Sue Unstead examines QED, as the list increases its presence in bookshops.
QED, part of the Quarto Publishing Group, has until now had only a small presence in bookshops, their titles being planned either for co-edition markets or for libraries and the school classroom. Now they are hoping to increase their visibility in the trade with the development of their list and a raft of new titles. Their watchword is ‘edutainment’ says Associate Publisher Maxime Boucknooghe, who has been with the company a number of years, having moved from his native France where he worked for Gallimard, one of the leading French publishers of books. ‘We hope that children will read the books in libraries or in school, but also have the same enjoyment at home.’ This is the Holy Grail that all non-fiction children’s publishers seek – books that have a sound educational basis and relevance to the curriculum but with an appeal that travels beyond the classroom.
One recent publication that seems to neatly work in both areas is 50 Things You Should Know about the First World War. Published to tie in with the commemorations marking the centenary of the outbreak of war, the book has already attracted good reviews (see BfK September 2014) and is reportedly selling well. A further title is in production on the Second World War by historian Simon Adams for publication in May 2015. Information is presented in bite-size chunks covering the chronology of key events and battles, military and political leaders as well as wider themes such as espionage and codebreaking. Photographs, diagrams, maps and timelines help to set out the information clearly and concisely.
Two handsome reference books that will undoubtedly be enjoyed at home or at school are the Children’s Animal Encyclopedia and the Children’s Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Encyclopedia. Both are arranged thematically and generously illustrated with portraits of individual species as well as feature spreads on animal behaviour. With their gold-blocked covers both look good enough for a Christmas gift for an animal-loving child.
At this upper age group of 7+ two further titles are likely to work well in bookshops. Ultimate Survival Guide for Kids has a small compass attached, vital piece of equipment if you are lost in some far-flung wilderness. Scary scenarios include escaping from sharks, crocodiles and bears, how to escape from quicksand or a burning building and how to survive anything from a bush fire to a plane crash. Hopefully all theoretical stuff, but a final chapter on survival skills gives lots of practical advice for explorers. Night Sky Watcher offers a guide to the stars, moon and planets with much practical advice on how to recognise constellations and then ‘star hop’ your way around the night sky. Information is included on planet and moon watching as well as meteor showers, eclipses and comet spotting. A plastic cover with snazzy silver edging will keep the book dry on a damp night, but it might have been nice to have had a star chart or planisphere tucked inside.
In contrast plenty of activity material is included in Adventivity, a countdown to Christmas with press-out pieces and step-by-step instructions on how to make a range of seasonal items – from pop-up greeting cards to finger puppets, window hangings and tree decorations as well the advent calendar built into the cover. Hands-on activities are also part of a title for younger readers – Children’s Activity Atlas. These include postcards and stickers as well as a passport. The reader is encouraged to develop map-reading skills by embellishing the simple continental maps with stickers of flags, animals, landmarks and natural wonders.
For readers of 7 and up a series that doesn’t easily fit into any category – Rubik’s Quest is part of a series published to tie in with the 40th anniversary of the invention of the maddening Rubik’s Cube. Perfect for a child who likes adventure game books, the series focuses on machines and engineering using puzzles and questions to take the reader through a series of tasks. In Mission Invent there is no conventional route from start to finish, instead you zigzag your way backwards and forwards as you solve each challenge. Wrong answers give you just as much information before you are redirected to the correct one, so the reader absorbs information seamlessly. A neat idea and one that is curiously addictive. Three other titles are included in the series, and there are parallel series on science and maths.
QED take a similarly quirky approach to natural history in Could an Octopus Climb a Skyscraper? Colourful artwork and higgledy-piggledy type create outlandish scenarios (‘What if an octopus went shoe shopping?’) to explore animal characteristics. The absurdity is bound to appeal to 6-8 year olds. Titles include Could a Penguin ride a Bike?,Could a Shark do Gymnastics?, Could a Whale swim to the Moon? There are nice little touches like the raised type and spot varnishing on the covers that make each book an attractive package.
QED’s list contains a range of traditional picture books, but a new series includes titles each with a twist that takes them into a different area and ticks the curriculum box for PSHE, or personal, social and health education. Keep Running Gingerbread Man is on the surface a retelling of the well-known tale, but the message here is about the importance of keeping fit and active. Blow Your Nose Big Bad Wolf begins as expected with the tale of the three little pigs building their houses, but soon it becomes clear that Wolf is the baddie not for wanting to gobble them up but for spreading germs with his horrible handkerchief-less sneezing. Plenty of gross details of snotty sneezes will keep the younger ones entertained. Further titles include Eat your Greens Goldilocks and Give Us a Smile Cinderella with advice on diet and dental hygiene.
Maxime Boucknooghe tells me that he hopes QED can grow to be more recognisable as a publisher of high-quality books that have a strong educational content yet have appeal in the trade. Their aim is to fill what they perceive as a gap in the educational market offering titles that are stimulating, interactive and attractive to children. Strong concepts and a fresh design approach is certainly their forte.
50 Things You Should Know About the First World War, Jim Eldridge, 978 1 78171 589 5, 80pp, £8.99 pbk
Children’s Animal Encyclopedia, Camilla de la Bédoyère, 978 78171 737 0, 256pp, £14.99 pbk
Children’s Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Encyclopedia, Dr Douglas Palmer, 978 1 78171 736 3, 256pp, £14.99 pbk
Ultimate Survival Guide for Kids, 978 1 78171 680 9, 96pp £7.99 pbk
Night Sky Watcher, Raman Prinja, 978 1 78171 657 1, 120pp £7.99 pbk
Adventity, 978 1 78171 678 6, 48pp, £9.99 pbk
Children’s Activity Atlas, 978 1 78171 679 3, 32pp, £9.99 hbk
Mission Invent, ‘Rubik’s Quest’, John Farndon, 978 1 78171 558 1, £7.99 pbk
Could an Octopus Climb a Skyscraper? 978 1 78171 583 3
Could a Penguin Ride a Bike? 978 1 78171 582 6, Camilla de la Bédoyère, ill. Aleksei Bitskoff, 24pp, £8.99 hbk each
Keep Running Gingerbread Man, Steve Smallman, ill. Neil Price, 978 1 78171 650 2, 24pp, £9.99 hbk
Blow Your Nose Big Bad Wolf, Steve Smallman, ill. Bruno Merz, 978 1 78171 646 5, 24pp, £9.99 hbk
Sue Unstead has a background in children’s non-fiction publishing and was children’s publisher of DK before becoming a full-time author.