Penguin USA has acquired the license for Little Airplane Productions’ Small Potatoes, a preschool-targeted series of animated musical shorts. The series has taken off on Facebook and debuted on U.S. television September 6, on Disney Channel’s Disney Junior block. Penguin Young Readers Group’s Grosset & Dunlap division will publish a series of at least 10 books starting in early 2013, with Little Airplane handling the writing and design. The launch list will include a sticker book, an 8x8 and a board book.
“We’re in an era where it’s not enough to be in any one platform,” says Josh Selig, Little Airplane’s founder and creator of Small Potatoes. “Books allow us to build out a certain visual universe and tell a certain kind of story, in a way that videos can’t.”
“The videos are adorable and lend themselves to good storytelling,” says Penguin’s director of licensing Lori Burke. “It will make a wonderful book series that can stand on its own. And it’s very versatile, very flexible. It’s nice to be able to develop something alongside the licensor.”
Small Potatoes stars four singing spuds who cover topics such as the first day of school and what they want to be when they grow up, through original songs crossing all musical genres. Its Facebook presence—the property has almost 100,000 “likes,” very high for a preschool property—includes the videos, fan interaction with the band members, and free custom “photatoes” based on fans’ Facebook profile pictures, which can be used as avatars.
The photatoes started in response to a request from a fan to turn a profile picture into a potato. Now Little Airplane has four people in-house that turn about 40 fan-submitted photos per day into photatoes, with thousands posted on the Small Potatoes Facebook wall to date. “It’s a naturally viral result and an interesting form of customization,” Selig says. “We’re interested to see what will happen with it.”
Although it’s still early, Burke notes that there may be some way for the books to tie in with Small Potatoes’ social media success, in terms of both content and marketing.
The series has gained fans among tweens, teens and college students as well as preschoolers and their parents. “We think it’s the cute factor,” Selig says. “The design work seems to resonate at a visceral level. It’s their innocence, their sweetness, their ability to wear really cute costumes.”
The short-form videos premiered in the spring on the commissioning network, CBeebies, in the U.K. The series also airs on the ABC in Australia (which is producing DVDs and CDs for that market) and Canal+ and Piwi in France. In the U.S., in addition to the Disney Channel exposure, support includes specials on SiriusXM’s Kids Place Live channel and an original 11-song iTunes album launching on September 13.