Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Tuesday, July 11, 2023

July 11, 2023 Dedicated Issue: Usborne

Usborne Books: Be Curious

Editors' Note

Celebrating Usborne

With support from the company, Shelf Awareness celebrates the 50th anniversary of U.K. children's publisher Usborne and the company's major relaunch into the U.S. trade market via HarperCollins.

Usborne Books: Summer/Fall US Catalog

Books & Authors

Introduction from Nicola Usborne, Managing Director

Nicola Usborne
(© 2023 Usborne Publishing Limited)

Nicola Usborne is MD of globally renowned children's publisher, Usborne (founded by Nicola's father, Peter, in 1973). Prior to this she worked at Scholastic in NYC, and as a BAFTA-winning film producer. Nicola studied at Oxford, London, and the Open University. With her father and brother, she founded the Usborne Foundation, a charity that has built the Teach Your Monster to Read suite of online games, which have been played more than 450 million times around the world. She lives in London with her husband and three sons.

I am truly thrilled to share a selection of Usborne's U.S. titles in partnership with HarperCollins.

My dad, Peter Usborne, set up Usborne in 1973 when he found out he was going to become a father. I have grown up with this company and watched the love, hard work, and belief that he poured into it. Sadly, my beloved dad died earlier this year, aged 85 and a 1/2--but not before kickstarting Usborne's 50th birthday year in 2023 by receiving a medal from King Charles III for "Services to Literature." He never retired (he loved making books too much!) and spent his final days in the office discussing U.S. plans. He always said that being a children's book publisher was the greatest privilege of his life--and he has been remembered all over the world as being one of the greatest pioneers in the industry.  

After a number of years in children's publishing in New York, I worked alongside my dad for many years, building more formally on that great love for Usborne books that I gained growing up with them. Being able to continue my dad's astonishing legacy is a huge honor.

My dad created something truly special when he created Usborne, and we believe that it shows in the books we make. Quite unusually, all our books are conceived, written, and designed in-house, by our hugely talented team. You can feel the time, care, and attention that they put into them.

My dad's motto was quite simply, "Do It Better"--based on his belief that children of all ages deserved the very best books. Every book that we have ever published--and ever will--aims to spark curiosity. Whether that's a baby exploring one of our sensory books for the first time or an older child discovering big concepts through our nonfiction series, Usborne books always encourage children to explore the world around them, asking plenty of questions along the way.

Peter Usborne receiving his CBE for Services to Literature at Windsor Castle, with Nicola Usborne, in 2023. Photo © 2023 Martin Usborne

Our books are phenomenally popular all over the world because we put children at the heart of everything we do. Usborne is a children's specialist: we only publish books for children, so we come at the world from a child's point of view. Our books are written in their language and designed for their curious eyes.

My dad said that Usborne books should be "good enough to eat." I hope that you will find our books irresistible and enjoy bringing them to children across the U.S.

Usborne Books: Spook-tastic books for Halloween

Fiona Watt and Sam Taplin: Guided by Their Inner Children

Fiona Watt
(© 2023 Usborne Publishing Limited)

Fiona Watt started working at Usborne in 1989 and has written and edited hundreds of books including baby and novelty, sticker, art and craft, cookery, science, and activity books. She has written all the titles in the award-winning That's not my... series and many in the highly successful Sticker Dolly Dressing series. She is the sixth biggest-selling U.K. children's author, with more than 10 million books sold in the U.K.

Sam Taplin grew up in a beautiful valley in Yorkshire, England, where he dreamed of being a writer, and after three years reading other people's books at university, he started writing his own for Usborne. He's been doing it ever since.

Would you kindly tell Shelf readers what your jobs are and what a "day in the life" looks like for you?

Watt: I'm an editorial director and writer at Usborne. In the 34 years I've been working here, I can honestly say that no two days are the same. I never quite know what will be on my desk when I arrive in the morning--whether it's surprise proofs or seeing finished copies of the 70th book in a series, it's still as exciting as it was when I first started.

