Lego and Ameet Launch New Imprint
Lego System A/S and its publishing licensee since 2005, Poland-headquartered Ameet, have formed a global strategic partnership with plans to launch an imprint, Lego Books. The goal is to develop “playful reading” titles that capture Lego’s vision of learning through play. It will encompass print, digital, and audio formats, including middle-grade fiction, picture books, and a STEAM learning line, all inspired by Lego’s brands and co-brands. “We’re breaking open the possibilities for new things we haven’t done before,” said Eric Huang, Ameet’s v-p and publisher.
The new imprint, which officially launches in fall 2021, builds on the company’s existing publishing program, which has been growing rapidly for the last 10-plus years, and will complement the lists of Lego’s existing publishing partners around the world. In addition to Ameet, they include DK, Scholastic, Chronicle Books, Blue Ocean, Disney Press, Egmont, Kids Media, and Universum.
“We’ve had a pretty successful licensed publishing program, and as the Lego brand has grown we know we’ve benefited from that,” said Robin James Pearson, Lego’s director specialist for licensing and publishing. “Storytelling is a big part of what we do, and there’s something deeper, a real connection between reading and play. We thought a great content and creative partner like Ameet, who understands the value and the DNA of the brand, could help us find the unique position Lego can occupy in the market.”
Going forward, Ameet and Lego will collaborate to develop new content and extend into new formats and age groups, while Ameet will seek out co-publishing partnerships with additional publishers and retailers around the world. “Our ideal partners will help us localize, not just changing the trim size but developing new formats specifically for certain channels and tastes, especially in the U.S.,” Huang said.
Leading up to the official launch of the imprint, Ameet has recently signed two U.S. co-publishers, Sourcebooks for novelty and interactive books and Readerlink for coloring and activity titles. Both programs will begin in 2020 and will help expand the U.S. retail presence for Ameet’s Lego titles, which have been especially strong in school book clubs and fairs to date. “The representation at retail has not matched the strength of the brand,” said Amy Jarashow, Ameet’s general manager, North America.
Lego Books will have four pillars: licensed publishing, based on Lego characters such as Ninjago and co-brands such as Lego Harry Potter; educational titles focused on STEM and STEAM, bringing in brands such as Lego Mindstorms; original stories, encompassing new original fiction series, graphic novels, and picture books developed in collaboration with the authors (a first-time strategy for Lego); and preschool, which will highlight brands such as Duplo.
Research has shown that children playing with Lego bricks or working on a Lego coloring book tend to make up stories as they go along. “We want the books to tap into the creative ethos of play,” Huang said. “To be part of play, you need to be part of storytelling. Publishing fosters that emotional connection between the child and the parent, and the brand. When kids read Lego books they play more with Lego bricks.”
Jarashow believes the Lego brand is a perfect match for the concept of playful reading and learning. “It’s not forced, it’s organically inherent to active engagement,” she said. “This is not about a character, it’s about taking a play pattern and developing it into a broader experience.”
Publishing, “playful reading,” and the combination of bricks and books all support Lego’s broader corporate mission to foster creative thinking and curiosity. “Lego is more than a construction toy,” Pearson said. “It’s a system that helps kids develop.”
Scholastic Delivers Preschool Titles for ‘Pikwik Pack’
Scholastic will serve as global master publisher for Pikwik Pack, a preschool series set to debut on Disney Junior in the U.S., likely in fall 2020 or spring 2021. The show features Suki the hedgehog and her team, who work together to deliver surprise packages to inhabitants of the town of Pikwik. Canadian animation producer Guru Studio produces and licenses the property.
“It looks like an out-of-the-gate evergreen property,” said Debra Dorfman, v-p and publisher, global licensing, brands, and media for Scholastic, adding that it offers strong storytelling and themes of friendship, community, teamwork, and overcoming obstacles. “It’s sentimental and there’s also lots of physical humor. And there’s the whole unboxing aspect of it.” The focus on delivering surprise-filled packages mimics the play value of “unboxing,” a key trend in the toy industry and online.
The first books, which will include an origin story introducing the characters and a lift-the-flap adventure inspired by unboxing and surprises, among other titles, are planned for fall 2021, around the time that Playmates releases its master toy line tied to the property. Other formats being considered, mostly for a core audience of ages two to five, include readers, 8x8s with value-added features, holiday titles, and possibly touch-and-feel board books, search-and-finds, and younger activity formats. “Guru is encouraging us to create some original stories, which is a great opportunity for us,” Dorfman said.
Cottage Door Press Welcomes Vintage Storybook Brand
Cottage Door Press has acquired the licensing rights to the Vintage Storybooks brand, which has a tagline of “Time Well Spent” and is inspired by the Rand McNally Junior Elf books that sold more than 100 million copies in the 1950s through 1980s. The Buffalo Works represents the property for licensing on behalf of Toon Studio, the current owner of the franchise.
