HarperCollins Travels to Denali with 'Molly'

HarperCollins is publishing tie-ins to Molly of Denali, the new PBS series for children 4-8, the first nationally distributed children’s TV show to feature a Native American lead character. The animated series, produced and licensed by WGBH Kids, also has Alaska Native writers and behind-the-scenes advisors involved in all facets of the production.

The show centers on Molly, a 10-year-old Alaska Native girl, and her friends, who solve the problems of everyday life using maps, books, and the internet. The setting is the fictional village of Qyah, Alaska, where Molly’s parents run the Denali Trading Post, a general store, bunkhouse, and transport hub.

Molly of Denali is the kind of show that’s practically tailor-made for books,” said Rich Thomas, v-p and publishing director at HarperCollins Children’s Books. “We loved the themes of researching and problem-solving, and of course the groundbreaking Alaska Native creative team, cast, characters, and setting. These elements all made it a very appealing property to us as a publisher that strives to provide a platform for all voices. And, of course, the themes are perfect for kids who are just learning where and how to source reliable information.”

Formats will include early readers, 8x8 picture books, guidebooks, e-books, and more. The first titles publish in October, including two I Can Read Level 1 titles, Molly of Denali: Little Dog Lost and Molly of Denali: Party Moose, and an 8x8 picture book, Molly of Denali: A-maze-ing Snow. Another I Can Read, Molly of Denali: Crane Song, and a guidebook will follow in January.

HarperCollins has also been named the master publisher for the October animated feature film release, The Addams Family, licensed by MGM Consumer Products. “We’re all big fans of this property—the original TV show, the 1991 film, and now this amazing latest iteration,” Thomas said. “In addition to loving the dark humor and the overall aesthetic, we were actively looking for a creepy-kooky property when we learned MGM was doing the film.”

The books publish in September, about a month before the film’s premiere, and include a junior novel adaptation in paperback and deluxe paper-over-board editions, a jacketed picture book, a Level 2 I Can Read title, and Wednesday’s Library, a hardcover journal written from the Addams daughter’s point of view.

Thomas noted that the movie includes all the familiar characters and themes for which the property is known, but has a sleek, contemporary feel and visual stunts made possible by the animation. “We think the film—and the books, by extension—will appeal to longtime fans as well as new younger readers who might not be familiar with these great characters.”

Jansson’s Moomin Characters Come to America

As Finnish author and illustrator Tove Jansson’s Moomins approach their 75th anniversary in 2020, the characters are newly available for licensing in North America through a recent deal with licensing agency King Features. The property has long seen success for consumer products in territories such as Europe and Japan, with more than 700 manufacturers selling products globally, but it has not established a significant foothold in North America.

“The U.S. has not been a top priority to date, but that is about to change with the upcoming new animated series, Moominvalley, and the brand owner’s commitment to growing this market,” said Carla Silva, King Features’ v-p, general manager, and global head of licensing. “The characters’ core values of love, tolerance, bravery, and respect for nature have never been more vital.” She noted that many North American consumers are familiar with the brand from books and comics published to date. “There is this underground following for the brand and our goal is to expand it to the next level as we launch our publishing and consumer products program.”

King Features plans to focus initially on the classic Moomin book illustrations and design elements, with products sold through higher-end retailers and aimed at families and women ages 25–34. Categories will include apparel, plush and other toys, stationery, and home goods; the first collection is expected to hit store shelves in time for the anniversary. To date, most products available in the U.S. have been imports from global licensees.

More publishing is also under consideration for North America, to supplement Drawn & Quarterly’s novels and comic strip compilations and Macmillan’s middle-grade readers and picture books. Target formats include additional novels, activity books, gift books, and graphic novels and comics. The agency also plans to work with current and new publishers on retail programs that incorporate both books and products. Globally, Jansson’s 12 original books and her comic strips have been translated into 55 languages; more recent publishing activity includes 150 book titles around the world.

Gutsy Animations, producer of Moominvalley, is currently pitching the program to distributors in the U.S., so TV tie-in merchandise is likely in the future. “We feel that building the classic brand in North America prior to the show airing in the U.S. and Canada is an important part of building the brand strategy for long-term success,” Silva said.

Cottage Door and John Deere Promote Agricultural Literacy

Cottage Door Press has secured the rights from John Deere, the 182-year-old brand best known for its farm equipment, to publish books for ages up to five, under the John Deere Kids brand.

The initial list, in spring 2020, will include a puppet book for very young children, two chunky lift-the-flap books for ages up to two, and a more text-heavy Peek-a-Flap book about dirt for ages two to five. A large board book of 100 first words, all tied to agriculture, and a three-button sound book will follow in the summer, while two shaped board books with wheels, a new format for Cottage Door, will debut in the fall. Future formats being considered include search-and-finds, sensory formats such as touch-and-feel and scratch-and-sniff books, Flip-a-Flap formats, and perhaps even some titles that would appeal to the large adult collector market.

