The Books and Music area of New York Toy Fair, which runs February 16-19 at the Javits Center in New York City, has a different look this year as Bendon Publishing, which had long commanded the most booth space, by far, in the trade show’s publishers' row, did not exhibit. Kappa Books and its Modern Publishing division, another fixture at the fair, also were absent.

Even with these defections, the total number of publishers on the show floor was similar to recent years, with more than 25 trade and mass market houses present. Most said the show was a strong one this year, with orders written, new contacts made, and interesting discussions about potential partnerships happening.

“I can’t believe more publishers aren’t here,” said Patty Sullivan, director, retail and business development at Highlights. “This show is serving a part of the market many publishers don’t hit, and it gives us the opportunity to highlight the ecosystem of our licensed product and our vertical publishing business.”

Both Bendon and Kappa operate in the low-cost coloring book space and rely on dollar stores and other mass market retailers for the bulk of sales. Toy Fair tends to cater to independent toy and gift stores, although a wide variety of retail buyers roam the floor, from Office Depot to Half Price Books. “It boils down to us having more one-on-one meetings with our key buyers here at our office or at their offices, rather than during the hustle and bustle of Javits,” said Jenny Hastings, Bendon's executive v-p, speaking to PW from the company's Ashland, Ohio headquarters. She noted that the company may be back in the future.

One of the new exhibitors in 2019 was Timbuktu, publisher of the Rebel Girls book series, launched in December 2016 after a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, according to rights director Michon Vanderpoel. The first book, Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, features 100 one-page stories of accomplished women and has sold 3.5 million copies. The franchise has expanded to include a second volume, as well as I Am a Rebel Girl: A Journal to Start Revolutions.

Biographies of strong women, for audiences as young as preschool, were a definite theme among publishers, highlighted by Quarto (Little People Big Dreams), Fox Chapel (the girl power-themed Notebook Doodles coloring books), Macmillan (Pocket Bios), Chronicle Books’ Galison division (Little Feminist), and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Be Bold, Baby), among others.

Phoenix International, best known for its licensed sound books, used Toy Fair to highlight its new PI Fun Worx division, which is developing products to sell into toy, gift, novelty, and collectible channels. The first merchandise will launch in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to Michael Romano, who recently joined the company as v-p of PI Fun Worx.

As usual, several publishers emphasized their book-plus and sidelines products. Quarto’s SmartLab imprint, which markets science kits and was acquired by Quarto along with its parent Becker&Mayer! in 2016, was the focal point of its booth. Children's marketing manager Hannah Moushabeck said the synergies between Quarto and SmartLab include cross-merchandising and cross-promotion opportunities at overlapping retail accounts and the ability for Quarto to gain insights about toy industry trends that can translate to books.

Insight Editions’ gift division exhibited its IncrediBuilds series of book-plus kits that allow the reader to create movie props or other sculptures from plywood pieces. Many of the titles are licensed and include 32-page books that tell the story behind the prop, as well as offering instructions and creativity ideas. “The book itself is a wow factor,” said Jennifer Metzger, sales manager, toy, gift and specialty. “The content sets us apart from the other model makers.”

Scholastic’s Klutz division was also emphasizing the quality and depth of the books in its kits as a differentiator. “The book is just as important to us as the other items in the kit,” says Brittany Leddy, marketing and publicity manager. “They’re not just craft instructions. They are meant to be real books that you keep forever.”