Blue Manatee Books Is Cincinnati’s Own Children’s Publishing Outfit

When is a kids’ bookstore not just a kids’ bookstore? When it’s also a publishing house.

Local readers, and especially little readers, may have heard that Blue Manatee recently moved to a new location. But did you know the beloved children’s bookstore doesn’t just sell books—it publishes them, too?

The idea came to owner John Hutton, a practicing pediatrician, a few years ago. “I wanted to channel pediatric guidelines into well-done children’s books,” he says. He wrote some of the first volumes himself, including a hugely popular board book on the importance of putting babies to sleep on their backs. But today Blue Manatee Press recruits authors and illustrators from around the country—and relies on a large Chicago firm to get their books national distribution.

One of the big fall titles is Wake, a book with beautiful watercolor illustrations and a message about the power of nature.

Photograph courtesy Blue Manatee Press

Photograph courtesy Blue Manatee Press

While Wake has a local connection—the mother/daughter team behind it, author Shawn Dougherty and illustrator Leah Busch, both live in town—the press keeps expanding. “It’s eclipsed the brick-and-mortar in terms of revenue and growth,” Hutton says.

The bookstore remains an essential partner with the press; e.g., the Blue Manatee crew will sometimes read a manuscript during story-time events to see how the kids react. “You don’t want to read to grownups,” Hutton says. “Your real audience is a bunch of 3-year-olds who are squirming.”

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