March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Penguin to Launch Kathy Dawson Imprint Targeting Middle School, YA Readers

Keep an eye out for a new imprint that aims to deliver novels and series with hard-hitting issues that reflect the real lives of middle schoolers and young adults. Kathy Dawson, who was vice president and editorial director at Dial Books for Young Readers, is launching her own imprint, which will center around “emotionally-driven” books from various genres that focus on the human condition.

Kathy Dawson
Photo: Belathée Photography

Dawson, the editor of award-winning authors Kristin Cashore, Gennifer Choldenko, and K. L. Going, says she’s drawn to books “that matter” rather than those that just entertain.

“Life is complicated and humans have many levels, and I want books that express that,” explains Dawson, who plans to bring big-name authors along with her, as well as search for new talent.

Kathy Dawson Books will launch in the winter of 2014, with the release of nine titles in the first year. “We’re going for quality versus quantity,” says Dawson, adding that it will include a novel by Cashore  that takes place in a boarding school and a middle grade book by Going called Pieces of the Puzzle Why, which is about a gospel singer in New Orleans who goes through emotional trauma and loses her voice. Others include a still unnamed fourth-grade series by Julie Bowe that focuses on a group of kids who do good for their community, a high school murder mystery by debut author Elle Cosimano, and a middle grade novel about a girl who can literally enter books by Django Wexler, who wrote it while his adult novel, The Book of A Thousand Names, was being edited. Wexler has already signed on for three or more additional novels.

Dawson says editing books with controversial subjects is important. “I really don’t worry about censorship,” says Dawson, who edited Going’s Fat Kid Rule the World, a 2004 Printz Honor Award book about an overweight teen, which was challenged in several school districts around the country for its profanity. “Kids need to find books that mirror the real world and help them navigate life.” Dawson added that although attempts to ban a book can lead to more book sales, other times it means kids just don’t gain access to the book. “It’s hard on the authors, and it breaks my heart when it happens,” she says.

That’s why librarians mean so much to Dawson, who calls them her “favorite” people because they don’t just follow trends, “they make sure that that right books get into the hands of the right kids.”

Dawson’s attraction to “honest and true books that kids can relate to” may be partly rooted in her upbringing; she grew up in a family with four children, one of whom has albinism and is legally blind. Her mother, who worked with children “who would otherwise never read” made tactile books for her sister out of felt and other materials. Dawson’s older sister is a psychologist who works with kids. So, she says, she and her family are “no strangers to psychological distress.”

The idea for Dawson’s own imprint came about when Don Weisberg, the president of Penguin Young Readers Group, approached her. Although she says it was a difficult decision to leave Dial because she “totally loved” working there, the “dream of editing and being able to focus on determining my own list was really exciting.”


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About Debra Lau Whelan

Debra Whelan is a former senior editor for news and features at SLJ.



  1. This is very exciting news! I look forward to great reading opportunities from Kathy Dawson Books.. Best of luck.


  1. […] In other exciting news, my debut thriller NEARLY GONE (formerly DEAD BLUE) will be included among an inaugural list of books set to launch under a new Penguin imprint!  My powerhouse editor has created her own imprint, Kathy Dawson Books. NEARLY GONE will be among the first books released in early 2014.  I am deeply honored to be listed among authors I’ve long admired in this article by School Library Journal.  […]