Parragon Surprises with L.O.L. Tie-Ins

Parragon Publishing has been named the master publishing licensee for MGA Entertainment’s L.O.L. Surprise brand, one of the top toy hits of 2017. The toy line is inspired by the YouTube unboxing phenomenon, and involves opening layers of wrapping—with a surprise in each layer—until finally discovering which collectible doll is included underneath it all.

Parragon was already working with MGA to develop books on another of its brands, Num Noms—it has worked with the licensor in the past on Bratz as well—when L.O.L. Surprise toys started to take off. “L.O.L. took retail by storm, and it was almost impossible to ignore,” said Amy Jarashow, v-p at Parragon. “Every territory and every sales rep was asking for whatever product they could get their hands on. It was and is ‘the big thing.’ ”

The brand also had strong applications for publishing. “The collectible aspect was appealing and it had rich content to draw from, so it was a very clear and easy decision on our part,” Jarashow said. The first three titles, including two coloring and activity formats with chunky crayons and glitter paint, respectively, and a guidebook, will come out quickly, with a March release, and more titles will follow in summer and fall.

One of the first titles includes a blind-box cover mount containing a surprise doll-shaped eraser, reflecting the play value of the toys. “There’s a plastic casing to mimic the look of the ball [that is the outermost layer of the toy],” Jarashow said. “You don’t know which one you get until you buy the book.”

MGA is continuously developing new line extensions for the brand, such as L.O.L. Surprise Pets and L.O.L. Surprise Little Sisters. “They understand the collectible market in a profound and unique way,” Jarashow noted. “We’ll align with whatever they’re doing each season.”

While the focus initially will be on core coloring and activity, guidebook, and novelty formats, there could be opportunities for fiction down the road. “The element of surprise is the overarching piece of the brand essence,” said Jarashow. “But we’re working with MGA on how we might be able to branch out into storytelling and character development.”

Books will launch simultaneously in North America, the U.K., Asia/Pacific, and Australia/New Zealand.

Lerner Pairs with Disney Learning

Lerner Publishing Group is launching three series of educational books under the Disney Learning brand, pairing Disney and Pixar characters with topics related to STEM and social-emotional learning. Thirteen titles are set to launch in fall of 2018, with 15 more to follow in spring 2019.

Andy Cummings, editor-in-chief at Lerner, said that the missions of Disney Learning and Lerner align, with both focused on educating, engaging, and entertaining kids. After working on two series of licensed books with Crayola, which launched at retail in fall 2017, the company had been looking for more licenses that would be a good fit when the Disney Learning opportunity came along.

The three series include Disney Learning Adventures in Coding, with topics including algorithms (with a Frozen theme), looping (with Dory), and debugging (Wreck-It Ralph); Disney Learning Discovery Guides, a fully illustrated STEM series covering topics such as automobiles (tied to Cars) and the Pacific Islands (Moana); and Disney Learning Everyday Stories, which focuses on social and emotional learning topics like grit, mindfulness, and empathy (the latter featuring Dory). A total of 40 titles are planned so far under the multiyear deal, mostly for grades one through five.

Lerner is able to integrate characters across the Disney and Pixar portfolios, with Disney Learning lending its expertise to help find the best pairings between subject and brand. “There’s a lot there,” Cummings said. “We’ve learned a lot from them about the brand elements and the essential qualities of the characters.”

The choice of a property for each title mainly is a matter of finding the right character for the right topic, but sometimes a book will be timed to a Disney marketing initiative. “One thing that’s new for us is tying in with movies,” Cummings said, citing Lerner’s forthcoming release of an Incredibles 2 title day-and-date with the theatrical premiere of the film. “We’re looking for opportunities like that, but it’s not the driving force.”

Distribution for the Disney Learning program will encompass all of Lerner’s channels, including the school and library market and retail outlets.

Prima Reaches Kids with Pokémon, Super Mario Odyssey

Prima Games, best known for its video game strategy guides, is expanding its children’s publishing program with a new book series based on Nintendo’s Super Mario Odyssey, a video game property, and the classic multimedia brand Pokémon. The kids’ books, which will be sold across all channels, will fall under the umbrella of Prima’s new imprint for pop-culture books, which will also include art-of titles, pop-culture reference works, and other licensed and non-licensed books.

The first series, Super Mario Odyssey: Kingdom Adventures, consists of six 6x6 in-world travel guides to the fictional world in the Super Mario Odyssey game. Volumes 1 and 2 are already on the market, with two more following in April and the remainder in June.

Each book features three to four kingdoms, with the full series covering all kingdoms in the game. “We include strategy for each kingdom, highlight key areas and places to visit, and detail all of the best souvenirs in every kingdom,” said Mike Degler, publisher of Prima Games. “One of the cool elements in the game is the ‘selfie feature,’ so we have incorporated this element into the Kingdom Adventures books and we showcase the best spots in the game to take your selfies.”

