Book characters were among the most visible licensed properties at Toy Fair. While products based on television programs such as Blue's Clues, Rugrats and Teletubbies were present, many exhibitors highlighted book properties with signage and boutique-style displays. Led by Maisy, Curious George, Madeline, Franklin, Little Bear and Where the Wild Things Are, literary properties attracted big crowds to the booths and showrooms featuring them.
Toy industry shipments were flat at $15.2 billion in 1998, according to the Toy Manufacturers of America. In this difficult environment, manufacturers are attracted to classic properties, such as book characters, which appeal to both children and adults and which, they hope, will outlast the latest fad.
The fact that even the two largest mass market toy companies, Hasbro and Mattel, showed lines based on literary properties -- albeit all supported by television series or films -- demonstrates the industry's embrace of books. Hasbro introduced Stuart Little and Animorphs products, and Mattel launched two American Girls CD-ROMs.
Several toy marketers exhibiting at the convention have long focused on book-based licenses and are familiar to the book trade, including ToyWorks, Crocodile Creek and Peaceable Kingdom Press. Among the most consistently crowded booths at the Javits Center were Eden Toys, which introduced talking plush featuring Arthur and other book properties, and Briarpatch, which added Where the Wild Things Are to its list of licensed literary board games.
Other companies featuring book properties, many of them newly licensed, were an eclectic group. Radio Flyer exhibited plush Curious George figures sitting in miniature red wagons. Schylling, a maker of toys and gifts and a longtime Curious George licensee, highlighted several literary properties, including a selection of products based on its newest license, Mike Mulligan. Inkadinkadoo, a rubber stamp marketer, spotlighted its new lines, including Spot, Maisy, Babar, the Beginner's Bible and Paddington Bear.
Gund showcased a large display of Curious George plush, while Wildkin, a maker of backpacks, prominently displayed its book-character bags, including its newest license, Miss Spider. Stickopotamus debuted Maisy, Spot and Paddington stickers; Image Nation sold T-shirts and tote bags featuring Dr. Seuss and Curious George; and Plant the Earth introduced Madeline T-shirts.
Several Scholastic properties, in addition to Animorphs, were launched in toy form at the exhibition. Madame Alexander offered four Dear America dolls; Toy Island, the master toy licensee for Clifford, presented plush and electronic toys; and Natural Science Industries showed Magic School Bus activity kits. Scholastic Entertainment's in-house sidelines division added Stellaluna and Real Mother Goose items to its Sidekicks line.
Meanwhile, many of the more than 40 publishers at the show announced or exhibited new licensed titles. Golden Books introduced a line based on Generation Girl, an extension of Mattel's Barbie targeting older girls, ages 7-11. HarperCollins featured books for ages 3-7 inspired by the PBS series Noddy, based on the classic Enid Blyton books. Landoll presented its first CatDog books, licensed by Nickelodeon.
One new publisher, Innovative Kids, used Toy Fair as its launchpad, premiering a line of novelty and activity books aimed at all channels of distribution. The titles are distributed by Chronicle Books.
Several publishers noted retailer interest in their classic book characters, both proprietary and licensed. Marie Gorman, associate director of merchandise licensing and special markets for Houghton Mifflin's trade and reference division, reported interest in Curious George, Mike Mulligan (a recent beneficiary of a licensing effort) and Martha the Talking Dog, which is available in plush.
"So many of our licensed products are getting attention," noted Kate Stark, director of retail sales, special markets, at HarperCollins. She cited Stuart Little, Paddington Bear and Noddy as examples, adding, "I don't think we've ever noticed this much interest in our licensed products before."