Random House Expands with Films, Nick Jr.—and Unicorns
The newest licensed publishing programs from Random House Children’s Books include tie-ins to a raft of spring films, as well as a new entry in a long line of Nick Jr. book series.
Onward, the latest movie from Disney/Pixar, is about two teenage elf brothers who live in a suburban fantasy world and set out to discover if magic still exists. “The movie is inspired by the director’s personal experience with a brother as a father figure, and is very moving,” said Chris Angelilli, v-p, editor-in-chief, and executive director of licensed publishing. “It has an amazing cast, tons of humor, a whole lot of heart, and a lot of unicorns. Who doesn’t love unicorns?”
Titles set for February 4, 2020 release, about a month before the March 6 film premiere, include two Step into Reading titles, A Day with Dad and Oh, Brother!; an 8x8 storybook, The Wizard in You!, which features spell cards; a Little Golden Book; a junior novelization and a deluxe junior novelization; and a hardcover storybook, Behold! The Majestic Unicorn (and Other Not-So-Magical Beings). The last tells of gnomes, trolls, and other creatures’ long-ago status as magical beings, compared to their current mundane roles as gardeners, toll collectors, and the like. “I think [Behold!] will have crossover appeal as a humor gift book,” Angelilli aid.
The SpongeBob Movie: It’s a Wonderful Sponge, which will have its theatrical premiere on May 22, 2020, is described as part origin story, part rescue mission, and part buddy road trip, and reveals for the first time how SpongeBob and his pet snail, Gary, met. The publishing program includes a digest novel, full-color activity book, Little Golden Book movie retelling, a Pictureback, and a Step into Reading title. All have a March 31, 2020 publication date.
The list will also include a recovered backlist Golden Book, SpongeBob’s Best Days!, which ranks as the bestselling SpongeBob title ever. Random House has not published many new titles for the property recently, but has been reissuing selections from the backlist. “We have such an epic backlist,” Angelilli said. “It’s still selling, so we’ve been recovering classic titles to keep it fresh.”
Two other upcoming film programs for spring include Scoob! and Trolls World Tour. Scoob! is a CG-animated film based on the classic Scooby-Doo. “So many people have grown up with Scoob. It’s time for a major resurgence,” Angelilli said. In addition to a tie-in program along the lines of those for other films, Random House will reissue a recovered Little Golden Book from the early 1970s, The Pirate Mystery!
Trolls World Tour, meanwhile, will also have a “pretty robust” tie-in program, similar to that for the first film, Angelilli said, adding, “This is a sequel to a film that did extraordinarily well for us. It didn’t come and go like most movie properties. It sustained and became evergreen, thanks to an amazing strategy and clear plan by [licensor] DreamWorks/Universal.”
Finally, the latest Nick Jr. publishing program is Peg and Corn, a TV series about two best friends, a pegasus and a unicorn, who make Galloping Grove a better place while showing kindness to all. The launch list for January 2020—the show premiered in February 2019— includes a tabbed board book, Do-Gooders Unite!, and a Step into Reading title, The Green Team! “Kids love the show,” Angelilli said. “It has a unicorn and a flying horse! And parents love that it has the social-emotional themes they’re looking for.” The plan is to release three titles per season, in line with other Nick Jr. programs.
Insight Kids Brings Pop Culture to Preschoolers
Insight Editions’ Insight Kids imprint is launching PlayPop, its first series of board books. Like many of Insight’s titles for all ages, the books, priced at $9.99 each, pair licensed properties with value-added components.
The company will publish six PlayPop books in 2020, beginning with Ghostbusters: 1 to 10 Slimer’s Loose Again, a title with die-cut tabs that is for ages infant and up, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: E.T.’s First Words, which features an interactive word wheel, for children three and up. Both are set for release on February 4, 2020. The series continues with board books tied to Back to the Future and Labyrinth in summer 2020, and Dark Crystal and a second Ghostbusters title in fall 2020.
The goal is to combine playful learning with intergenerational bonding around pop culture, said Kate Jerome, president of Insight Editions, who developed the line. “We want our books to evoke experiences,” she explained. “As you’re counting from one to 10 or turning the wheel to learn words, the characters evoke memories and give parents the ammunition to speak about what matters to them and then extend that conversation to other topics, and that’s what we want.”
Properties are selected for their all-ages appeal, active and interesting content, and fit with the learning objectives. “These are very complicated formats,” Jerome said. “The property has to match the format, which has to match the skill. Then we have to ask the licensors if it makes sense to them and enhances their property.”
She noted that licensors have been enthusiastic. “Most of our licensors are really interested in this conversation between the generations.”
