Priddy Books, a U.K.-headquartered division of Macmillan, will publish a range of preschool books worldwide tied to the new Schoolies brand, created by artist Ellen Crimi-Trent. It is a rare license for the decade-old imprint.

"I’ve been fairly notoriously reluctant to get involved with outside properties," says publisher Roger Priddy, citing a collaboration with Eric Carle as the only example to date. "But there was something really endearing about Ellen’s artwork and idea. It matched with our philosophy of making early learning fun." Priddy Books focuses mainly on titles with illustrations and photographs, so the addition of a character-based series was attractive. Schoolies’ main protagonist is a roller-skating owl named Spencer.

The Schoolies brand, in which the animal characters teach concepts ranging from ABCs to healthy eating against the backdrop of a school, is just launching. Represented for licensing by TK Brands, Schoolies first appeared in a mobile app released last year through Gramercy Consultants. Future plans include toys, interactive games, school supplies, apparel, bags, accessories, and more. Crimi-Trent is best known for her whimsical designs, which have appeared on licensed products such as greeting cards, plush figures, giftware, stationery, and bedding.

"With most licenses, it’s 'Here it is, you can do this with it or that with it.' It’s about fitting a property to a format," Priddy says. "Here, we can get involved and help create it. Ellen’s been open to us making suggestions and changes. We’re going to be able to create formats around her characters."

The publisher plans a broad list for Schoolies, from activity books to flash cards to novelty formats such as fold-out doll houses. "We’re looking at readers as well, which is something we haven’t done before," Priddy reports. The imprint’s target market is children up to age eight, but 70%-80% of its list is targeted toward the five-and-under set.

The books will launch for back-to-school 2013 in the U.S. and other English-language markets, followed by co-editions in other territories six to 12 months later. The company holds worldwide rights, and Priddy notes that the house’s international sales staff is excited about the license’s global appeal. "It’s quite unusual to get a thumbs-up for the same property in a variety of foreign markets," he says.