As the nation continues to endure the pandemic, new challenges have arisen for educators, students, and parents alike: ensuring proper safety protocols are in place in classrooms, adjusting to remote or distance-learning alternatives, and juggling family schedules to accommodate work and school commitments, to name just a few. One thing that has remained throughout is the need for quality books to challenge and inspire young readers. Book producers working in the educational publishing space are helping to supply materials for students and teachers alike.
Producer Profile: Bright Futures Press
American Book Producers Association (ABPA) member Diane Lindsey Reeves is the founder of Bright Futures Press, an educational book producer based in Cary, North Carolina. According to the company’s website, Bright Futures Press “provides career-focused content that provide high-energy, high-interest, and always interactive career exploration experiences for students.” Bright Futures is currently focused on middle-grade readers (grades 4–7) who have an emerging curiosity about various careers.
Diane got her start as an author with a contract won at the Publishing Institute at the University of Denver. She soon found that she had more ideas for books than she had the time to write, so she would file her concepts away for future reference. Owning to her “endless fascination with what people do,” many of these book ideas circulated around careers and career development. She wanted to help kids see how their own interests and skills could link up with their career possibilities. There was a personal connection, too, as she wanted to produce books that her own children could learn from and enjoy.
To date, Bright Futures Press has created over 125 career-focused titles. Her current middle grade career exploration collection features 51 titles categorized in 6 distinct series. With their career-based subject matter, they are a natural fit for career and technical education (CTE) courses, career and technical school student organizations (CTSOs), and other programs. Diane also cites the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, also known as Perkins V, as a source of CTE programming and funding and a potential resource for educational publishers.
Bright Futures’ latest series, Soft Skills Sleuth, teaches life and success skills for both school and future employment. The books in the series start at reading level 4. Each book takes a skill (for instance, “leadership” or “communication”) and sets up kid-friendly illustrated scenarios where that skill is demonstrated. Readers “investigate” the different scenarios to look for clues and apply their newfound knowledge. Diane says that these books incorporate a “show rather than tell” model that is more interactive—perhaps one reason why they’re among her grandchildren’s favorite Bright Futures titles!
In addition to collaborating with publishers, Diane has developed direct relationships with educators. This has helped her to build a “niche audience” of CTE directors and other educational professionals, and has allowed her to sell Bright Futures’ products right from her website. Schools may also buy her books for their libraries or media centers, but it is often more effective to target sales through CTE programs.
As a way to build relationships with educators, Diane has produced supplementary materials including classroom activity guides to pair with books. She has also established mailing lists, the Career Ideas Challenge and the Career Clues Club, that provide activities for parents and teachers. Diane speaks of these as forms of “outreach,” similar to social media, that help introduce new readers to Bright Futures titles.
Trends in Educational Publishing
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) standards remain an overarching trend in educational publishing. One-third of Bright Futures’ current 51 titles are STEM-related, and Diane confirms that the standards and subject matter have “captured the imaginations” of young readers.
Diane predicts that the future of the genre will include books with interactive digital features. Though Diane works as an independent producer, pitching ideas and seeing projects through to completion, she still follows standard spring and fall publishing schedules.
Diane also mentions how exciting it is to be able to participate in the ABPA after several years’ absence. Tools like Zoom now make it possible for her and other members outside of the New York metro area to attend ABPA workshops, panel discussions, and other events, all of which help to build connections and generate feedback on projects. She feels like the resources of the ABPA help make her pitches stronger, as she is more connected to colleagues and publishing professionals in New York.
Books for School and Library
Stephanie Fitzgerald is an ABPA board member and the founder of Spooky Cheetah Press, a full-service book producer that specializes in titles for the school and library market. Some of Stephanie’s recent projects include the Growing Up and In Our Neighborhood series (in partnership with Scholastic), and a series of Nystrom Leveled Readers.
“A lot goes into creating books for school and library,” Stephanie says. “In addition to what usually goes into producing books, these publications also have to meet strict reading guidelines. We have expertise in leveling text, but we also use reading consultants to make sure the content is just right.” Book producers keep things running smoothly and efficiently, bringing together the contributions of writers, illustrators, designers, and other professionals.
Bold New Ideas
Spooky Cheetah produces school and library books for spring and fall. Many of the educational publishers Stephanie works with are interested in moving from titles that are solidly “library” to something closer to trade. This has “been a great opportunity for us to have more fun with design and introduce some bold new ideas,” she says. She states that “inclusivity” is a top priority for the content of Spooky Cheetah’s titles: “We want every one of our readers to see themselves in our books!” She is also working on books that cultivate a sense of empathy and an open minded worldview in young readers.
Like Bright Futures Press, Spooky Cheetah remains focused on STEM topics and is always looking for new and fun ways to introduce these topics. Since there is such an intense focus on reading and math in elementary school curricula, science and social studies are often overlooked—and educational publishers are in a prime position to help fill in those gaps.
While content standards such as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are good places to start when producing STEM titles, Stephanie advises seeking the input of librarians and teachers directly.
“We’re always interested to know what’s missing from the library,” she says, “and—even more important—what students will actually want to pull off the shelf.”
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