Having unveiled its first list this past spring, HarperCollins’ Walden Pond Press imprint is making a push into Wimpy Kid territory with the acquisition of four books in a heavily illustrated middle-grade series from author/illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka, whose star continues to rise in the children’s book world. Scheduled to launch in summer 2012, Platypus Police Squad riffs on classic legal dramas and police procedurals—with animals in the starring roles. “We pitched the book as Frog and Toad meets Law and Order,” says Krosoczka. “It’s definitely inspired by the classic buddy cop movies from the ’80s and the hour-long dramas on TV.”

In 2008, the film production company Walden Media switched publishing partners from Penguin to Harper, opening the Walden Pond Press imprint, a joint venture between the companies. Editor Jordan Brown, who took the reins at Walden Pond after the departure of Brenda Bowen in early 2009, signed North American rights to Platypus Police Squad earlier this summer in a deal with Rebecca Sherman of Writers House. “When the proposal showed up it was just what we were looking for, from top to bottom,” Brown says. “At those moments when kids start to fall in love with reading, Jarrett is great at giving them the exact things they want to read.”

Although the platypuses—officers Rick Zengo and Corey O’Malley—are ostensibly adults (adult animals, anyway) and the books will riff on tropes from films and TV shows aimed at adults, Krosoczka isn’t concerned that kids won’t get the jokes. “At the core, these characters have sort of a big brother–little brother relationship,” says Krosoczka, with seasoned veteran O’Malley having to deal with “hyper, young rookie” Zengo. “Whereas the Lunch Lady books satisfy readers of my picture books, as kids grow out of the Lunch Lady books, they could grow into this.”

The idea for the series derived from a school visit back in 2004. After Krosoczka sketched an image of a pig wearing aviator sunglasses—a character from his then-forthcoming picture book, Punk Farm—a student told him, “It’s a pig who’s a policeman,” and Krosoczka filed the idea away. “I’ve been dreaming about these characters and this idea for six years now,” he says. Earlier iterations had the protagonists as penguins, not platypuses, and while Krosoczka considered making it a graphic novel (like his Lunch Lady books), he settled on the heavily illustrated novel format, so the humor can come both from art and prose. Plus, he notes, “I have my plate very full with the Lunch Lady series.”

Although Platypus Police Squad is Krosoczka’s first series with HarperCollins, he’s not moving away from Knopf, with whom he has published several picture books as well as the Lunch Lady series of graphic novels, which debuted last year. Nor is he moving away from those formats: the fifth Lunch Lady book, Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit, will be published in December, and Krosoczka is working on a sixth title. And in fall 2011, Knopf will publish Krosoczka’s next picture book, Ollie, about an elephant that moves in with a Brooklyn family.

Looking to Film

For Walden Pond Press, Platypus Police Squad represents exactly the kind of project they want to publish, according to Brown. “Walden Pond Press has been conscious from the start that the way kids are finding books and reading books and stories is changing drastically,” he says. “We are acquiring authors and creators that are doing projects that can live in multiple spaces and find kids in multiple ways.” Which is to say properties that are ready to jump to the big screen, small screen, or “expand into other media,” says Brown.

HarperCollins and Walden Media’s history predates the creation of Walden Pond Press, with Harper’s publishing programs tied to Walden properties, including the Chronicles of Narnia movies, Bridge to Terabithia, and, most recently, Ramona and Beezus. “Ever since the beginning, we’ve been in love with literature,” says Debbie Kovacs, senior v-p and editorial director of Walden Media. “We have always tried to bring to film projects that love of literature, and to make sure kids are reading the books the films are based on.” And with Walden Pond Press titles now on the market, Walden has input on those books from the outset.

On the film front, one of the most critically acclaimed titles on Walden Pond’s first list, Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce, is will be a film from Walden Media. Boyce, who earned six starred reviews for the book, is currently working on the screenplay. While Platypus Police Squad could end up at Walden Media, Krosoczka retained film rights to the project, and Eddie Gamarra at the Gotham Group is currently sharing it with screenwriters.

Krosoczka has other film projects in the works as well. His picture book Punk Farm, which had previously been optioned by DreamWorks, is now being produced by an independent animation studio, and last year Universal optioned Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady series, with Amy Poehler attached to star. “I know that side of business can be very finicky,” says the author. “We just continue to keep our fingers crossed here in the Krosoczka household.”