Abrams Children’s Books is teaming up with Hasbro to launch a new property, Cubby Hill. The debut will be in the form of a jacketed hardcover picture book called The Welcome Wagon: A Cubby Hill Tale, written and illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld. The book is set to launch on March 3, 2020.
The project is unique in that it is the first time Hasbro has introduced a brand-new property through publishing alone. “When I was presented with the basic concept for Cubby Hill, I felt right away that it had the perfect sensibility for a picture book,” says Michael Kelly, Hasbro’s v-p of global publishing. “It reminded me of the best children’s books I’ve read to my own kids over the years.”
After talking about it internally, Hasbro decided to take the unusual step of launching the property as a standalone book, Kelly says. “It feels like a picture book and reads like a picture book, so why not try launching it as a picture book?”
In development at Hasbro for several years, the world of Cubby Hill features Cooper Cub and his friends, who live in Cubby Hill, a town populated by bears, bunnies, and hedgehogs. As the young characters learn about the world around them, there is potential for humorous mistaken identities and comedies of error.
The Welcome Wagon serves as an introduction to the property’s main characters, as Cooper rides his scooter through town, picking up his best friends on his way to welcome a family of new neighbors. Along the way, they discuss what the new family might be like and how things might change in Cubby Hill.
“It’s a busy town with a lot going on, but all of it ties to the themes of community and learning how to be a good neighbor, how to be welcoming, and how to be inclusive,” Kelly says. “We felt the timing was really right.”
Hasbro went to long-time licensee Abrams for the launch. “They immediately shared our vision for the world,” Kelly says.
Cubby Hill marks the first time Abrams has gotten involved with a license so early, and the first time it will launch a licensed title well before other branded products are available. “We just fell in love with the world of Cubby Hill the moment we saw it,” says Andrew Smith, senior v-p and publisher of Abrams Children’s Books. “We thought the themes of community, acceptance, and working toward a common goal would have strong potential for storytelling and that the themes would resonate with today’s kids and parents. And it’s unique and quirky and a lot of fun.”
Smith notes that getting on board early gave Abrams a voice in the property overall. “We were involved at a stage when the world was under development, so we had a say in the kind of stories, themes, and subjects that resonate with picture book readers today,” he says.
“We relied on their expertise to bring the authenticity of the picture book experience to the reader,” Kelly adds.
Abrams suggested Doerrfeld, the author of several picture books, including The Rabbit Listened, for this project. “We thought Cori’s creativity, approach to storytelling, and expressive illustration style would bring it to life,” Smith says. “Many of the people on Hasbro’s team were fans of Cori’s even before this project came about. They’ve really been including her in a lot of the process.”
“The worlds she creates are naturally welcoming and inclusive,” Kelly notes. “Her designs and interpretations have inspired and influenced us, and the story is very much hers.”
“We’re treating this as an exciting and relevant new picture book by an award-winning and established storyteller,” Smith says. “We believe it’s a book that will stand on its own. We’re going to give it time to establish itself in the children’s book world, and let it become a gateway to this larger world.” A second picture book will follow the first, likely in fall 2020, with more picture books, along with board books, in development for 2021, Smith reports.
Entertainment, toys, and licensed products are in Cubby Hill’s future, but details are scarce. “Stay tuned, but right now, to be honest, we’re 100% focused on the picture book,” Kelly says. “This is a really new experience for all of us. Hasbro has recognized the power of storytelling through publishing for a long time now, and this is an extension of that.”