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Wide Eyed Wonder: bringing fresh eyes to children’s book design

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Kristjana S WIlliams: illustration from The Wonder Garden by Jenny Broom

Rachel Williams, publisher and co-founder of children’s book imprint Wide Eyed Editions (part of The Quarto Group), explains why she’s working with creatives who’ve never made a children’s book before

When we started Wide Eyed Editions, my business partner Jenny Broom and I planned for it to be purely non-fiction, as we felt that it was a neglected genre, and highly illustrated. Both of us had worked as editors in the children’s book business for over a decade, and had seen first-hand how picture books had the power to hit a chord with young readers, giving them tools to understand the world around them through the power of stories. We had also seen how these books affected parents just as much as their young audience.

We wanted our non-fiction list to do the same thing as stories do — inspire a sense of magic and wonder about the world — but be rooted in fact, giving readers the ability to think critically and feed their curiosity. I had just been reading a bunch of Ken Robinson books about education on this very topic, and how children are born explorers or “divergent thinkers” – a trait that artists continue to foster as they age.

A core part of our commissioning process has been marrying science and art – finding expert authors or illustrators passionate about a subject or a style of art-working, and working with them to make a book. Looking outside the children’s book industry to professionals who haven’t necessarily made a children’s book before has been part of our approach, as we feel these voices offer a fresh perspective to subjects that have historically been watered down for children.

So far we have worked with textile artists, design professors, illustrators, scientists, historians and natural historians, all of whom approach their chosen subject without patronising their readers. We see it as our job, along with our designer Nicola Price, to filter these ideas and create books that are child-friendly but also interesting to parents.

For example for The School of Art we collaborated with Professor Teal Triggs of the Royal College of Art and illustrator Daniel Frost to create a book that’s a bit like a foundation course in art for kids. We also created a whole brand of preschool books called The Learning Garden, collaborating with Marimekko textile artist Aino Maija Metsola; and a book about jobs called What do grown ups do all day, working with French graphic artist Virginie Morgand.

Pablo Picasso said “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” He was right in thinking that young children have an artist’s spirit of curiosity, collaboration and the ability to think sideways. Our hope is that our books offer a jumping off point to develop these artistic traits into life long skills through the power of reading, and sharing, information books.

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Virginie Morgand: illustration from What do grown ups do all day

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Daniel Frost: illustration from The School of Art

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Curiositree: Natural World is a collaboration between graphic artist Owen Davey, designer Mike Jolley and natural history writer Amanda Wood

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Aino Maija Metsola: Art Charts