Gibbs Smith to Expand BabyLit Brand

Gibbs Smith has retained licensing and entertainment agency The Think Tank to represent its brand BabyLit for consumer products and television. “This is a quality brand that parents are attracted to because it introduces their young children to the classic literature they grew up with,” said Joan Packard Luks, partner of The Think Tank. “My partner David Wollos said to me, ‘I look at it as Masterpiece for children,’ and I thought that was the perfect description.”

“We had been thinking of licensing on and off,” said Sarah Rucker, Gibbs Smith’s director of trade sales. “We were introduced to Joan and David by a trusted third party, and it just seemed to be the right place and the right time to find an audience beyond the bookstore and share this content in different ways. I want to bring BabyLit to as many people as possible. And there’s been an explosion of digital platforms like Netflix and Prime that are looking for content.”

The original BabyLit series consists of 30 board books—which have exceeded two million copies in sales—that use classic literature to introduce early concepts, as well as nine paper-over-board storybooks introducing the classics to slightly older kids. Gift merchandise, such as puzzles and games, is also available. Both book series are sold across retail channels, from Costco to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Since 2018, several other series have been introduced under the BabyLit umbrella, including five Little Poet board books featuring original poetry and quotes from famous poets; five Little Naturalist board books featuring mini-biographies of famous naturalists; eight Little Leonardo picture books, one for each component of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math), plus three activity books; 19 Alphabet primers with holiday themes; and All Aboard! board books, which teach about cities, regions, and landmarks through the prism of train travel. All are ongoing series, with more titles planned for fall 2020 and 2021.

Gibbs Smith gave The Think Tank the rights for the entire Baby Lit umbrella brand. “We have a large catalog of content that could be mined in different ways,” Rucker said. But the initial focus is likely to be mostly on the classic BabyLit IP, as well as the STEAM-based Little Leonardo. Plans for licensing include all categories, with an early emphasis on toys, according to Luks, who said some products could be on the market as soon as the fourth quarter of 2020.

Simon Spotlight Unboxes TV Tie-Ins for YouTube Star

In 2020, Simon Spotlight is adding to its list of books starring YouTube and Nickelodeon star Ryan Kaji. Starting this year, it will publish tie-ins to the TV series Ryan’s Mystery Playdate. These complement its existing line of books based on Ryan’s World, the young star’s YouTube channels, which has 31 million subscribers and 41 billion views to date; Forbes estimates that Ryan earned $26 million in 2019, and named him the year’s top-earning YouTube influencer. Simon Spotlight published its first book tied to Ryan’s World, known for its toy-unboxing videos, in December 2018, with two more titles since then.

“There was a perception that this property was white-hot, but it has more sticking power than people give it credit for,” said Valerie Garfield, v-p and publisher, novelty and licensed publishing at Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. “We wanted to respond to the demand and the interest, but we don’t see it as a flash in the pan. We purposefully are publishing in a measured manner to build the brand.”

Three TV tie-ins will be published by July, including Who Will It Be?, It’s a Marvelous Mystery, and Spooky Sticker Surprise. All are 8x8s and come with a decoder, build-it-yourself magic box, and stickers, respectively. More titles are planned for fall. On the Ryan’s World side, Ryan’s Road Trip, an 8x8 with poster, is set for a May release, with two more titles to follow in fall. They join Meet Ryan, the initial 8x8; a Ready to Read, Welcome to Ryan’s World; and Ryan’s Pizza Party, another 8x8 with scratch-and-sniff stickers.

Garfield noted that Ryan has two distinct audiences, one for his YouTube content and the other for the TV series. The two publishing programs are somewhat different as well. The TV tie-ins are very interactive, closely linked to the challenges and unboxing puzzles featured on the show, while the Ryan’s World books allow readers to discover more about Ryan. “The readers can connect with him and learn a little more about him,” Garfield said. “Even reluctant readers see Ryan as a friend and want to get to know him better by reading.”

All the books have certain characteristics in common. “We look at what it is about Ryan that resonates with kids, and that’s his enthusiasm and his eagerness to try new things,” Garfield said. “He’s fun! We want to take that and put it into the books as well.” Ryan’s parents are very involved in the editorial process, and Ryan makes suggestions as well.

Parents, as well as teachers and librarians, have also embraced the books. Titles feature a letter from Ryan’s mother, former teacher Loann Kaji—who appears in Ryan’s content, along with his father and two sisters—about the family’s emphasis on reading. “There’s this mom-to-mom component,” Garfield explained. “It strikes a chord with parents who are desperate to get their kids off the screen.”

The Ryan’s World and Ryan’s Mystery Playdate books are just one portion of a broader program with YouTube content distributor Future titles with other network stars are currently under discussion.

