HarperCollins Children’s Books has become the master trade publisher in the U.S. and Canada for the Smurfs, under a licensing agreement with the property’s Belgian licensor, IMPS. The program will kick off with a picture book, How Much Farther, Papa Smurf?, which will release in the U.S. on April 26, in plenty of time for Father’s Day 2022, followed by a Level One I Can Read! reader, Meet the Smurfs, in May.

The two companies had been talking off and on for years at trade shows and during the Smurfs team’s visits to New York. “When we started ramping up our licensing program about five years ago, we identified the Smurfs as the kind of feel-good, timeless, evergreen property we wanted to work with,” said Rich Thomas, v-p, director of publishing at HarperCollins Children’s Books. He noted that the property’s themes of empathy and the natural world, along with its hint of fantasy and magic, were also appealing. Another selling point was the art style of the new TV series, which recently ended its first season on Nickelodeon. “It looks spectacular,” he said, adding that the show also increased the amount of licensing and marketing activity around the brand.

The publishing effort will take its cues from the entire world of the Smurfs, including the original comics created by Peyo, refreshed versions of previously published titles, TV tie-ins, and wholly new concepts. It is likely to appeal to a wide age range, from preschool up through adults, Thomas said. The focus initially will be on core formats such as board books, I Can Read! titles, 5 Minute Storybook Collections, and, for TV tie-ins, mass market formats such as 8x8s with stickers and special effects. Further down the line, unique novelty and gift formats will be added. Harper does not hold rights to the coloring and activity book or most comic book categories, but it will be publishing some titles in its new I Can Read! Comics series. The plan is to publish one to two Smurfs titles per season.

“The picture book is the cornerstone of the program,” Thomas said. How Much Farther, Papa Smurf?, written by Robb Pearlman and illustrated by Melanie Demmer, features a stylized picture book style similar to that in the duo’s The Office: A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary and Parks and Recreation: Leslie for Class President!, published by Little, Brown in 2020 and 2021, respectively. The picture book’s title is a phrase that is well-known to fans of the property.

The Harper team is having nostalgic fun creating the new program, Thomas said. “It’s bringing us all back to Saturday mornings in the 1980s.”