Blue Manatee, a small press affiliated with Cincinnati’s Blue Manatee bookstore, has found success in the marketplace by publishing picture books that educate parents about health issues while they read them to their infants. Sleep Baby, Safe and Snug, a June 2013 bedtime story with an underlying theme of SIDS prevention, has sold 400,000 copies to date, including 85,000 copies sold to the state of Tennessee, which is providing a copy to the parents of every child born there. The book was written by Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician who founded and owns both Blue Manatee Press and the bookstore, and illustrated by Leah Busch.
“We’re trying to create a new paradigm for explaining health information for families, using children’s books,” Hutton said, explaining that writing health-related books “nicely dovetails” with his clinical research fellowship at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s Reading and Literacy Discovery Center in the Department of General & Community Pediatrics. He researches early brain development in relation to reading, as well as health and general literacy.
Three years ago, Hutton launched Blue Manatee Press with the release of the first book in the Baby Unplugged series. The mission of the press, Hutton told PW at the time, was to emphasize the importance of essential educational experiences, as well as reading, to a child’s brain development. Blue Manatee’s initial offerings – board books with simple titles like Yard, Blanket, and Pets, all written by Hutton and illustrated by Andrea Kang – were well received, but sales have been modest, averaging 1,000 copies.
Sales picked up for Blue Manatee’s frontlist this past spring, which was also the first season that IPG distributed its books. Two releases by Sarah Jones, Orange, Triangle, Fox (which received a starred review in PW) and Bunnies, Near and Far, have each sold more than 7,500 copies and are both in their second print runs. The original Baby Unplugged releases also being reissued in a redesigned format, “in a more urban setting, with a more organic feel,” Hutton said with Jones illustrating the reissues.
“The original Baby Unplugged books were hand sketched, then converted to vector graphics, which is lovely but, ironically, computer facilitated,” Hutton said of the original series. Jones illustrated the reissues, which Hutton described as being “ink and paint, scanned directly.”
Blue Manatee Press is following up Sleep Baby this fall with Calm Baby Gently, which addresses dealing with colic and preventing shaken baby syndrome. The initial print run for Calm Baby Gently will be 10,000 copies. The third book in the series, Eat, Baby, Healthy, currently in development, will address prenatal nutrition and breastfeeding. Like Sleep Baby, these two books are written by Hutton and illustrated by Busch.
Hutton calls Blue Manatee a “press with a purpose,” with a mandate to publish “health-themed, concept, and other mission-fueled books that unite children and grown-ups.” Besides Calm Baby Gently, Blue Manatee Press will release this fall four board books for children up to age three: a reissue of Play from the Baby Unplugged series; Sherm the Germ by Hutton, illustrated by Maria Montag; Sleepy Bee by Hutton, illustrated by Sandra Gross; and A Day with Monster by Kelli Gleiner. The press will also release a picture book, Shark Girl and Belly Button by Casey Riordan Millard (ages 2–up). All of the fall releases will be released in September, except for Shark Girl and Belly Button, which will be released in October.