A Little Bit Superhero, A Little Bit Sci-Fi

Random House is adding to its portfolio of boys’ titles with a new line tied to Cartoon Network’s Generator Rex. “It’s a little bit monsters, a little bit superhero, a little bit sci-fi,” says Dennis Shealy, editorial director, licensed and novelty properties, Random House/Golden Books Young Readers Group. “It also has that boy’s mechanical angle; Rex can make a hoverbike out of his legs, or giant mechanical smack hands.” He notes that market trends also bode well for the property. “Random House, and others, have had a lot of luck lately with the superhero thing,” he says, citing The Batman, Iron Man, and X-Men as examples. “It’s sort of ascendant at the moment.”

Read on for news about licensed Megamind, Archies, Moshi Monsters and School Gyrls books, as well as a Shakira-penned Dora the Explorer picture book and a new licensing effort around The Gruffalo.

For Rex, Random House will publish two titles in spring 2011, probably followed by two more each season. The focus will be on Step into Reading level 3 readers—“where we’ve had great success with other boys’ superhero properties,” Shealy reports—and 8x8 picturebacks, including both regular and deluxe editions. There also will be some novelty books, as well as activity books for older readers, such as on codes or paper airplanes.

Random House previously worked with Cartoon Network on Secret Saturdays, while its sister imprint Del Rey has published manga for the channel’s Ben 10 (from the same creators as Generator Rex) and Bakugan.

Penguin: From Aliens to Archie

Penguin’s Grosset & Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan imprints published the tie-in trade books for last weekend’s box office champ, Megamind, Dreamworks’ alien-themed action comedy starring Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt and Tina Fey. “When [Dreamworks] presented us with its portfolio of films last year, Megamind really stuck out as being unusual and fun and true to Dreamworks’ vision,” says Francesco Sedita, v-p and publisher. Unlike other Dreamworks films on which Penguin is working, such as Kung Fu Panda 2 and the next Madagascar movie, Megamind is not based on an established franchise. “That was one of the most attractive things to me,” Sedita says. “We could have fun with it. There’s something old-fashioned and wonderful about publishing into a movie like this.”

The program includes a movie novelization, reader, make-your-own comic, 8x8 and Mad Libs book. “We want to tick off the boxes, but not overwhelm the accounts with too many titles,” Sedita comments. (Dalmatian Press, Ape Entertainment, iStoryTime and Insight Editions are the licensees for Megamind coloring/activity titles, comic books, digital books and “art of” titles, respectively.)

Another new license for Grosset is Archie Comics, for which it is publishing middle-grade novels, starting with two titles in the XOXO Betty and Veronica series, launching in May 2011. In one of the books, Betty and Veronica try to join a band, and in another they apply for jobs at the mall. “Archie Comics is keeping that classic feel, but making it very relevant to today’s reader,” Sedita says. “This is a team of people who celebrate what the franchise was and have an eye on what it will be.” Future, still-in-development titles may include novels focusing on other Archie Comics characters, as well as joke books.

Shakira and Dora Pair Up

Bilingual singer Shakira is credited as the author of the first jacketed hardcover in the 10-year-old Dora the Explorer book franchise, World School Day Adventure. Licensor Nickelodeon approached the publisher with the idea, saying the singer—with whom the network had worked on its Dora Beyond the Backpack charitable campaign and a Dora anniversary documentary—wanted to write a children’s book. She also appears in the book as a character.

The title, released simultaneously in English and Spanish, features visuals that are unique among Dora books. Unlike the traditional tie-ins, which reflect the look of the TV show, this book has its own illustrator and a style more appropriate for a trade picture book with a slightly higher price point, according to Valerie Garfield, Simon & Schuster’s v-p publisher for novelty and licensed publishing. “It’s very obviously Dora, but it’s a more interpretive, illustrative, painterly style,” she says. A portion of proceeds from book sales go to Shakira’s The Barefoot Foundation.

