How one Portland-based children’s book series takes a different approach to storytelling and marketing.
For anyone with children, broaching subjects like sexism, racism and mental illness can be one of parenting’s thorniest challenges.
The A Kids Book About series, launched this week, deals with topics such as anxiety, cancer and body image, in a way that spurs conversation and encourages questions. The series contains titles on a wide variety of subjects children may seek to understand, including gratitude, creativity and divorce.
There are no pictures in A Kids Book About Depression or A Kids Book About Feminism. Instead, the thin, sleekly designed tomes contain personal stories of how the author has encountered the given subject in the world around them, and ends with open-ended questions meant to spur conversations between children and adults.
The idea was conceived by Jelani Memory, co-founder of consumer electronics startup Circle Media. As the father six children who are forced to address issues of race on a daily basis, Memory wrote A Kids Book About Racism to help his own kids confront the challenges they encountered every day.
Jelani Memory, co-founder and CEO of A Kids Book About, poses with his entry in the series. Credit: A Kids Book About
“I wanted to make the book to capture the conversations we were having just for my kids. I literally printed out just one copy,” says Memory. “But when I started showing the book to adults the response was remarkable. They said, ‘This book is really cool, can I get one?’ And then they would give me ideas for more. That’s when I knew I had something on my hands.”
No matter the theme, the series seeks to address how these issues come into play during a child’s life. Memory says that when big issues are raised with children, it’s important they are able to talk about them without having to rely on pictures and metaphor.
“When kids hear real stories that use real words like cancer and death, they start asking real questions,” says Memory. “They don’t get stuck on the pictures.”
Memory stepped back from his role at Circle Media last March to dedicate his time to the series. After reading a book on publishing, Memory thought he could do something new. Using his experience as a startup co-founder, he wanted to design and market the series in an innovative way.
The Kids Book About series isn’t being published through any printing house, nor is it self-published. The series will publish under its very own publishing house, and will be available direct-to-consumer through its website. By focusing on branding and design, Memory says the series will embrace a more innovative approach to publishing.
“We wanted to follow in the footsteps of companies like Casper and Warby Parker,” says Memory, who cites Amazon’s lopsided competitiveness with traditional booksellers as a reason for his decision.
While Amazon’s dominance puts pressure on booksellers, Memory says the direct-to-consumer model offers the series an opportunity to brand itself.
“When you think of Simon and Schuster or Penguin Random House, they aren’t brands in the way that Sprite or Nike are brands,” says Memory. “We want [our brand] to stand for something.”
As for getting the word out about the series, the books are distributed to influencers to review on their blogs, streams and YouTube channels. Each book has a different author, some of whom have more than 10,000 followers on Twitter.
Contributors to the series include Emma Mcilroy, CEO of Wildfang, and former Trail Blazers coach Ben Kenyon. While not all series authors have large online followings, Memory says the power of online visibility will be enough to make the series a success.
It’s a different kind of children’s book with a different kind of strategy to get it into children’s hands. It may just work as more millennial become parents, and take their fondness of social media and online buying with them.
Parents may very well turn to online brands, rather than peruse the bookstore, when their kids start asking questions.
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