Virago is making a big push into the children’s market, by publishing 22 titles through its modern classics list this year.
Editorial director Donna Coonan has released a handful of children’s titles as Virago Modern Classics (VMC) in recent years, but is aware the Little, Brown imprint is still not widely known as a children’s publisher. “So far we’ve been dipping our feet in the water, so to speak,” she told The Bookseller. “I did a few children’s books in 2013 when we acquired the rights to publish Rumer Godden. I had wanted to do children’s books for a while, so this was the perfect opportunity.”
Since then VMC has created new versions of some overlooked classics, including Mossy Trotter by Elizabeth Taylor and a trio of Joan Aiken titles. “One of the authors we are publishing this year is Nina Bawden, and when I contacted her agent, Gordon Wise, he said he wasn’t aware we even did children’s books,” said Coonan.
She will publish three Bawden titles in 2017, starting with Keeping Henry in June, as well as books by L M Montgomery, E Nesbit, Susan Coolidge and Frances Hodgson Burnett. Coonan was keen to point out Virago would be publishing series, not just the well-known books within a series; it will release Nesbit’s entire The Psammead Trilogy, starting with Five Children and It in July, then the lesser-known The Phoenix and the Carpet in September, and finally The Story of the Amulet in December. Coolidge’s What Katy Did trilogy and Nesbit’s trio of titles Bastable children (The Story of the Treasure Seekers, The Wouldbegoods and The New Treasure Seekers) will also be released at similar intervals.
Each author will be paired with a different illustrator, with the titles to retail for £6.99 at Waterstones and independent bookshops. To market the books, Virago will run an online promotional campaign, asking readers to vote for their favourite classic children’s books and discuss which kids’ classics they are yet to read.
Coonan stressed that although Virago will not release 22 kids’ titles every year, publishing for younger readers will be important for the firm in future, adding that it is considering releasing teen versions of well-known books for adults. “In 2015 we did adult and teen editions of some Daphne du Maurier books, like Rebecca and Jamaica Inn, and it opened up the readership of her books. When I spoke to people about what they read as teenagers, they often mentioned adult books such as Rebecca and [Maya Angelou’s] I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, so it’s something I want to look at in future.”