Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, the first of more than 70 books illustrated by Eric Carle, and Macmillan will begin celebrating the milestone this September. “Our goal has always been to take a mature and popular classic and elevate it to a higher level, and the anniversary is the perfect excuse to do that,” says associate publisher Angus Killick.
New publishing that will debut on September 6 includes a 50th-anniversary jacketed hardcover of Brown Bear with an accompanying audio CD that features Gwyneth Paltrow reading the story; a 50th-anniversary padded board book edition that, at 6 1/4 x 8 inches, is larger than the classic board book; and a novelty lift-the-tab board book, with the tabs featuring all the animals that Brown Bear encounters throughout the book. Macmillan is also reprinting 50th-anniversary editions of the classic $7.95 Brown Bear board book and the $12.99 novelty slide-and-find board book, the two bestselling Brown Bear formats by far, Killick reports.
Carle and the late Bill Martin Jr., author of Brown Bear, also collaborated on three follow-ups, starring Polar Bear, Panda Bear, and Baby Bear, all published by Macmillan. The publisher has collected all four Bear titles, in both a boxed gift set and a Brown Bear & Friends Little Bear Library mini-hardcover set, for the first time. And Baby Bear is celebrating its 10th anniversary next year, so Macmillan is reprinting the Baby Bear cloth book with a 10th-anniversary logo and debuting a Baby Bear mini lift-the-tab book.
“The program is robust and offers pretty much something for every retailer and every reader,” Killick says, noting that the flurry of publishing is unusual for Brown Bear and friends. “We rarely add a new book to the list. We have been careful not to flood the market with competing titles that might cannibalize each other.” All told, with the new releases, there are about 50 different editions in print collectively, of the four titles, including classic hardcovers, board books of various sizes, novelty books, beginning readers, and audio and e-books. All together, the four Bear books have sold 50 million copies in the U.S., including 14 million of Brown Bear.
Meanwhile, the anniversary is inspiring a number of events and promotional activities under the tagline “Brown Bear, Brown Bear Everywhere.” One key component is the “Brown Bear Turns 50” exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, which debuts on September 17. It will feature the original artwork from every page of the book’s 1992 edition; images from the earlier and slightly different 1967, 1970, and 1984 editions; some of the original collages for the other Bear books; and copies of Brown Bear in the 31 languages in which it has been published.
Prior to the opening of the exhibition, the Museum is overseeing its first public art project, “Brown Bear Everywhere,” throughout its hometown of Amherst, Mass. Opening August 13, the event will feature 14 installations of large-scale digital reproductions of Brown Bear’s original artwork, from Black Sheep at the Black Sheep Deli to Brown Bear at the top of Bare Mountain. “It’s been a real labor of love over the past eight to 10 months to get all the permissions from governmental departments, restaurants, and school principals, but nobody turned us down,” says Ellen Keiter, the Museum’s chief curator. “It will be interesting to see the public’s response to the works. There’s a real sense of community pride behind the Museum and Eric Carle and the book.”
Other birthday events will take place at the 15 most-visited national parks and at New York City zoos and aquariums. Meanwhile, Macmillan is offering a retailer event kit, hosting retail display contests for both retailers and libraries, and is working with the ALA on a Brown Bear poster, bookmark, and baby t-shirt. It has been handing out anniversary totebags at recent shows; “we printed enough to be blanketing the conventions for the next year,” says Killick.
A national media campaign will be supplemented by digital marketing. A dedicated website, launches this month and features a recording of Carle reading the book. “Meeting Eric [through the video] is a very special way to enjoy the book anew,” Killick says. “His reading is so very charming.”
The festivities will continue throughout 2017 with a campaign called “A Bear for All Seasons” that highlights a different bear each quarter: Polar Bear for winter, Baby Bear for spring, Panda Bear for summer, and Brown Bear for fall. “This way we can have beat points all year long for celebrating,” Killick says.
Macmillan has been strategizing with The Joester Loria Group, licensing agent for The World of Eric Carle, for a year, Killick reports. Macmillan and TJLG have jointly approached retailers to pitch cross-merchandising of the books and products, which Killick says is likely to happen once the new titles are available.
The World of Eric Carle licensing effort, which has 135 licensees and promotional partners worldwide, has been Very Hungry Caterpillar-centric to date, but TJLG created a new style guide to assist licensees in creating merchandise featuring all four bears, according to president and CEO Debra Joester. Brown Bear products on the market so far have included teacher’s materials from Oriental Trading, sleepwear from Ultimo and Gymboree, plush from Kids Preferred, board games from University Games, and apps from Story Toys.