HarperCollins Welcomes ‘44 Cats’
HarperCollins Children’s Books is the North American publishing licensee for 44 Cats, an animated series from Italy that airs in the U.S. on Nickelodeon. Rainbow S.r.l. is the licensor; Nickelodeon owner Viacom holds a stake in Rainbow as well.
When Rainbow presented the property to executive editor Tomas Palacios and his team at Licensing Expo in June 2018, “I had never heard of it,” he said. “But apparently the rest of the world had.” The show was well established in many countries by then, but did not launch in the U.S. until this past June.
The four main cats in the show are in a musical group called the Buffycats, and each episode features a song inspired by the kid-sized problem being solved. “There’s a lot of positivity in it,” Palacios said. Each cat has a special characteristic, such as one who turns pink when someone is lying.
The first two titles, with development overseen by associate editor Alexandra West and associate art director Joe Merkel, include a tabbed board book with die-cuts that allow different characters to show through on each page, and a Level 1 I Can Read, both scheduled for publication on March 31, 2020. More titles are in process for fall 2020 and 2021. Core formats will include I Can Reads, board books, storybooks, and collections.
The sweet spot for the books is ages three to six, but the fact that the characters are cats is likely to result in a wider appeal, Palacios believes. “There’s a lot we can do with this property,” he said. “We can play with other formats, from adding incentives to looking at new ways of storytelling.” Possibilities under discussion range from touch-and-feels and scratch-and-sniffs to books with bonuses such as song sheets or letters to Santa. “Right now nothing is off the table in terms of formats.”
Sourcebooks Acquires License for ‘Ghostwriter’ Reboot
This month, Sourcebooks is publishing the first three of a series of middle-grade books tied to Ghostwriter, the reboot of the classic Sesame Workshop series that airs on Apple TV+. The book series includes inclusive versions of the classic stories and new works that inspire the action in the TV show, a live-action mystery series for ages 6–11 embedded with a literary appreciation curriculum.
Sourcebooks has been working with Sesame Workshop since 2012. “We’re delighted with our relationship with Sesame Workshop, and any opportunity to extend it or go deeper we would be interested in,” said Karen Shapiro, publishing manager for Sourcebooks’ Wonderland imprint. “This was a great opportunity to promote literature to a middle-grade audience.”
In the TV series, a ghost in a bookstore releases fictional characters into the real world, and a group of friends helps return them to their books while trying to figure out the identity of the ghost. The new series differs somewhat from the original, which aired from 1992 to 1995 on PBS, in that it focuses on literature and storytelling while the classic series’ curriculum was centered on literacy.
Each story arc, which crosses two to three episodes, is inspired by a different literary work, some classic and some new. Established or emerging middle-grade authors from diverse backgrounds are writing or adapting the retellings of the works that propel the stories. Sourcebooks’ first two titles, Ghostwriter Presents: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, adapted by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, and Ghostwriter Presents: The Jungle Book, adapted by Karuna Riazi, both were released on December 1, while Ghostwriter Presents: Trinity, an original by D.J. MacHale, comes out December 31.
Sesame Workshop found the authors and developed the concepts, in collaboration with Apple, and delivered the manuscripts to Sourcebooks. The classic stories are tweaked slightly, with character descriptions that match those seen on-screen, for example. “They are partially reworked and rewritten to bring diversity to these classic stories,” Shapiro said. “They’re tweaked to appeal to a modern audience without losing what the classic story already offered.” Each book also includes games, puzzles, and crafts to build vocabulary and reading comprehension.
Kwame Alexander serves as the ambassador for the show and the books. One of his poems will be at the center of a story arc within the show, and each book published by Sourcebooks includes an introduction by him.
More stories are in development for 2020 as season 1 of the show continues, and a season 2 is in the works. As the program continues to develop, there are possibilities to expand the publishing program, Shapiro said, perhaps with books that are not part of the show’s plot or other formats such as journals and activity books. “We’re very excited to watch this evolve and see what comes next.”
Cottage Door Press Partners with Canticos
Cottage Door Press has acquired the rights for electronic song and sound books and puppet books based on Canticos, Encantos Media’s brand centered on bilingual sing-along nursery rhymes and cute animated characters. Nickelodeon represents Canticos for licensing and airs short-form content on its preschool digital channels.
Cottage Door’s first two titles will be a three-button sound book of Wheels on the Bus, in English and Spanish, and an eight-button switch format that toggles between Spanish and English versions of eight different songs, a mix of Spanish originals such as “Los Pollitos” and universally known songs such as “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” “I like that there are both,” said Melissa Tigges, Cottage Door Press’s director of marketing and partnerships. “It allows some families to connect with their roots but also brings this understanding of their cultural heritage to a wider audience.” Cottage Door developed the switch format specifically for Canticos and may roll it into some of its other licenses as well.
