Henson and Harper, Frog and Toad

HarperCollins Children’s Books has joined with Jim Henson Productions to launch a licensing program for Frog and Toad. It also has retained new licensing agents – Established Brands and the Wildflower Group, respectively – to expand the existing merchandise initiatives for Fancy Nancy and Goodnight Moon.

Harper is always evaluating its properties for licensing potential, with the goal of raising visibility for its characters, says Jean McGinley, director of subsidiary rights. She notes that the longevity of literary properties is increasingly attractive to licensees and retailers. “It’s often cited as a challenge if you don’t have media behind a property,” she says. “But licensing is a very tumultuous world. If you have a book-based property that’s evergreen, or on its way to becoming evergreen, that’s a constant you don’t always see in licensing.”

Henson Productions is developing an animated feature film based on Frog and Toad, and in the meantime will seek licensees for children’s and adult products featuring Arnold Lobel’s artwork. This marks the first time the property has been the basis of a comprehensive licensing program, although there have been some one-off products in the past.

Fancy Nancy (which is being developed for a feature film and appears in a new live touring show) and Goodnight Moon both had been represented by United Media, which was purchased by fashion licensor Iconix in 2010. “Iconix is a great company, but its focus is on apparel,” McGinley says. “As our contracts came to an end, we had an opportunity to find more logical partners that had a love of literary properties.”

Meanwhile, Harper’s licensing effort for Splat the Cat remains with agency Moxie & Co., which has represented the property for about a year. “We’re starting to see some momentum,” says McGinley. “Book sales have really skyrocketed and we’re starting to see more action on the licensing side.”

Monster High Adds Middle Grades

Little, Brown will extend its publishing program for Mattel’s Monster High into middle grade readers by Gitty Daneshvari, author of the School of Fear books. The first Monster High series, by Lisi Harrison, consists of four YA novels.

“As the [Monster High] brand has grown exponentially, more of Mattel’s products were skewing younger, and this was becoming the core age for the property,” says Erin Stein, senior executive editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. She adds that anecdotal evidence suggested demand from girls who liked the property but were too young for the YA books.

“Lisi’s series functions as a prequel story to Monster High, explaining how Monster High became Monster High,” she explains. “This new series is set in a world where Monster High already exists.” Stories tie in closely to Mattel’s webisodes and direct-to-DVD content, and characters include not only the core cast, but three new characters Mattel introduced as dolls this summer, as well as book-only characters created by Daneshvari. While the YA series had a more realistic vibe, “this series is much more in-world and a little more fantastic,” Stein says.

Daneshvari’s work on School of Fear suggested a fit with the oddball humor of Monster High, according to Stein. “It’s always a challenge to think of who will be the right person for these projects,” she says. “They need a strong voice of their own, but they have to mesh with the world of the property.” The first title, the paper-over-board Ghoulfriends Forever, will come out this fall with a 150,000-copy printing.

Harrison’s series, with total copies in print totaling 950,000, ended with the publication of Back and Deader Than Ever in May. A boxed set will be released in the fall and paperbacks will remain available. Little, Brown is working with Mattel to get the best retail placement possible for both the middle grade and YA series this fall. Upon its launch in September 2010, Harrison’s first book appeared in displays next to the toys in some stores, as well as in Justice outlets. Both were firsts for the publisher.

Random House Heads to the Beach

Licensing agent Evolution is partnering with animation producer CCI Entertainment on the animated TV series Taffy Saltwater, for kids ages four to eight. While the show is not set to launch until 2014, Random House is already signed up. It will publish a hardcover picture book, packaged by Alchemy Ink, in spring 2013.

Author Michael Paraskevas and his sister Judy created Taffy Saltwater. Michael and his mother, Betty, coauthored and illustrated 22 children’s books over 15 years, as well as conceiving the TV shows Maggie and the Ferocious Beast, Marvin the Tap Dancing Horse, The Kids from Room 402, and The Tangerine Bear.

Fonda Snyder of Alchemy Ink has worked with Paraskevas on several other book and TV projects. “We look for authors with a strong visual sense, compelling and original stories, and a sense of humor,” she says. “We’re also looking at things that can translate into other media. But it has to work as a pure book first. This is a delicious book, with a girls’ character who has a really ebullient, exuberant personality-plus.”

