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NYC-based Downtown Bookworks stands out in children’s book business

The store’s owner surveys parents and experts at PBS Kids when writing her kids books.

From brand partnerships to eye-catching designs, Downtown Bookworks has found a niche in the children’s book industry.

Founded in 2010, the Canal Street publisher focuses on books for babies up through preteens that “keep kids engaged in reading and the world around them,” said president Julie Merberg.

Merberg, who writes many of the publisher’s titles, has found inspiration in her own experience raising four sons in New York City. Trips to museums turned into the series “Art from the Start,” which introduces children to iconic paintings, while her husband’s love of comic books inspired its DC Super Heroes series (the publisher’s most popular book, “My First Book of Girl Power,” hails from that).

Packaging often comes into play, too; working with Warren Buffett, the publisher released “How to Start Your Very First Business,” which comes equipped with a Square credit card reader.

Its reputation for unique books and licensing agreements drew the attention of PBS Kids.

“They know so much about how children learn and what’s effective and what they like to look at and how things need to be communicated to them,” Merberg said. “We set about translating that information into a series of books.”

Their partnership has resulted in a DIY cookbook; insect and bird kits that come with magnifier jars and binoculars; its popular, National Parenting Product Awards-winning “Turn the Key” series, in which readers unlock each page with an attached key; and, its newest release, the PBS Kids 100 series. The three books focus on building vocabulary for babies, toddlers and preschoolers.

“There are obviously other first concepts books out there, but what we noticed in this particular category, the 0-3 age group is lumped together,” Merberg said. “Any parent knows that there is a world of difference between what your 6-month-old is capable of saying and understanding and what your 3-year-old is capable of. We thought there was a real need here.”

Each book, written by Merberg, features 100 words, words and phrases or concepts that are illustrated with a photo or drawing. To narrow down the list, she conducted informal surveys of parents, teachers, friends and educational experts at PBS Kids.

“We wanted to make sure we were appealing to the broadest demographic,” Merberg said. “That we’re speaking to kids that live in the city, in the country, the suburbs, all sorts of socioeconomic backgrounds.”

For instance, an animal page includes a butterfly and a bee — “those are things kids who live anywhere will see at some point,” Merberg said.

Next up for Downtown Bookworks is a new partnership with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation; an activity-based book for ages 10 and up that looks at the architect’s life and process is coming out this spring.

“We’re about making books that are really fun and engaging for kids, where the learning is almost buried,” Merberg said. “You would never pick up a cookbook and think this is an educational experience.”

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