Tigges said that while Spanish-language titles have been on the rise in the U.S. and strongly supported by retailers from Barnes & Noble to Target, there are still relatively few bilingual books for kids. “We’ve had success in our own Spanish-language titles that we added through our Parragon acquisition,” she said, “so we’re excited to create a new format for bilingual education.”
The sound format represents a good fit with Canticos, Tigges added, since it allows kids and adults reading the book together to pronounce the words properly. “That’s really powerful,” she said. “We can take the guesswork out of pronunciation and bring the songs to life, taking the videos into a new medium and getting kids away from the screen.”
In addition to Cottage Door’s sound books, longtime Nickelodeon licensee Studio Fun International is publishing basic board books under the Nickelodeon Canticos brand, with The Itsy Bitsy Spider: La Araña Chiquitita released in September 2019 and Los Pollitos: The Little Chickies coming out in January 2020. Meanwhile, licensor Encantos Media, which has published five board book-with-app titles based on classic songs since 2016, is introducing a number of bilingual early concept books in 2020 including First 100 Words and All the Colors/De Colores in April, Letters A to Z in May, and Feelings in June. It is also releasing a nursery rhyme board book called Pin Pon in May.
Scholastic Goes Cute with Kitty Cones
Scholastic is expanding its relationship with licensing agency Striker Entertainment as it publishes its first title tied to Kitty Cones, a book-and-toy property from creator Ralph Cosentino, whose company Jumbee is represented by Striker.
Scholastic became interested in the property through its school fairs division, whose executives became familiar with the property, initially targeted at a young age group, and thought it could work for older kids. As a result, Scholastic is publishing a meme handbook for ages five to seven, Anything Is Paws-ible: The Official A-Meow-Zing Kitty Cones Pawbook, full of puns and information about the characters. It will be released in school channels in January and to the trade in April.
“It’s kitties and ice cream, the perfect combination of cuteness and sweetness,” said Teresa Malik, Scholastic’s senior brand manager, global licensing, brands and media, who added, “Cats are so popular, especially for this target age demo.” A follow-up meme book or other formats are possible for the future.
The property is centered on three kitties (as well as several secondary characters) that live in ice cream cones in an ice cream parlor. Each is associated with a different flavor and has its own personality and interests. When the friends are in their cones they have imaginative adventures, from fishing to launching into space.
Insight Kids publishes books for younger children, including a hardcover picture book, craft/DIY pop-up, board book, journal, and notebook. Seven20 Life is Striker’s licensee for stationery items, including collectible erasers.
For Scholastic, Kitty Cones joins Five Nights at Freddy’s, KleptoCats, and soon Creep Show as other Striker-managed properties in its licensing portfolio. “Our partnership grows every year,” said Mara Lander, Scholastic’s senior marketing director, licensed publishing and brand management. “None of these properties immediately screams kids publishing, but Scholastic and Striker have been really creative about how to bring these brands into kids’ books.”
BuzzPop Publishes Influencer Meredith Foster
Little Bee Books’ BuzzPop imprint, which specializes in licensed titles, has signed a deal with lifestyle influencer Meredith Foster for a motivational workbook called Meredith Foster: Fostering Your Best Self, to be published in summer 2020.
“She has wonderful energy, honesty, and enthusiasm, and she knows how to connect with her fans,” said editor Rachel Gluckstern. “Her voice is so fearless and authentic.”
Fostering Your Best Self is organized into three sections—mind, body, and spirit—and features fun activities; information on health, wellness, spirituality, and how readers can be true to themselves; journaling pages and prompts to help readers examine their own lives; and advice like “Wear clothing that makes you feel like Beyoncé.” “It’s both fun and empowering,” Gluckstern said. Target readers are aged 13 to 17, which is on the young side of Foster’s online following.
Foster has more than 10 million followers across YouTube and other digital platforms and has been involved in partnerships with lifestyle and beauty brands. “She has a big platform but we can help her grow it,” Gluckstern said. “This gives her the opportunity to share her journey in a whole new platform, print.”
BuzzPop has published lifestyle and activity titles with other influencers including slime and crafting expert Karina Garcia; motivational and creative lifestyle personality Jessie Paege; and JoJo Siwa, a Nickelodeon and social media star. It also has a guided journal coming up in spring 2020 by James Breakwell, a writer and author of the XplodingUnicorn Twitter account, which has 1.1 million followers and offers a comedic look at parenting. The book will target the 7- to 10-year-old children of Breakwell’s online following.
“BuzzPop focuses on what’s happening in pop culture right now, and YouTube is a huge focus of pop culture,” Gluckstern said. “We want to be part of that conversation.”
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