Snyder brought the project to Evolution and CCI after she had secured the deal with Random House. “Evolution and CCI give us the expertise we need to evolve in the right way at this stage,” she says. “Their hands-on care will allow us to shape the property the way it needs to be shaped from the start. That’s a real plus for us.”

Evolution sees plenty of advantages to the partnership as well. “What we’ve structured is essentially a co-venture between Evolution, Mickey [Paraskevas] and Fonda, and CCI to develop and monetize the property,” explains Travis Rutherford, Evolution’s president of licensing and retail. “Mickey is a great partner and a great creative talent. The response at the Licensing Show was phenomenal. People are really looking for a strong female character.”

The partners are currently in the process of looking for a production studio and a toy licensee. Most licensed products will follow the TV show, hitting retail in 2014, although there may be some specialty items featuring book art before that. Additional tie-in publishing is expected as well.

More Books for Bilbo Baggins

Warner Bros. Consumer Products has licensed Eaglemoss as one of its latest licensees for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: There And Back Again, which will be released theatrically in December 2012 and 2013, respectively. Eaglemoss will serve as the global publisher of partworks based on the films, as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Outside the U.S., partworks are sold in newsstands and kiosks as a series of books, each packaged with a collectible item, such as a figurine or chess piece. In the U.S., where kiosk distribution doesn’t exist, plans are still coming together, but possibilities include the books being sold as a boxed gift set (as is done in Japan), by subscription every two weeks, or as a supermarket continuity series, according to Dave Rupert, WBCP’s senior v-p, global publishing, hardlines, product development, and Canada.

Meanwhile, master publisher HarperCollins (and U.S. distribution partner Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) will publish a children’s movie tie-in edition, along with the already-announced adult movie tie-ins. Other licensees include Bridge Direct and Vivid Group for toys, United Cutlery for replica weaponry, Noble Collection for high-end collectibles, LEGO for construction sets, WETA Workshop for film replica props, Pressman Toy for board games, Ravensburger for puzzles, Games Workshop for tabletop war games, and Rubie’s for costumes.

In Brief

Navigate was named Best Art and Design Licensee of the Year at the International Licensing Excellence Awards announced at Licensing International Expo, for its World of Eric Carle gardening products.... The Wildflower Group has taken over global licensing duties for Simon & Schuster’s Raggedy Ann and Andy.... Random House will release vintage replicas of original Barbie books published in 1962, in honor of the 50th continuous year of Golden Books (now part of Random House) being a Barbie licensee.... Classic Media has licensed Dalmatian for coloring and activity books, Chronicle for novelty formats, and Publications International for sound books and look-and-find titles based on Olivia. Simon & Schuster remains the master publishing licensee.... Insight Editions acquired the license for the animated television series The Jungle Book, which launched on Disney XD in June, for a series of books for young readers. SMC Entertainment represents the property.... Five of Dreamworks Animation’s key publishing licensees, Penguin, Dalmatian, Ape Entertainment, iStoryTime, and Insight Editions, are publishing titles tied to Madagascar 3.... Cartoon Network signed Abrams for a young adult title called The Enchiridion, a book that appears within the Adventure Time TV series.... The Joester Loria Group signed PaperCutz to produce comic books based on Annoying Orange, star of YouTube short films and now a series on Cartoon Network.... Nickelodeon licensed Parragon for master publishing rights in the U.K. and Ireland, where it plans more than 60 new books starting in spring 2013. Parragon already holds the Nickelodeon license in Australia and New Zealand.... RJM Licensing is representing British artist and illustrator Madeleine Floyd, whose children’s books include Captain’s Purr, Cold Paws, and the all-ages Birdsong, for licensing in the U.S. and Canada.... Nelvana and the Clifford Ross Company signed Yottoy to produce vintage plush for Babar, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2012. Meanwhile, ITV was named the property’s licensing agent for the U.K.... Walls 360 is creating on-demand wall graphics for Penguin properties including Llama Llama, Ladybug Girl, Skippyjon
Jones, Corduroy, and Spot.... Elf on the Shelf is partnering with Macy’s for a 2012 Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon.... Lego released a series of build-and-read kits consisting of a board book and Duplo bricks. It also is partnering with the ALSC for a Read! Build! Play! promotion to recognize outstanding libraries and bring reading activities to library settings.... Rocket Licensing granted rights for Isabella’s Toybox, a Hodder book series by Emma Thomson, to Mothercare for an exclusive range of infant products.