Harper Goes to Rio

HarperCollins has secured publishing rights to the Twentieth Century Fox feature film Rio—a 3D-animated flick about a rare bird named Blu who flies from Minnesota to Rio de Janeiro—which is scheduled for a February 2011 release. Emily Brenner, v-p and editorial director of HarperFestival, says Harper is more selective about movie properties than it was several years ago, but this one stood out. “In addition to the usual attributes, such as strong characters and a good story, I also loved the colors,” she explains. “It had a great style guide and the colors were so vibrant. And it’s a musical. Maybe I’m biased, but I think musicals are especially entertaining.” Musicians featured in the soundtrack range from Black-Eyed Pea will.i.am to bossa nova legend Sergio Mendes.

The fact that Rio will be a tentpole release also was attractive. “We know this will get a huge amount of support from Fox,” Brenner says. Harper plans cross-promotions with other licensees, including reciprocal advertising, as well as a potential tie-in with the DVD. Brenner notes that while movie tie-ins can be short-term, Harper’s books based on recent films, such as Transformers and Alvin and the Chipmunks, were still in stores by the time of the DVD release, making cross-promotions possible.

Harper will publish six Rio titles, including 8x8s, a movie storybook and a novelization. THQ is the interactive gaming licensee; other partners will be announced soon. “We’re starting to see parts of [the film], and it’s every bit as sparkly as we expected,” Brenner says.

Fox is in final negotiations with additional publishers for coloring/activity and sound books.

Hot Hamsters

On a Monday morning last August, a Scholastic employee came to Lynn Smith, the company’s director of licensed publishing, after the employee had visited a local toy store over the previous weekend. She had seen shoppers buying a new toy, Zhu Zhu Pets, straight from the packing boxes and told Smith she thought this would be the hottest toy of the Christmas season. “After doing some initial research, we found that, in addition to the buzz and hype surrounding the brand, the illustrated look and backstory created by the licensor were adorable and perfect for books,” Smith says. Each of the hamster characters, from Scoodles to Mr. Squiggles, had its own identity, and “their collective message was one of friendship and positivity—attributes we look for when licensing in to Scholastic.”

The first book, an 8x8 called Meet the Zhu Zhu Pets, was released in March 2010 after a compressed production schedule—starting in late October and going to print in early December—to capitalize on the brand’s popularity. (It did indeed turn out to be one of the hottest toys at Christmas.) A total of five titles will be released throughout 2010, including a sticker storybook, a Halloween-themed 8x8, a shaped board book and a reader. A Valentine’s title will follow in spring 2011.

Licensor Cepia LLC granted coloring and activity rights to Modern Publishing.

Artistic License

After children’s book collector and aficionado Chris Spain had searched unsuccessfully for prints of book characters to put on his children’s bedroom walls, he and business partner Keith Holden launched Starry Story Art, a new licensee that sells framed and matted art featuring children’s literary icons such as Clifford, Maisy, Eric Carle characters, Olivia, Spot and Peter Rabbit, with more licenses in the works.

Spain reports that publishers, licensors and illustrators are starting to approach the company. “Everyone seems surprised that no one’s done this yet, and everyone’s enthusiastic about it,” he says. “The art is so gorgeous. You show them Eric Carle’s Blue Horse and they just connect to it. It lights people up.”

Incorporated last fall, the company completed its first production run this June, with all printing, matting and framing done domestically. Sales currently are through the company Web site, independent bookstores—including The Strand, where Spain assembled most of his personal collection—and infant furnishing stores, and negotiations are ongoing with national chains including mass retailers, grocery stores, convenience stores and a catalog company that is running a test this month. Counter and floor displays featuring 28 and 56 prints, respectively, are available; prices range up to $39.99 per item. Starry Story Art also is offering libraries matted pieces on consignment as a fundraiser; they give a small percentage of sales back to Starry Story Art and keep the rest.

