|photo: Monica Erdmann
Amy Pixton, a mother of triplets, created Indestructibles after bits of traditional board books found their way into her babies' mouths. Pixton lives in Kansas City with her husband and their three children.
Tell us about the Indestructibles' origin story--it includes a local bookstore and a bookseller advocate, right?
I have 15-year-old triplets. When they were babies, they explored everything with their mouths--and books were no exception. (I once pulled a hunk of cardboard from my son's mouth.) I packed all the books into a closet. Around this same time my mother-in-law, Kaaren Pixton, an artist and art teacher, was making outdoor murals using Tyvek. It didn't matter if it got wet--it wouldn't rip or tear. Paper that didn't rip or tear when wet?! That's exactly what I needed for my babies who were slobbering all over their books.
TyBook was officially born at the end of 2005. It was not an easy road and there must have been a million steps from those first three books inspired by our slobbery babies to publication with Workman. For example, I originally self-published. Due to a miscommunication with the first printer, round one of printing had a spiral ring and two staples in the binding. Not a good idea for a baby book! It was back to the drawing board.... Then, the owner of Rainy Day Books, my AMAZING local bookstore here in Kansas City, made the introduction to Workman.
Who wrote and illustrated those very first books sold before you connected with Workman? How did you feel about trying to sell those first few books?
I originally hired my mother-in-law as the illustrator. The first three titles that she illustrated (also the first three books Workman published with a few minor changes) were wordless picture books. Wiggle! March!, which is still being sold, was originally called Farm Charm. Each page contained a single farm animal--I had done a lot of research on early literacy and I also took into account my own experience reading to my babies. Naturally, when I looked at a book with farm animals, I started making animal noises. "What does the cow say? Mooooo." Babies eat that up. Not only are they getting quality time with someone they love but they are also learning language.
I admit that I am not a salesperson. I couldn't even sell M&M's to raise money for my softball team as a kid and I love M&M's! But these books have always sold themselves. And as the saying goes, ignorance is bliss. I had no idea what I was up against. In 2007, I finally had a product that was safe and I started selling books to local independent book and toy stores and online. Rainy Day Books had a display on their counter and sold them like crazy.
When Rainy Day Books requested more and I went to drop them off, the owner, Vivien, asked me how things were going. I told her I was interested in taking things to the next level. Vivien made a call to Peter Workman of Workman Publishing. She later told me their conversation went something like this: "We have been doing business together for over 30 years and I have never called you to say I think we've got something, but I think we've got something."
How do you feel now on the 10th anniversary of the series?
From the beginning I had the grandiose goal to sell a million books. But, honestly, I am still shocked and amazed. The folks over at Workman are my heroes.
In what ways have you seen the books grow and change over the years?
The artists have changed, words have been added, a few books are being translated into Spanish... The number of titles will blow up to 36 by the end of this year but the basic format and charm remain the same.
In what ways have the books made you grow and change over the years?
I love this question! In a roundabout way it has given me great confidence. There is not anything I don't think I can do. After all, I am a social worker who created a series of books for babies with over five million copies in print.
How involved are you now in the creation of the books?
My role has changed over time. In the beginning, I was doing EVERYTHING. Now, with Workman, there's a great team in place. I stay in close touch with the special sales team. I suggest titles. I show up at conferences every now and again and work the booth. All the fun stuff!
Do you happen to have a particular favorite?
Honestly, I LOVE them all. Wiggle! March! is a favorite for making those farm animal noises; Baby Peekaboo, because who doesn't love this classic baby game; I love the artwork in Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star for the line "up above the world so high," and how the dog friends from Row, Row, Row Your Boat make an appearance on that page. I love when grandma and grandpa show up in Jingle Baby, and there is a new Hanukkah book coming out. Do I have to stop there, because I can keep going....
Looking around the Internet, I found more than a few videos and pictures (here, here) of babies doing their darnedest to destroy these books. How indestructible are they really?
I always tell people to test them out.
I have moms coming to me telling me they are able to keep passing them down to the next baby in the family. Sure, they get a little wrinkly, but it shows how much they are loved.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell Shelf readers?
Love your babies. Read to them. Talk to them. They will be 15 and in high school before you know it. And no one ever warned me how scary it would be to have teenage drivers!