March 05, 2007

A Landmark decision

While starting to put together a list of children's books set in and around Boston (what I really want is what doesn't exist, the Boston version of Leonard Marcus's Storied City), I came across some good news (requires free registration) in last week's Boston Globe, "An adventure in finding books for boys" (emphases mine, as usual):
For years, the thinking in the book world was that adolescent boys don't like and won't read nonfiction books. Steven D. Hill and Peggy Hogan think that opinion is wrong, and they're out to prove it.

Hill and Hogan, president and editorial director, respectively, of newly founded Flying Point Press, spent years in the 1980s and '90s at Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Co., he as head of the trade and reference division, she as marketing manager for children's books. A couple of years ago they met to talk about new ventures and hit upon the idea of publishing nonfiction books for boys ages 10 to 15.

They had noticed there's a strong nonfiction market for men -- adventure books such as Sebastian Junger's "A Perfect Storm" or Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air." But, said Hill, "it was clear that publishers were ignoring adventure, history, and nonfiction for 10-to-15-year-old boys." Hogan said, "If you look at what men read, there was no springboard for boys. If they want to read the kind of books they will read as adults, there is nothing to lead them into that area."

Then Hill, 57, remembered a series of books he had loved as a boy: the old Random House Landmark Books. Started in the 1950s by Random House co-founder Bennett Cerf, they featured narrative nonfiction, mostly history and biography. Cerf signed up such adult stars as John Gunther, C.S. Forester, Alistair MacLean, and William L. Shirer. The series sold millions of books, but Random House (which still publishes several Landmark titles) let many of the classics go out of print. Hill and Hogan got the idea of bringing them back. ...

Hill and Hogan sought out the out-of-print Landmark rights-holders, usually the authors' estates, signed new contracts, and are putting the books back in print. The first eight came out last fall, eight more are coming this spring, and another eight next fall. The list includes: Bruce Bliven's "Invasion: The Story of D-Day," MacLean's "Lawrence of Arabia," Forester's "The Barbary Pirates," and Shirer's "The Deadly Hunt: The Sinking of the Bismarck."

"A single book is not going to make a difference," said Hogan, 65, "but a series for children is a powerful concept, as it was with Landmark. The idea is to have a list of all the titles in each book, so that if you like one, you know you can find something similar."
Read the rest of the article for various thoughts (including some from Leonard Marcus) on the venture. Landmarks are particularly beloved, and often collected, by a number of home educating families, secular and religious, who treasure what Charlotte Mason called "living books" -- quality children's historical nonfiction -- so this is great good news indeed; I'd be remiss not to mention that I have a child who lives, or at least sleeps, with Holbrook's "Davy Crockett" under his pillow. A hearty thanks to Mr. Hill and Ms. Hogan, and great good luck to Flying Point Press.

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