As a kid, I remember having the impression that a lot of middle class families in my town were divided in a very easy to understand way. You either subscribed to Newsweek or you subscribed to TIME. This is one of those perceptions that you look back on in later years and just kinda sigh over. In any case, my family was a Newsweek family, which suited me as a kid because each issue had a page of three comics and a lot of quotes I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand the comics either, but that’s neither here nor there.
Now the years have passed. Magazine subscriptions have fallen. Newsweek trundles along its merry way, but TIME has looked at the marketplace and seen a need. So for the past 17 years TIME has created TIME for Kids. It’s an imprint that produces books for the educational/school market so if you haven’t heard of it, that’s why. I certainly hadn’t. As a public librarian, if you asked me what major periodical had a children’s book imprint that served non-fiction fare my answer would be “National Geographic” (which is true) or maybe “I dunno . . . Sports Illustrated?” (also, as it happens, true).
This year, for the first time, TIME for Kids is doing a major push for their trade book marketplace as well. Since I knew next to nothing about this imprint anyway I sat down with Bob Der, Editorial Director of TIME for Kids. Fun Fact: He also overseas some aspects of Sports Illustrated for Kids as well. Small world/big corporation. I sat down with him at Lily O’Brien’s Cafe, which is a chocolate shop next to my library. I did this because I’ve always wanted to meet someone there. I mean, come on! I’ve got a high end chocolateria next to me and I NEVER go in? Crazytalk.
The sharp eyed amongst you will notice that I didn’t call this post a “librarian preview”. That’s because it’s hard to justify calling something a preview when the books presented to you are all of two. Yup. Two little books.
First up, you’ve got your The BIG Book of Why. It’s one of those fun fact books, but with a twist. Advertising that it, “answers the biggest questions kids commonly ask and adults can rarely answer” the book reminds me quite a bit of Stephen Law’s Really, Really Big Questions. The difference (aside from the fact that this book doesn’t deal with some of the more philosophical aspects of Law’s title) is the size. There are 1,001 facts inside and the page count rounds out to a cool 192. Here’s something for the organized amongst you as well. Says its press: “Divided by subject area – humans, animals, environment/nature, technology, science, and space – and written in an exciting and engaging manner, each answer is accompanied by either a photo or an illustration to prove the reasons why.”
That’s book #1. Book #2 carries the straightforward moniker That’s Awesome. It’s much along the lines of those colorful Ripley’s books you might have in your library, or even The Guinness Book of World Records (a perpetual favorite, I know). This particular book contains a veritable plethora of photos and diagrams and (once again) divides everything into subject areas. So you’ve got your Sports & Games, Music, Extreme Geography, The World of Plants and Animals, The Human Body, Technology, and The Most Expensive Items in the World. In this economy, that last one’s gonna go over BIG!
Note the distinctive red border around each one of the books. Bob says that the goal here is to take a recognizable brand (TIME) and use that to create objects that consumers recognize from the start. This is smart thinking. Recently I’ve spoken to a couple smaller publishers about extending their brands. If you grew up reading a magazine and now your child is the age that you once were, it would make sense to buy something published by that beloved serial, yes? Makes me wonder why Cricket Magazine has never tried its hand at publishing books. You’d think that would be a natural fit, right? Even Highlights Magazine has Boyds Mills Press, after all.
In any case, as Bob said parents want to reinforce the love of reading in their children. So obviously I had to ask whether or not TIME would ever consider fiction. Bob replied that they’re exploring all their options at the moment. Until then, consider the fact that TIME books like these get to use that huge backlog of photographs taken by various TIME Magazine reporters over the years. You just can’t buy that kind of access. It sort of gives them a leg up in the field. So while right now they’re creating trade books that are fun, I suspect that once they find their footing they could do some really fancy things. How cool would a book about journalism ethics for middle grade or teens be? You could cover photojournalism controversies. Heck, they could produce an entire line of books on the basics of reporting for kids. Then they could be books about moments in American history where they examine how various forms of media reported on those moments at that time and compare and contrast the methods. They could even show how other countries reported those same events!! This is just me spitballing here, but as you can see there’s a million different ways an organization like TIME can go when they start in on a business. I’m excited to see how they’ll take advantage of their resources and avoid presenting the same old, same old.
Thanks to Bob Der for meeting with me.