Content will cross a variety of topics. “Of course, there will be some books about vehicles,” said Melissa Tigges, director of marketing and partnerships for Cottage Door Press. “But the preschoolers of today are the farmers, builders, and innovators of the future, and this is about agricultural literacy and understanding the relationship between agriculture and the environment, food, fiber, animals, and technology.”

In addition to farming vehicles, John Deere makes equipment for industries from construction to forestry, which broadens the potential content. There is even the possibility of some age-appropriate STEM content. “You don’t usually think of this, but John Deere is really a technology company,” Tigges said.

The John Deere brand has been in children’s publishing in the past, with DK and Running Press among the licensees, but there has not been much activity for nearly a decade. This iteration will be a departure in that it will not include the character Johnny Tractor, a central focus of earlier kids’ publishing efforts, and will feature a less cartoony art style.

An appealing aspect of the brand, Tigges said, is the potential to sell though farm stores, where John Deere has a strong presence, as well as through the brand’s distributor network. Cottage Door has partnered with John Deere’s toy licensee Tomy to help it sell into those channels, with cross-promotions or co-packaging of books and toys under consideration for the future. “We have some penetration in this market with our farm titles, but this is a whole new level,” Tigges said.

HMH Goes Digital in Age of Learning’s Latest Deal

When Age of Learning launched ReadingIQ, a digital library and literacy platform for kids 12 and under, in November 2018, it began securing licensing rights for third-party properties for the first time. Since then, it has announced licensing deals with Highlights for Children, National Geographic, Disney, and, just last week, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The company’s goal is to supplement its in-house created materials with external book titles, primarily on ReadingIQ but also on ABCMouse.com Early Learning Academy, a curriculum for preschool through second grade that reaches six million kids per year, and Adventure Academy, an educational massively multiplayer online (MMO) game for elementary and middle school children.

ReadingIQ is a platform that consists of 10,000 digital books, which can be read by the child, a parent or caregiver, or in “read-me” mode with audio, according to Sunil Gunderia, Age of Learning’s chief strategy officer. It is sold by subscription to parents and is given to schools for free to enhance the typical array of 50–60 books per classroom.

The depth and breadth of the content acquired from each licensor’s library varies. “The focus on our licensing programs is largely on reading, so we look for books that can be read to or by the child,” Gunderia said. “We also look for things that resonate with kids on the platform and that complement our existing library.”

The deal with Highlights, announced in March, focuses on the 100-title Reading Quest book series. The National Geographic license, made public in January, includes 500 titles of educational nonfiction, including the Weird but True series, making Age of Learning the home for National Geographic’s largest digital book collection. The Disney agreement, announced July 1, covers a raft of titles based on the Star Wars, Pixar, Disney, and Marvel brands, while Age of Learning’s newest deal, announced July 16, encompasses HMH’s Jumanji, The Polar Express, and several Curious George titles, among other classics. “Any reader can engage with Disney’s books,” Gunderia said. “And HMH is known for its award-winning titles that provide a high-quality reading experience.”

National Geographic’s content extends to ABCMouse as well as ReadingIQ, and HMH’s and Disney’s materials will be available on all three platforms. Age of Learning is also open to additional licenses; it is considering enhancing its mix with graphic novels, for example.

“Publishers and authors are excited about getting their books into the hands of the newest generation of readers, and digital is a great way to do it,” Gunderia said. “These licensed books will help foster the love of reading.”

In Brief

Phoenix International’s PI Kids imprint is launching titles under a new license with Precious Moments this month. Products include sound books, scrapbooks, and board books. Thomas Nelson, Sourcebooks, and RCM/Dreamtivity are already producing Bibles and Bible storybooks, personalized and educational storybooks, and coloring and activity books, respectively.... Publishers offering titles tied to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, licensed by Brand Central, include Penguin Random House, Running Press, Insight Editions, and Papersalt.... Firefly Brand Management’s growing roster of publishing licensees for the late artist and TV star Bob Ross of The Joy of Painting includes Running Press for books and mini-bobble heads; Rizzoli International for adult coloring books, art books, and calendars; and Quarto’s Walter Foster Publishing imprint for learn-to-paint books.... Wizards of the Coast and Cartoon Network are introducing a tabletop roleplaying adventure game tied to IDW and Oni Press’s crossover comic book mini-series, Dungeon & Dragons vs. Rick and Morty.... Licensing agent Reemsborko is the global representative for Cannon Busters, a Netflix original anime series based on the manga story and characters published by Udon Comics/Devil’s Due in 2005. Apparel is in Hot Topic.... U.K. agency Caroline Mickler will represent Paul McCartney’s book Hey Grandude for licensing in that territory.... Genius Brands International has added to the licensee list for its book-based Netflix animated TV series Llama Llama. Products coming out in the second half of the year include books from Scholastic, costumes from Halloween.com, ornaments from Kurt Adler, and holiday plush from Cuddle Barn.... IDW is publishing a one-shot comic book based on The Addams Family movie and releasing a new Read Only Memories comic book series, based on the MidBoss-produced videogame.