies in the Library: Divide the Pages and Indivisible: Poems for Social Justice, both of which have received rave reviews from the likes of Booklist and other media.
Also publishing children’s books, though a bit outside of the Chicago area, is Minnesota’s Capstone Press. Launched in 1991, Capstone publishes materials for students from PreK through high school. From graphic novels to illustrated nonfiction titles, Capstone strives to connect with children of all ages and all reading levels. Partnering with such organizations as Sports Illustrated and The Smithsonian, Capstone offers readers innovative, interactive content in a variety of formats. In addition, the publisher is home to a number of imprints, including Compass Point Books and Stone Arch Books.
Books, ebooks, and other materials geared toward children represent a robust segment for publishing, and that’s something that dedicated children’s publishers and larger houses recognize. Here in Chicago, houses like Chicago Review Press and Sourcebooks are publishing for adults and children, reaching readers of all ages. Chicago Review Press is publishing what the house calls “a line of sophisticated nonfiction children’s activity books” for “highly motivated young readers.” And Sourcebooks, through its Jabberwocky imprint, strives toward “engaging children in the pure fun of books and the wonder of learning new things.”
Although most of us think of Chicago as the home to such authors as Saul Bellow, Sara Paretsky, Scott Turow (and countless others—I know, I know), the city is home to some fabulous publishers who are reaching out to children, from wee babes to young adults, with traditional print titles, user-friendly ebooks, and other interactive digital products. In fact, in many ways, Chicago-area publishers are leading the way in bringing exciting new materials to children of all ages, helping today’s young people discover the books (in whatever format) that will shape their lives and fill them with awe and wonder.