Simon & Schuster is reintroducing the Angelina Ballerina publishing program this month with a reissue of the original 1983 Angelina Ballerina picture book, written by Katharine Holabird and illustrated by Helen Craig.
“We were looking for a strong female character who girls could really identify with and was not necessarily pink and sparkly or a supergirl,” says Valerie Garfield, v-p and publisher of novelty and licensed publishing. “Angelina has a strong voice and sense of self and is unafraid to pursue her dreams, even if she sometimes fails. It turns out that the modern and relatable girl we were looking for has been around since 1983.”
The Angelina publishing program, produced under license from Mattel and its subsidiary Hit Entertainment, will continue with three more titles in spring 2020: a board book, Angelina Loves; a Ready-to-Read, Angelina and the Tea Party; and an 8x8 storybook with stickers, Angelina Ballerina Center Stage.
All told, 10–15 books will be published in the first year of publication, with more to follow, under the Little Simon and Simon Spotlight imprints. Formats will include everything from hardcover jacketed picture books and beginning readers to novelty board books and 8x8s, priced from $4.99 up to $14.99 for some holiday titles. The demographic sweet spot is readers ages three to seven. “We’re doing a wide range of formats and price points,” Garfield says. “It’s an aggressive program.”
She notes that there has been no new Angelina publishing for a few years and that the market is clean and ready for a fresh start. (Penguin Young Readers formerly held the rights.) “There’s a real pent-up demand,” Garfield says. “We’ve spoken to teachers and librarians and they’re showing great delight and enthusiasm and asking us how fast we can get these out. Because of the response, we’re going to accelerate the program, especially the hardcover storybooks.”
Plans include reissues of the 13 classic picture books in addition to new titles. The originals will be refreshed to ensure that they offer a modern perspective and that the art style is consistent throughout the entire program. “These won’t be radically different Angelina books,” Garfield says. “Thirty-six years later they still ring true. But a lot of care is being taken.”
Holabird and Craig are heavily involved in the entire program, both classic and new, beyond the basic approvals typical of licensed publishing. They are suggesting changes to the text, redlining images, and helping decide which classic books should be reissued first. “We have direct contact with Katharine and Helen every step of the way,” says Garfield. “It’s really special to have the original creators so hands-on.” Discussions are also underway about the potential for a brand-new picture book from Holabird and Craig, Garfield reports.
Mattel is developing a new TV series for the property, which would be the fourth on-screen iteration for Angelina, but no release date has been announced yet. “It’s such a strong property that we wanted to go ahead with the classic program even as the media development is ongoing,” Garfield says. “Angelina is still recognizable and still resonates so well. It doesn’t need the TV.”
She adds, “We’re always excited when we launch new things, but this feels different. There’s really a strong attachment and passion out there for this property.”