Sam Taplin
(© 2023 Usborne Publishing Limited)

Taplin: I agree with Fiona--there's a certain magic about working as a publishing manager and writer at Usborne that makes every day seem unique. It's all very organic, and our days aren't full of big meetings. We work collaboratively as a team of editors sharing ideas or individually with illustrators and designers. Relationships are hugely important. I think collaboration is the most consistent thing in our day-to-day work.

Watt: And that's what makes it so much fun! I've worked with Rachel Wells (illustrator, That's not my... series) for 30 years. There's a type of familiarity and understanding that comes with that longevity. At Publishing Director Jenny Tyler's 40th anniversary party, we went around the table saying how long we had each worked here. When we got to over 300 years cumulatively, we decided to stop.

Fiona, you are the author of Usborne series That's not my... and Sticker Dolly Dressing. Can you tell us a bit about those books?

Watt: That's not my... is what we call a "touchy-feely" range of board books, with patches of fabric that children feel and simple descriptive text relating to the featured animal or character. It's a deceptively simple formula. Its success is probably because it's a tactile and sensory experience, but there is also a comfortable rhythm to the repetition of the words.

It's funny to look back on its success because the series almost didn't happen. Peter Usborne didn't want to publish a book with a negative in the title. Jenny Tyler and I persevered and eventually brought him around--over 20 million sold units later, I think he was rather pleased we pushed for it. That was one of the many great things about Peter--he was always willing to take a risk.

The difference with That's not my... is the careful consideration we apply to the texture and the animal/character. I had seen books with touch-and-feel patches, but quite often they were just cut into the side of a picture or photo of an animal, with no real purpose or reference to the textural quality. It seemed like a good idea to combine the physical attributes of different animals with a tactile patch and use adjectives to describe the texture.

There is an educational quality to the books that is extremely important for language development and visual literacy. Very young children will respond to the repetition and make connections between the pictures and textures, even if they aren't yet speaking.

Taplin: And you can't forget the little white mouse....

Watt: The mouse has become an additional repetitive and fun layer to the books. It's something else for children to spot and associate with the texture on each spread.

Taplin: It's always varied working in children's publishing!

Watt: It is--and it's why I love creating Sticker Dolly Dressing books too. Naturally they're very different in their style and function, but they also have an educational value, as they help to develop a child's hand-eye coordination and their concentration without the child necessarily realizing it.

Sam, your focus has been described as "tactile, humorous, novelty books for very young children." What are important aspects in the developing of those kinds of titles?

Taplin: It's a combination of things. It's got to feel right. It's important to us that we believe in the editorial quality of the book and not just its ability to sell. You get a sort of gut instinct when you know you've got something special. Getting to that point isn't always linear, and it can sometimes take time, but it pays off. Peter's mantra was to always "do it better." We take a lot of care and effort in what we do.

I can still remember the moment that the idea for the Don't Tickle books was conceived. Combining sounds and textures in one book was a point of difference already, but connecting the sensory element with the emotive appeal of tickling the animals was something that just instantly felt right.

Watt: It's interesting, because neither Sam nor I have children, but we seem to be able to intuitively inhabit a child's world. Perhaps it's our inner child guiding us?

Taplin: I think that way of thinking directly influences the creative process. I'm always thinking, always making notes. That real-world interaction finds its way back into the books I create. I think that comes from not looking at everyone else's books but going away and thinking on my own.

Of course, it's not a solo effort. Usborne is synonymous with sound books for children, and this is where our commitment to quality is so important. We work with a composer, Anthony Marks, to bring different environments and characters to life. Often, we'll go through 5 or 6 versions before we decide on the final one. I know I have the best job in the world when I reflect on times that I have exclaimed "this dinosaur doesn't sound angry enough!" or Anthony has asked "do you think this yeti sounds too mournful?"

What are you working on currently?

Watt: We're always looking at ways we can innovate and develop existing series to build on success. I'm currently working on a sub-series of That's not my... with additional sensory elements.

Taplin: A recent hit at book fairs has been our new Slider Sounds series. It's another example of where we had that "Eureka!" moment. Each time you move one of the sliders, an animal springs into view and makes a fun sound. But there's more! Move the same slider back again, and you'll see and hear a completely different animal. We're especially excited about this series.

What kinds of reactions are you hoping to elicit in young readers?

