Penguin Nurtures Hatchimals Books

Penguin Young Readers is set to introduce its first tie-in to the hit toy of the holidays, Hatchimals, an interactive plush-in-an-egg that hatches and matures as the child nurtures it. Under license from toy company Spin Master, Penguin will release a sticker activity book this summer and a handbook/collectors’ guide in the fall, with a 10x10 paper-over-board storybook, an 8x8, and a sticker storybook planned for spring 2018. Since this is a global licensing deal, all of the publisher’s offices around the world are collaborating on formats that work across territories.

Penguin was already on board as a licensee before the Hatchimals toys were unveiled to consumers in October, having signed a deal quickly after seeing the property at Licensing Expo last June. The brand became a holiday season phenomenon, selling out in 50 countries.

This year, Spin Master is introducing two more series of core Hatchimals, along with a line of 70 mini collectible figures—with more to come—called Hatchimals Colleggtibles. Penguin’s books will focus on the latter. “The stories are about the world the Hatchimals live in,” says Sarah Fabiny, editorial director at Penguin Random House, noting that the two to three titles released each season will be tied to new toy introductions. “Retailers want to know that what we’re publishing is totally in synch with the toys on the shelf,” she explains.

Also new for Penguin this year is the Power Rangers license. The company is publishing books tied to the Power Rangers movie, which is in theaters now, as well as future feature films; the newest iteration of the television show, Power Rangers: Ninja Steel; and all of the classic series going back to the property’s 1993 debut, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Little, Brown Gets in the ‘Spirit’

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers is publishing original middle-grade novels tied to Spirit Riding Free, a DreamWorks Animation-produced, Netflix-distributed TV series debuting this summer. Universal Brand Development is the licensor of the property, which takes off where the 2002 film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron left off.

The first two books are authored by Suzanne Selfors, known for To Catch a Mermaid, as well as her Ever After High School Stories, Imaginary Veterinary, and Smells Like Dog series. “As soon as we saw this property, I thought it would be great to introduce it with an author-driven series, and Suzanne was in my mind the whole time,” says Kara Sargent, editor-in-chief, brand, licensed, and IP publishing. “She does friendship stories about girls in this age group very well, and she’s interested in the bond between people and their animals.”

As for the appeal of the property itself, Sargent cites its timeless theme of girls and horses, the endless storytelling possibilities, the unusual setting of a frontier town in the 1800s, a unique spin on the classic fish-out-of-water story, and the fact that the central character is a strong girl with an adventurous spirit. “Sometimes the empowered girl theme feels forced, but it’s at the heart of this property,” Sargent says.

The look and feel of the series was also appealing, according to Mara Lander, executive director, licensing and brand management. “We really responded to the aesthetic,” she says. “It’s not all pink and purple; it’s a blue and tan palette that will really stand out in the aisle. It’s fresh, but also timeless.”

The first title, Spirit Riding Free: The Adventure Begins, serves as a prequel and introduction to the animated series and will launch in paper-over-board and eBook formats on May 2, to coincide roughly with the Netflix series. A second Selfors-authored title featuring an original story will follow in October. Additional formats by other authors are also in the works; character diaries, nonfiction guides to the time period, and a guide to the world of Spirit are under consideration.

Walter Foster Jr. Diversifies Licensing Roster

The Quarto Group’s Walter Foster Jr. imprint is partnering with the National Wildlife Federation on the Ranger Rick Kids’ Guide Series, set for a summer launch, to coincide with the character’s 50th anniversary this year. The series includes the Ranger Rick Kids’ Guide to Fishing and Ranger Rick Kids’ Guide to Camping. Each features a built-in compass and tricks and tips for the respective outdoor activities, according to Anne Landa, v-p and group publisher for Walter Foster Publishing and Walter Foster Jr. The imprint will also release a third title, Ranger Rick’s Wildlife Around Us Field Guide & Drawing Book.

Another new license for the imprint is Goats of Anarchy, an Instagram account by Leanne Lauricella. A former business executive, Lauricella founded a nonprofit organization to care for baby goats with special needs. Quarto’s Rock Point imprint published a book for adults, Goats of Anarchy: One Women’s Quest to Save the World One Goat at a Time, last year.

Lauricella names the goats and dresses them in costumes to help with their care and to keep diapers and bandages in place. The children’s series will focus on one of the goats, Polly, who with her duck costume has gained fame on social media. The illustrated books are fictional but inspired by real events, with Polly offering readers life lessons. “Lauren is super-passionate and really makes a connection with people on social media,” says Diane Naughton, Quarto’s director of children’s marketing. “But the books are charming even without the Instagram behind them.”

Finally, Walter Foster Jr. is expanding its relationship with the Disney corporate family, adding a number of deluxe craft and activity titles tied to various Marvel characters and Star Wars films, ranging from learn-to-draw titles with acetate to chalkboard drawing books.

Highlights Extends to New Realms

Highlights for Children, publisher of the 70-year-old magazine of the same name, launched a book publishing imprint, Highlights Press, more than a year ago and has since shipped one million books to mass, specialty, and trade retail channels. Highlights, which also oversees the Boyds Mills Press imprint, publishes trade formats, coloring and activity titles, and board books, with core series inspired by popular magazine features such as Hidden Pictures and Puzzlemania.

The company is now expanding into other categories of children’s products through licensing. “Our mission is to build our footprint at retail beyond the book,” says Patty Sullivan, Highlights’ director, retail and business development, who reports that products will fit with Highlights’ brand positioning of “fun with a purpose.” The initial roster of licensees includes Educational Insights for interactive learning sets, Lee Publications for Magic Pen, Magnetic Tins, and Invisible Ink activities, and Karmin for puzzles, with educational early-learning workbooks expected to launch this spring. A full range of merchandise for babies through 10-year-olds is expected to be in place at retail by 2018.

In addition to its flagship, Highlights for Children, which focuses on readers in the 6–12 age bracket, Highlights also publishes a number of other magazines for younger age groups.

In Brief

Kappa Books is releasing workbooks, flash cards, teacher guides, and study guides tied to the National Spelling Bee. Macmillan is the licensee for trade publishing.... Penguin is adding Ben 10 to its Cartoon Network Books roster. A new TV series will debut in April, and tie-ins, which are due out in fall, will include sticker-activity titles, large activity formats, and some chapter books.... Leap Year Publishing is expanding its Playskool license into baby books, featuring cute, infant-skewing portrayals of characters such as Mr. Potato Head and Transformers’ Optimus Prime.... Yottoy is the plush licensee for author-illustrator Greg Pizzoli’s books, including The Watermelon Seed, Good Night Owl, and Number One Sam. It is also expanding its Golden Books line in honor of the latter’s 75th anniversary and extending its Paddington Bear license into baby products.... Plush licensee Animal Adventures’ new licenses include the upcoming movie based on Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand, licensed by Twentieth Century Fox; Kelly Clarkson’s River Rose and the Magic Lullaby; and Curious George.... Berkshire Blanket & Home Co. is marketing blankets, throws, quilts, nap mats, and wearables inspired by North-South’s The Rainbow Fish, licensed by RJM Licensing.... Rovio founder Mikhael Hed launched Kaiken Entertainment, which will incorporate Rovio’s animation division as well as Kaiken Publishing, which was spun off from Rovio early last year. Kaiken Publishing head Laura Nevinlanna becomes head of franchise and portfolio development.