As for Pokémon, two readers (a Level 1 and a Level 3) and two Reader-Actives, which are story-based choose-your-adventure-type narratives, are being published this year. Each will feature a unique story that takes place in the Alolan Region within the world of Pokémon.

“We’ve done children’s books, like Pokémon readers, in the past, but children’s publishing is becoming more of a focus,” said Degler. “Our strategy guides are 352 pages and too much for the youngest fans, but they can enjoy something that’s 60 pages.”

Random House Expands Outbound Licensing

Random House’s outbound licensing activities are expanding in 2018, with two new properties—Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Uni the Unicorn and Jill McDonald’s Hello, World!—being offered to potential licensees. Their official debut at this year’s Licensing Expo in May will follow the last year’s launch of merchandise tied to R.J. Palacio’s Wonder and Emily Winfield Martin’s Dream World brands, as well as smaller efforts for Duck & Goose and Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Golden Book.

Plans for Uni include apparel, accessories, and home goods featuring illustrator Brigette Barrager’s art, while Hello, World! will also be an art-driven program, inspired by the board books and their nature and science-related content.

Meanwhile, the merchandise array for Wonder, which launched at retail last February, is expanding with a new Wonder School Planner in July, created in collaboration with Palacio, from Random House’s Clarkson Potter imprint. Clarkson has also published a 365-day journal set, among other gift and stationery items. Also new is the “We’re All Wonders” Auggie plush from Yottoy, for kids ages three through seven.

These items join existing products such as t-shirts from Changes, available at Hot Topic, totes and other accessories from Out of Print Clothing, classroom supplies from Raymond Geddes, and jewelry from SG@NYC. In addition to Hot Topic, retailers supporting the program include Barnes & Noble, Target, and Amazon.

“Wonder fills an important need, since the hook is the Choose Kind movement,” said Rachel Bader, director of licensing for Random House Children’s Books, who joined the company in February 2016 to launch its outbound licensing activities. “It authentically delivers an anti-bullying message through the merchandise, and that authenticity is really valued in licensing.”

As with Wonder, Clarkson Potter is on board for Dream World, a brand for millennial moms of infants and toddlers tied to the artwork in The Wonderful Things You Will Be and other Martin titles. “This is an art and lifestyle program for moms who love [Martin’s] art,” Bader said. Clarkson will release a baby’s-first-year book in spring and a collection of 20 frameable prints in November. “We want to leverage all of our brands with our in-house imprints whenever we can.”

Puzzles from New York Puzzle Company, plush from MerryMakers, and nesting blocks, soft books, and bookends from Kids Preferred are also new and will complement existing apparel, accessories, and toys from Finn + Emma and special-moments memory cards from Milestone.

In Brief

Simon & Schuster is publishing four titles tied to the upcoming film Sherlock Gnomes, the sequel to Gnomeo & Juliet. They include a novelization with an eight-page color insert of movie photos, a novelty storybook, an 8x8 storybook, and a Level 2 Ready-to-Read…. Viz Media is publishing a single-volume manga tied to the anime-style online series RWBY, licensed by Rooster Teeth Productions. It will appear under the Viz Signature imprint…. Bonnier Publishing USA’s Sizzle Press is expanding its Shopkins publishing program, licensed by Moose Toys, adding the Shoppies characters starting in spring 2018. Formats include 8x8 stoybooks, leveled readers, journals, graphic novels, and poster and activity books, all with scented stickers. Sizzle Press has sold more than two million Shopkins-related titles…. Scholastic is expanding its board book collection in collaboration with gift/stationery creator Sandra Magsamen, adding four new titles…. Chouette Publishing will produce tie-in books in Canada for Nelvana’s preschool series Ranger Rob. Two titles will launch in April with more to come in the fall…. Random House is supporting the launch of its preschool books tied to the Nickelodeon series Sunny Day by partnering with Milk and Cookies, a Manhattan salon and spa. The preschool TV show is about a young salon owner and entrepreneur…. The Joester Loria Group signed Leap Year Publishing for art, crafts, and puzzles tied to The World of Eric Carle…. Genius Brands International has signed several licensees for the upcoming Llama Llama TV series on Netflix, including Franco for bedding, Cuddle Barn for animatronic plush toys, Intimo for sleepwear, Prime Party for online party supplies, and Myself for one-handed kids’ belts…. Dr. Seuss Enterprises licensed Aurora World to create plush and gift products tied to its characters…. Disney licensed USAOpoly to create the Disney A Wrinkle in Time: A Daring Adventure Game, based on the upcoming book-based film. The game supports STEM education…. In the U.K., Penguin Ventures signed a number of licensees for the recent Peter Rabbit animated movie, including Phidal and Random House Children’s Books for tie-in titles.