Simon Spotlight Gains ‘STEAM’ with Doozers
Simon & Schuster has secured the rights to produce Ready to Read books in North America based on the preschool series Doozers, licensed by the Jim Henson Company. The show features characters from the 1980s TV series Fraggle Rock and is available only through the digital distribution network Hulu. “We look for properties that are strongly character-driven, and one of the first things that struck us about this property was the strong ensemble cast,” says Kara Sargent, editorial director at Simon Spotlight. “When we reviewed it, the first thing that came to mind was how good a fit it would be for our Ready to Read line. We were also excited to break new ground and have a property that was on Hulu.”
Halle Stanford, Henson’s executive v-p of children’s entertainment, points out that publishing can be a consumer’s point of entry for a digitally distributed property. “Hulu is a fantastic partner and is very committed to quality children’s programming, but not everyone has it,” she says. “Publishing will probably be how some children discover this property.”
Doozers, a Henson and DHX Media co-production, debuted this past April as the first Hulu Original series for kids. It focuses on design thinking, invention, and innovation, topics that are consistent with a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) educational approach.
“For preschoolers, books are an extension of learning,” says Stanford. “Doozers is about ‘design thinking,’ a very modern curriculum that is about how things are designed and made. Design thinking is part of the Common Core curriculum, so it’s very relevant today.”
“The very strong and thoughtful educational component makes this property different from everything else out there right now, and that didn’t hurt,” Sargent says. “There’s also a green component to everything, which was appealing. But we loved the property anyway because of the great characters and the great storytelling. The stories are very linear and work well for being retold in the Ready to Read format. And it’s really fun.”
“I just love the girl characters in the show,” Stanford says. “They’re so strong and smart and they really represent the girls that are out there today. We gave a girl the jetpack, you know? We’re really proud of that.”
The first two books, Doozers Catch a Ride and Doozers Stick with It, will debut in fall 2015, in paperback, library, and e-book editions. A third book is planned for spring 2016.
Peg + Cat = New Series for Candlewick
Candlewick Entertainment, an imprint of Candlewick Press, has acquired world English language rights to Peg + Cat (pronounced “Peg plus Cat”), a math-themed preschool series produced by the Fred Rogers Company. It airs on PBS Kids, with games and other online content available through the PBS Kids website.
“We look for high-quality artwork and great storytelling, but the fact that it has math concepts, introduced by a girl, was so obviously a great selling point,” says Joan Powers, group editorial director for Candlewick Entertainment and Walker Entertainment. “It’s not preachy. The math is just so interwoven into the stories and characters in general.”
Powers adds that the property’s look-and-feel stands out from other properties on the market. “It’s an innovative, modern, loose, almost naïve art style that incorporates math into all its aspects,” she says. “There’s a handmade feel to it that gives it a look that’s fresh and interesting.”
Candlewick Entertainment will publish the first Peg + Cat hardcover picture book, based on an episode called The Race Car Problem, in the U.S. and Canada in fall 2015. Ultimately, the property is likely to expand into mass-market formats, particularly readers and activity books. But for now, picture books are the focus. “We’ll build an audience with what we do best, which is picture books, before going into mass,” says Powers. The underside of the jacket will feature reproducible, Peg-specific math activities. “We think these books will have great potential in schools and libraries,” she adds.
Candlewick Entertainment will publish in the U.S. and Canada, while sister imprint Walker Entertainment will cover the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand.
Moshi Monsters Augments Incredebooks Program
Mercury Inpress has acquired the rights to Mind Candy’s Moshi Monsters as the inaugural license for its new Incredebooks line of augmented-reality books. The first two Moshi Monsters titles will be available in the U.S. at Target starting in spring 2015, along with four non-licensed Incredebooks titles inspired by fairy tales. Walmart Canada is the first retailer to carry the Incredebooks line.
Mercury Inpress’s proprietary AR technology involves a free app that book owners can access through a barcode on the product or the company’s website. The dedicated app allows readers to use their smartphones or tablets to unlock interactive content on three to four of the 24 pages, turning those pages into 3D interactive games. “It’s not just a 3D pop-up,” says president Reuben Anand.
The Moshi Monsters titles combine augmented reality and coloring. Children can color an image and bring it to life on their device; wipe-off pages allow recoloring. One of the three interactive pages is a game, where readers use their finger to move their uniquely colored vehicle or character around the screen and capture floating objects. On the other two interactive pages, users swipe to make their character jump or dance.
Mercury Inpress also has new deals with Nickelodeon and Disney. The first Nickelodeon Incredebooks will feature Bubble Guppies, Dora the Explorer, and either BLAZE or PAW Patrol and will be along the lines of the Moshi Monsters titles but for a younger reader. Disney’s will be more educational, Anand says. For example, a game could focus on geometry, with readers able to manipulate a 3D shape and view it from different angles.
The Nickelodeon and Disney titles are unlikely to premiere before fourth quarter 2015. “We need to create all-new physical and digital content,” Anand says, noting that the licensors’ approval process is also particularly complicated for this hybrid product. “The studios have people who approve books and other people who approve 3D animation and videogames. They’re separate. So we need to build this whole new pipeline, where the people who approve the books have to work with the people who approve animation and games. It’s all part of the learning curve.”
PaperCutz Raves About Rabbids
PaperCutz, which specializes in licensed, all-ages graphic novels, has just released the first title in its new Rabbids series, licensed from French videogame publisher Ubisoft. In addition to the videogame franchise, the property has a TV series on Nickelodeon, a line of playthings from McFarlane Toys, and books from Simon & Schuster, among other brand extensions.
“This is the type of property that has always done well for us,” says Sven Larsen, v-p of marketing. “We want our graphic novels to be as universally accessible as possible and go into as many distribution channels as possible. Rabbids has wide appeal. It’s not gender-specific and it can reach out to a broad age demographic. There are different ways to come to the property, whether through the toys, the TV show, or the videogame, and it’s not mired in continuity, so you can pick up any volume without having read the earlier volumes.”
Rabbids graphic novels will be published quarterly. The first and second titles are translations of comics published by Les Deux Royaumes in France, where Les Lapins Crétins is a top property, and are humor-driven, featuring one- to two-page gags. The third will be original Papercutz content from writer Eric Esquivel, which will be more story-driven. Thereafter, releases are likely to alternate between French and U.S. content.
“I love this property,” says Michael Petranek, associate editor. “It kind of reminds me of Marcel Marceau. The characters only say that one word, ‘Bwaaaaaaaaah!’ [which is also the title of the first book], and they get into all kinds of shenanigans. There’s also a really strong foundation in story.”
The Rabbids joins a varied portfolio of PaperCutz licenses that includes LEGO Ninjago, which has spurred sales of more than two million copies to date over 11 titles; Geronimo Stilton, with 15 volumes and more than one million copies sold; and the Smurfs, with 18 volumes and half a million sold. New additions range from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to WWE Slam City, and the company’s fall 2015 list will include about a dozen new licenses.
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