'On the Fastrack' Inspires Prequel Graphic Novel

Hermes Press, a 20-year-old publisher known for its reprints of comic books and comic strips, is publishing a middle-grade graphic novel called Dethany and the Other Clique, a prequel to Bill Holbrook’s comic strip On the Fastrack, distributed and licensed by King Features. Holbrook wrote the novel with his daughter, H.H. Glynn. The book is set for release in July.

“About 10 years ago, I added a new character, Dethany, to the strip and she was so popular she seemed to take over,” Holbrook said. Dethany Denrobia, who was inspired by Glynn, is a young Goth who works as a personal assistant for one of the characters in the workplace-set strip. “I wanted to know more about the character, and see how she got where she is now by seeing how she was in middle school.” Holbrook also wanted to stretch his creative wings beyond the world of newspaper comic strips.

“A lot of us here were Goths in high school and like that sort of stuff,” said Sabrina Herman, Hermes’s managing editor. “I liked the idea of the delineation of cliques and overcoming that idea that you have to be defined by your clique. That will resonate with readers. And the graphic quality is something kids would pick up.”

“Dethany is a Goth, and she’s also hard-working, conscientious, and has a smile for everyone,” Holbrook said. While the strip is primarily for adults, young people send Holbrook and Glynn emails and come up to them at comic book conventions. “They seem to like Dethany and the general message of inclusion. She has won over her coworkers while remaining true to herself and her sense of personal style.”

The book ends with an epilogue that shows Dethany in the present day, in her mid-20s, along with some of the other Fastrack characters. It illustrates how she uses her middle-school experiences to succeed as an adult. “One thing we wanted to tell middle schoolers was that ‘it gets better’ and that every experience you have in middle school will have some value later in life,” Holbrook explained.

Glynn and Holbrook say they collaborated very closely on the book, from creating the concept and outlining the plot together to maintaining a constant back-and-forth on the text and illustrations. Holbrook illustrated, while Glynn contributed a piece of art to one scene.

Hermes publishes original art books and “art of” books in addition to its core formats, and is starting to get into new areas such as original graphic novels and novel reprints. The company’s biggest property is The Phantom, which it has been reprinting since about 2010, including daily and Sunday comic compilations and comic book reprints. Most recently, it acquired the rights to reprint 15 Avon paperback novels featuring the character.

Dethany came to Hermes when longtime partner and Phantom licensor King Features approached the company, which had not been involved with On the Fastrack in the past. King knew Hermes was branching into original graphic novels for middle-grade readers, including Lazy Goth and Mother Goth Rhymes. “We’ll never stop doing comic book reprints,” Herman said. “But the novels and original graphic novels are a really great way to reach another audience.”

Dethany and the Other Clique is a standalone story, but there are connections to the strip that fans will appreciate. A character from Fastrack appears in the graphic novel as the vice principal, for example. The potential also exists for future Dethany graphic novels; Glynn and Holbrook have two more concepts in mind if sales warrant.

Angry Birds Flies High into Digital Formats

Ferly, which represents Rovio’s Angry Birds for global publishing, is going back to the property’s digital roots, signing a number of distribution deals for audio and e-book publishing based on the mobile game. Two recent licensees include Storytel, a streaming service for audio- and ebooks, which is producing digital audiobooks in five territories, including Ferly’s and Angry Birds’ home country of Finland, and Fairytell, which is releasing e-books in Denmark, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Ferly has signed similar digital deals in other territories, including India and Italy.

In the U.S., the property’s digital partner is the reading platform Epic!, which was signed nearly three years ago and has been expanding its library of Angry Birds titles since then.

“The current market is really good for IP owners who have a lot of existing content,” said Tuomas Sorjamaa, Ferly’s licensing and acquisitions manager, noting that chapter books and picture books can easily be repurposed in new ways for both streaming audio and e-book editions.

Angry Birds print publishing, meanwhile, is not at the heights it was at during the property’s peak more than half a decade ago, but remains steady in many territories globally. “It seems to be evolving into one of those perennial favorites,” Sorjamaa said. The property remains strong in European regions such as Poland and Southern Europe, the number of publishers is growing in Latin America, and activity is on the rise in China. In the U.S., several publishers, including HarperCollins, were signed as licensees leading up to The Angry Birds Movie 2 last year, and their programs are ongoing.

In Brief

Penguin Random House, Insight Editions, and Boom! Studios recently released a collection of books and comics tied to the Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, licensed by the Jim Henson Company…. IDW and Dark Horse Comics have joined together to produce a four-issue monthly crossover mini-series, Transformers vs. The Terminator…. U.K. department store Marks & Spencer launched a co-branded line of 30 children’s apparel items with the Roald Dahl Story Company and the Natural History Museum. The clothes feature Dahl characters and animal facts supplied by the museum…. Also in the U.K., Penguin Ventures is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Eric Hill’s Spot with a commemorative edition of the original book, new preschool publishing, and anniversary products, ranging from plush to apparel, from five licensees.