“Our creative team in general has a strong affinity for all things vintage, and we had a real passion for the brand,” said Melissa Tigges, director of marketing and partnerships for Cottage Door, noting that the company’s v-p and creative director, Ginny O’Donnell, used to work at Rand McNally and has a personal collection of Junior Elf books. “This could fill a lot of different needs for us, including in some of our new formats and channels.”
Cottage Door’s team is in the process of culling through the 565 original titles to determine which stories will resonate the most with today’s consumers and what themes would be appropriate for key formats such as Five Minute Stories and Story Treasuries. Tigges said potential themes for collections include animals, faith-based content, Christmas, and more, and the content and look will stay as close as possible to the originals. “It’s a blend of keeping true to what it was, while making sure it’s appropriate for today,” Tigges said. “We’re looking for the stories that were sweet and wonderful then and are equally sweet and wonderful now.”
Tigges believes the brand will have wide appeal to parents, grandparents, and others. “The vintage look really resonates with young 20-somethings who love that mid-century art style,” she said. “And it’s a nostalgic trip down memory lane for those who grew up with Junior Elf books.”
Simon & Schuster Helps Build Franken-Sci High
Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing has released the first two of six middle-grade readers tied to Franken-Sci High, an entertainment property created by Mark Young and licensed by The Jim Henson Company. In a new twist for Simon & Schuster and Henson, the book series and entertainment are being developed in parallel, and the release of the books precedes the eventual premiere of the entertainment production.
“Our traditional trajectory is that we wait and see what happens with the media and then launch the books,” said Valerie Garfield, S&S’s v-p and publisher, novelty and licensed publishing. “But licensing is changing rapidly, and licenses can come from anywhere. When we saw this, we thought it was interesting and quirky and would make a great middle grade series. So rather than wait for the media to be developed, we thought, what if we try something different? And Henson was very interested in co-developing with us. It’s a different model.”
Henson’s flexibility was key to the success of the project, Garfield said. “They understood that we would have a different interpretation of the characters, and they had an open mind that the books didn’t need to synch up 100% to what would be on TV. We know what works in publishing and they respected that. They knew the books had to be strong and solid on their own.”
Open communication between Young, the Henson team, and Simon & Schuster was also critical. “Everyone was intricately involved in the process and we were all on the same page creatively,” Garfield said. “It was really a full team working toward the purpose of making the best books.”
The property is set at a school for aspiring mad scientists, located on an island in the Bermuda Triangle, and stars a character named Newton Warp. “It’s like a very funny cult classic movie, but made for kids so they’re in on the joke,” Garfield said. It has themes of friendship and finding yourself that resonate with middle-grade readers, she added. “It’s funny, but it’s also sometimes earnest and sweet.”
The first arc of six books includes What’s the Matter with Newton?, which came out in August, and Monsters Among Us, in September. The Robot Who Knew Too Much is set for next April, with books five and six to follow in late summer and fall 2020.
Little Bee Books’ BuzzPop imprint has acquired the Baby Shark license from Pinkfong for coloring, activity, and novelty formats, starting with four titles: Pinkfong Baby Shark: My First Big Book of Coloring and Pinkfong Baby Shark: Ultimate Sticker and Activity Book in November 2019 and Pinkfong Baby Shark: Chomp! (a tabbed board book) and Pinkfong Baby Shark: Puffy Sticker and Activity Book in February 2020.... Random House’s publishing program for Disney Frozen 2 includes a tabbed board book, chapter book, Little Golden Book, Big Golden Book, deluxe junior novelization, Pictureback, and two Step into Reading titles. All are set for a December release.... Insight Editions is publishing The Art of Borderlands 3, based on the Gearbox Software video game title. The Borderlands franchise has sold 43 million copies worldwide.... Licensing agency Licensing Works! signed Boss Fight Studio as the collectible action figure licensee for three of its publishing-based properties: Zorro, Tarzan and Jane, and The Little Prince, with products to launch starting in summer 2020. Fan Girl Consulting & Brand Management represented Boss Fight Studio in the negotiation.... Separately, Licensing Works! will represent Deer Little Forest, a book-centric property from U.K.-based illustrator Jo Rose, for licensing in North America.... Critical Role, a livestreamed tabletop gaming show that has extended into other programming, podcasts, comic books, and live performances, licensed Penguin Random House to create novels and other book formats.... The Royal Horticultural Society licensed Scholastic U.K. for sticker, activity, and coloring books, illustrated nonfiction, annuals, and other children’s formats.... Wizarding World Digital, a joint venture between Pottermore and Warner Bros., has licensed Wonderbly for a personalized journal with app-connected features.... Dr. Seuss Enterprises signed Oriental Trading Company and Williams Sonoma for products tied to The Grinch. Oriental Trading is selling seasonal decorations, toys, craft supplies, stationery, and educational products, while Williams Sonoma offers home goods.... Aconyte, the fiction imprint of French-headquatered game company Asmodee, secured the rights to Marvel comic book characters for novels. The company has previously developed card and tabletop games for Marvel.... Highlights for Children partnered with Big Bad Boo to develop animated series for Highlights properties including Who & Coo and Top Secret Adventures.