Random House Scares Up 'Stranger Things'
Random House Children’s Books plans to release a line of books for children ages 12 and up tied to the Netflix series Stranger Things, as part of a broader global licensing deal involving multiple imprints within Penguin Random House. RHCB is working closely with Penguin Random House Children’s Books in the U.K. to develop titles for young readers, while Del Rey and Cornerstone are releasing adult formats. (Separately, it was announced this week that Dark Horse will publish comic book tie-ins, with the first titles coming out in September.)
“The property is perfect for storytelling, and everybody has been talking about it,” said Chris Angelilli, v-p, editor-in-chief, and executive director of licensed publishing at RHCB. He notes that while colleagues often reach out to him here and there to tell him about properties they like, “with Stranger Things, I was getting flooded with emails and calls from people who watched it, or whose kids watched it.”
The first title for young readers is How to Survive in an Upside Down World, a 96-page unjacketed hardcover collection of wit and wisdom, featuring full-color photos and character quotes, which will release on November 13. More titles in as-yet-unannounced formats will follow in 2019.
In another recent deal, Random House acquired the rights to publish tie-ins to the world of Nintendo, which has not had children’s books on the market for some time. It is launching its publishing program with coloring and activity titles, with the first two full-color sticker-activity books, The Legend of Zelda Official Sticker Book and Super Mario Official Sticker Book, released this past January. This summer brings the Nintendo Splatoon Official Sticker Book, along with Zelda and Super Mario hardcover activity titles, a new format for Random House.
The company is also inaugurating a series of original middle grade novels under its longtime license with Disney, called Disney Daring Dreamers Club, a concept developed by Barbara Marcus, RHCB president and publisher. The series, written by Erin Soderberg—who grew up obsessed with The Little Mermaid—features a diverse group of girls who were super fans of the Disney Princesses as young children and are still inspired by their bravery. The first book, Milla Takes Charge, which released this month, features a character who loves to read and dreams of traveling, much like princess Belle, while the second, Piper Cooks Up a Plan (Jan. 2019), stars a character inspired by Tiana. Future titles will release every six months.
HMH Goes to Sea with Splash and Bubbles
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers has acquired the exclusive license to produce board books, 8x8s, storybooks, readers, and other trade formats for Splash and Bubbles, a series for preschoolers that has aired on PBS since fall 2016 and is produced by the Jim Henson Company and Herschend Studios. It attracts 2.4 million children ages two through eight each month, ranking among the top five PBS Kids shows, according to Nielsen.
“We were big fans of the Jim Henson Company. They have an ethos that we really love,” said HMH editor Bethany Vinhateiro. The ocean science content was also appealing, she added, noting the company’s past successes with curriculum-based PBS tie-ins, including Curious George. The HMH team liked the social-emotional learning component as well, with themes of friendship, diversity, and acceptance. “We have a curated portfolio of licenses and this aligned with our mission,” Vinhateiro explained. “The show is so fun and funny to watch, and it’s been really fun to translate that to books.”
The first five titles launched this month, including two 8x8 storybooks in paper-over-board and paperback editions, both based on episodes, a novelty board book with acetate and die-cut embellishments, and two board books featuring fish characters with plush fabric tails affixed to the cover. “With their velvety, crinkly, plush tails, we think these will rise to the top in a sea of concept books,” Vinhateiro said. Two more 8x8s and a Valentine’s Day-themed touch-and-feel board book are scheduled for December.
The demographic sweet spot for show viewership is ages two to five, but Vinhateiro believes the themes, curriculum, diverse characters, and bright colors will appeal to a broad swath of preschool and early school-age readers. “It’s the rare property that’s kind of geared to everyone,” she said.
Scholastic Expands with Gaming Licenses, New Formats
Scholastic has signed a number of new licenses, many of them video gaming properties that fit under the umbrella of its new Away from Keyboard (AFK) marketing initiative. They include KleptoCats, a gaming app licensed from Striker Entertainment, for which Scholastic is publishing a meme book for ages 7–10, and Bendy and the Ink Machine, licensed from the Meatly Games, which will debut with an in-world handbook/guidebook in summer 2019, followed by original fiction. Bendy is a puzzle action horror game in the vein of Five Nights at Freddy’s, which has been a strong publishing franchise for Scholastic.
The company is also expanding its long-running Lego and Harry Potter licensed publishing programs. For Lego, it is adding more co-branded Lego properties to its roster, including Lego DC Comics, Lego Star Wars, Lego Harry Potter, Lego Wizarding World, and a new co-brand, Lego Jurassic World. (Scholastic is also releasing a standalone Jurassic World title, Dinosaur DNA.) In addition, Lego and Scholastic are introducing a new chapter book series, Brick Adventures, with each title containing three stories for a slightly younger reader, as well as new classic mini-figure publishing, including the first-ever Lego picture book starring the toy maker’s proprietary mini-figure characters. “They’re adorable, and they haven’t ever had a story,” said Lynn Smith, global licensing director. A second picture book is scheduled for fall 2019.
For Harry Potter, some of the new titles planned include an origami book, a Lego Harry Potter new student handbook, and Witches Rule: A Guide to Girl Power in the Wizarding World, featuring Hermione on the cover.
Skyhorse Stays Smart with Mensa Puzzle Books
American Mensa has added to its array of publishing licensees, adding Skyhorse Publishing for a line of puzzle books sold in the U.S. and Canada. The first came out last November, a second has gone to press, and a third is in development, according to John McGill, American Mensa’s director of brand partnerships. The two companies are exploring opportunities for other titles as well as planning children’s puzzle books under the Mensa for Kids brand.
McGill says there has been rising interest in the brand due to the popularity of brain training games and other factors. “It’s a lot more popular to be a geek than it was, and we’re known as the brand in this space,” he said.
The organization, which was founded in 1960 and has 50,000 members, is looking for additional publishers and other partners that can utilize its content, which includes Dr. Abbie Salny’s puzzles, used to qualify new applicants; a magazine by and for young Mensa members; and more. Among American Mensa’s current partners are Workman for calendars; Barnstorm for mobile games; Hasbro for co-branded Mousetrap, Perfection, Cranium, and other board games; American Way magazine, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Dollar Shave Club for Mensa-branded puzzle distribution; and Match.com for a dating service that pairs up Mensa members.
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