The Shakira book has gotten placement everywhere from Borders and Barnes & Noble to Target, often in different areas of the store than would be standard. It was promoted along with other Dora titles as part of the character’s 10th-anniversary celebration starting in August. “Dora’s 10 and still going strong,” Garfield comments. “Stores seem to really embrace her as an icon.”

Moshi Monsters Move Offline

Scholastic has joined forces with a company called Mind Candy to publish an official handbook for Moshi Monsters, a virtual world and online game for five- to seven-year-olds. The book, which will be distributed through Scholastic’s clubs and fairs as well as at retail, is an Americanized version of one published by Penguin U.K., the publisher in Mind Candy’s home country. The title will be advertised on the site, while site information will be included on the book.

Debra Dorfman, v-p and publisher, paperbacks, Cartwheel and licensing, says Moshi Monsters has a lot of the same appeal Disney’s popular Club Penguin site has. “It’s gender-neutral and young, very funny and kid-friendly,” she explains. “The kids laugh when they play it. And who doesn’t love monsters?”

Moshi Monsters has 30 million players globally. In addition to Scholastic, other licensees for the North American market include Spin Master for toys and Topps for trading cards.

Aladdin Debuts School Gyrls

When Nick Cannon—producer, director, rapper, entrepreneur, “Chairman of TeenNick,” host of America’s Got Talent, and husband of Mariah Carey—visited the offices of the Aladdin imprint at Simon & Schuster, the sheer force of his personality made the staff consider his teen fashion/music property, School Gyrls. “He’s amazing and smart and he really gets this market,” says Mara Anastos, v-p and deputy publisher for Simon Pulse, Aladdin, novelty and media.

Cannon selected three America’s Got Talent contestants to play the School Gyrls (Mandy Rain, Mo Money, and Jacque Nimble). To date, they have starred in a film on TeenNick, appeared at live events, and distributed their music on YouTube and iTunes, and they have albums, a tour, merchandise, and another film in the works. The original movie has run multiple times on Nick and Nick Jr., to good ratings, and Cannon promotes the group extensively on his blog and New York City radio show.

Aladdin’s first two School Gyrls fiction titles, Copycat and Fashionista, were published in August, with four more planned for 2011. (A movie novelization was published under the Simon Spotlight imprint.) The novels take place at the girls’ school, Summer Grove Academy, and have a High School Musical-type vibe, with each focusing on (and authored by) a different character.

Despite the fact that the property is relatively new, Aladdin sold hundreds of books at an event at a New York Borders store on U.S. Open Kids Day. “They’re really just in their early stages,” Anastos reports, noting that the tour and merchandise should propel the group forward. “Then there will be even more to hang our hat on.”

Gruffalo Gear

A half-hour animated Christmas special on ABC Family and a new merchandise line will give Puffin and booksellers an opportunity to promote The Gruffalo, a picture book by Julia Davidson and Axel Scheffler. The Gruffalo is no less than a picture book phenomenon; Macmillan Children’s Books has sold more than 4.5 million copies of the original book worldwide since it was first published in the U.K. in 1999. In the U.S., The Gruffalo and its sequel, The Gruffalo’s Child, have a combined 400,000 copies in print, of hardcover, paperback and board-book editions.

Merchandise for ages 3-7, incorporating art from the books, is expected to be introduced in the U.S. late next year, starting with plush toys, games and puzzles, according to Charlie Day, president of The Sharpe Co., which represents the property in North America on behalf of global rights holder Magic Light Pictures. “What appealed to us is the content,” Day says. “The characters are enchanting, the story lines are wonderful.” He notes that the animated special, which aired in the U.K. last Christmas and achieved a 50% share of viewers, boosted sales of both books and merchandise, which in that market already includes apparel, home décor, gifts, stationery, and toys.

The special will air in the U.S. on December 9 as part of ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas programming block, which features Christmas movies and specials throughout December. The film includes the voices of Robbie Coltrane and Helena Bonham Carter.