Strong Licensing Program for Wimpy Kid

Board games, puzzles, t-shirts, backpacks, magnet sets and bookmark sets are among the products Wimpy Kid fans will be able to buy this fall. While a few items in the spring were tied to the movie, most of the merchandise, for kids 8-12, will feature images and text from the books. “The readers for this series are passionate readers, and Jeff Kinney has really tapped into their psyche,” says Virginia King, v-p for fashion, home and publishing at Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products, which represents the property for licensing. “We work very closely with Jeff and Abrams, in partnership. For everything we do, from choosing the partners, to picking the items, to the product development, we look to Jeff.”

Initial waves of products were in conjunction with the movie this past spring and the next book this fall; new items are expected for spring 2011, in concert with the movie sequel, and for back-to-school 2011. Licensees include BioWorld for apparel, Pressman for games, Fundex for co-branded games (Scrabble and UNO), and Trends International and C&D Visionary for novelties. Future categories may include confectionary, room décor, figures, and tween lifestyle products such as iPod skins or skateboards. “Everything has to be right and it has to be a new take on an item,” King says. “We want to make sure everything has a cool factor.”

Fox and Abrams are working together to make an impact at retail. “We talk with Abrams and the account, be it Borders, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Kohl’s or Penneys, and look at how we can create a statement or an event.” Licensee Changes created exclusive products for both Barnes & Noble and Borders, including a t-shirt in a book-like package for the former and a draw-on t-shirt packaged with a marker for the latter.

New Property for Pearson

Artist Britt Menzies and her licensing agent StoneAmerica Licensing have signed Pearson as the master licensee for a new property, StinkyKids, for both the trade and ultimately the education market. The characters—who learn to make right choices through their mistakes—began life as drawings and then t-shirts that sold out in Atlanta-area boutiques. A buyer from FAO Schwarz asked for dolls, so Menzies started production; the toys sold out at FAO’s New York outlet and in Nordstrom stores within a month.

The first objective for the agency was to sign a licensee to take over the doll business; Madame Alexander is now selling StinkyKids dolls through all FAO Schwarz stores, including the 300 located in Toys R Us outlets, as well as at Nordstrom, Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon. Next step: books. “Books and plush sort of go together like peanut butter and jelly,” StoneAmerica president Rob Stone says. “They’re good alone, but they’re great together.” Pearson will sell four books under the Pearson Education imprint—starting with The Runaway Scissors—at retailers including FAO, Nordstrom, Target.com and Walmart.com, as well as the book chains and the independent stores that both Pearson and Madame Alexander service. Distribution through educational channels will start as soon as fall 2011.

The titles encourage parents and children to read and do projects together, and there is no online component, which is attractive these days, according to Stone. “It’s nice to cuddle up with your child and then do a fun project together at the end,” he says. “It’s fun alone; there’s no need to be online.” Other products will include social expressions and arts and crafts.

In Brief

Borders was the sole source of film-inspired merchandise tied to the movie Ramona and Beezus, licensed by Fox. It also offered exclusive scenes from the film on its website and hosted movie release parties.... New plush toys from Merrymakers include Fly Guy, Otis the Tractor, Where Is the Green Sheep?, and Pete the Cat.... Pinkalicious, represented for licensing by The Joester Loria Group, is teaming up with Crumb’s Bake Shop, which has 35 locations in New York and Los Angeles, for a promotion that includes a Pinkalicious cupcake.... Kids Preferred is the plush toy licensee for Biscuit, published by HarperCollins and licensed by Dimensional Branding Group.... HIT Entertainment is partnering with the Dizzy Feet Foundation for an Angelina Ballerina Stars of Tomorrow dance program at Boys and Girls Clubs.... Capstone is expanding on its license with DC Comics for a line of leveled chapter books introducing the DC Super-Pets, with art by DC illustrator Art Baltazar.... Toon Studio,

licensors of nostalgic art from Junior Elf story books, signs XTR Toys for a doll line, CTI Industries for balloons, and Beauty Plus Global for children’s cosmetics.... Oceanhouse Media expands its line of Dr. Seuss iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch apps with Yertle the Turtle and The Big Brag e-books.... Scholastic expands its line of I Spy videogames with I Spy Spooky Mansion for the Nintendo Wii, and joins with Post cereals for another wave of promotion surrounding The 39 Clues.