Watt: For me, it's a sense of curiosity and intrigue. Books go beyond just the words and pictures. They're simply a springboard to everything else you can imagine. And done well, they're often one of our earliest and fondest memories. The idea that one of my books might be the spark that grows something bigger has always been very exciting.

Taplin: I like to think of it as weaving magic through the pages. Building imaginary worlds for children to explore by juggling words, pictures, and other elements. I think every book has to feel like a mini adventure that you never want to stop being on. That's the best reaction I could hope for.

Usborne Books: Subscribe to our monthly trade newsletter!

Summer and Fall Title Highlights from Publishing Director Jenny Tyler

Jenny Tyler
(© 2023 Usborne Publishing Limited)

Jenny Tyler, Publishing Director at Usborne, joined the company as an editor in 1974, just a year after the company was founded. Prior to that, she had three other jobs and got a degree in Chemistry from Warwick University. Jenny is responsible for building the hugely successful publishing program for which Usborne is so highly regarded. Here she shares a selection of her favorite books on Usborne's 2023 Summer and Fall list.


That's not my puppy... by Fiona Watt, illus. by Rachel Wells ($10.99, 9781805317180, September 5, 2023)

Little did we know that when we published the first That's not my... book in 1998, we would be selling one series title every minute in the U.K. 25 years later. Fiona Watt's simple but winning formula has seen this series become a much-loved household name. What better way to celebrate the reintroduction of the series in the U.S. than with a special sparkly edition of the very first title, That's not my puppy?

Don't Tickle the Unicorn by Sam Taplin, illus. by Ana Martin Larranaga ($17.99, 9781805317364, October 3, 2023)

A lot of thinking happens when we create any book. This one started with Peter Usborne asking, "What sound does a unicorn make?" I had a little think and said, "Neigh! Tinkle, tinkle!" to which he replied, "Oh yes of course." We then had to work out what was going to go in the book. Sam Taplin came up with a lovely story, and the designer created some wonderful pictures to go with it.

Farm Sounds by Sam Taplin, illus. by Federica Iossa ($19.99, 9781805317951, October 3, 2023)

I am very lucky to have two research assistants: my grandchildren, aged three and six. Their favorite sound in this book, and mine too, is the tractor because it's a real tractor sound recorded on a farm in France. The farmer was so proud to have his tractor featured that he dressed in his best clothes for the recording. Every time I hear the rumbling growl, I think of the farmer standing in his best hat, and it makes me smile.

Very First Questions and Answers: Are Dinosaurs Real? by Katie Daynes, illus. by Marta Alvarez Miguens ($12.99, 9781805318323, July 4, 2023)

I have always loved the way that the author of this book, Katie Daynes, gathers children of friends and family in her garden and simply talks to them. She asks about what they want to know--"are dinosaurs real?" is one of the many questions she was asked. Katie uses this method to make books which will speak directly to children.

Look Inside Your Body by Louie Stowell, illus. by Kate Leake ($14.99, 9781805317258, September 5, 2023)

Children are very interested in their bodies, how they work, and what's inside them. This book, an Usborne heritage title and a global bestseller, is one that has stood the test of time. I think part of its success is the interactive format. The addition of flaps not only breaks up the text on the page but it's far more fun not to be told the answer straight away. In doing so, children are active and engaged readers.

 *    *    *

Follow Usborne on:

Facebook: Usborne Publishing
Instagram: usborne_books
Twitter: Usborne
YouTube: Usborne
TikTok: usborne_books

Text and images copyright © Usborne Publishing Limited, 2023. Illustrations by Gareth Lucas.

Shelf Awareness banner © Shelf Awareness 2023, with permission from Usborne Publishing Limited, 2023

Usborne Books: That's Not My Series by Fiona Watt, illustrated by Rachel Wells

Usborne Books: Sticker Dolly Dressing Books by Fiona Watt

Usborne Books: Don't Tickle Series by Sam Taplin, illustrated Ana Martin Larranaga

Usborne Books: Sound Books by Sam Taplin, illustrated by Federica Iossa

Usborne Books: Big Subjects Made Simple

Powered by: Xtenit