Read on for news about The Magical Tales’ Disney-licensed titles focusing on holidays and traditions; Little, Brown’s picture book tied to The Office; PI Kids’ new formats for Disney, Baby Einstein, and Merriam Webster; and more.

New Directions for Fox Chapel

Fox Chapel Publishing is taking on a new role as a licensing agent. It is representing an original franchise called Ninja Kitties, created by illustrator Kayomi Harai, with whom Fox Chapel has worked on coloring books in the past, for licensing into consumer products. It is also serving as the master publisher. Fox Chapel is set to make its debut as an exhibitor at Licensing Expo this August.

Ninja Kitties features nine colorful, big-eyed kittens who dress in ninja costumes. It has all-ages appeal, with a sweet spot of children ages four to eight, according to Michele Sensenig, v-p of sales at Fox Chapel. In addition to the eye-catching look of the characters, the company was attracted by the property’s positive messages, she said. It encourages fans to find their passion, to treat others with kindness, and, especially, to discover their inner strength. Each character has an attribute that is relatable to readers, such as being shy, happy, or brave.

“We see a strong future for this brand,” Sensenig said. The franchise is a big initiative for the company this year and will launch with two coloring/activity books from Fox Chapel’s Design Originals imprint. The first title, Ninja Kitties Great Adventures Coloring Book, debuts in August, followed by Ninja Kitties Seek and Find Puzzle Book. Future plans include other book formats and journals.

Another new venture for Fox Chapel is a children’s book by Jim Shore, an artist well known in the gift industry, from the publisher’s Happy Fox Books imprint. Magic in the Attic: A Button and Squeaky Adventure is Shore’s first children’s book and is based on characters featured in his Button and Squeaky line of figurines with Enesco. The gift range stars a teddy bear and his best friend, a purple balloon dog. The book is scheduled for a summer release. “It’s a new direction for us,” Sensenig said.

While current plans focus on the single title, there is plenty of content for future books if warranted. “The figures certainly support more ideas for these two characters,” she said. Fox Chapel is working with Enesco on incremental distribution opportunities for Magic in the Attic in the gift market.

Little, Brown Brings 'The Office' to the Classroom

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers is publishing a picture book tied to The Office, owned by NBC/Universal and represented for licensing by Seltzer Licensing Group, with a fall publication date. “Our list has really changed over the last two years and the licensing landscape has changed as well,” said executive editor Mary-Kate Gaudet. “We’ve been moving more toward non-traditional formats and brands.”

LBYR’s team had been wanting a foothold in the growing realm of adult pop culture content repurposed for the children’s book space when it discovered that sibling imprint Running Press had identified The Office as a target license for its formats. “We noticed a lot of families were watching The Office together [on Netflix],” Gaudet said. “It has likeable characters and great humor, and even though it has some inappropriate jokes that go over the kids’ heads, it has become family viewing.” LBYR approached NBC/Universal’s team and “they totally got the idea of a fan-driven adult property reinterpreted for kids.”

The two Hachette imprints teamed up to secure the license (Running Press’s titles include a mini-kit with a bobblehead of the character Dwight). The goal for LBYR was to bring the content squarely into the picture book space. In The Office: A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary, the regional manager, Michael Scott, becomes the elementary school equivalent of line leader. The essence of the characters is translated to the kids’ world in a familiar way, with many references and in-jokes built in for both adults and, at a different level, kids. “We’re definitely straddling the two worlds,” Gaudet said. “The response we’ve gotten from adults has been really wonderful. They’ll have fun reading it together with their kids, and they’ll have fun reading it on their own.”

The license is opening some new marketing avenues for Little, Brown, such as the potential for a presence at Comic Con. “There will be new opportunities to explore because of the crossover appeal,” Gaudet said. “We’re seeing a lot of excitement in support of this. It’s getting a lot more traction in social media than many other licensed titles.”

LBYR is taking a similar path with another new title this fall, this one a board book tied to the cult classic The Princess Bride. The Princess Bride: A Counting Story teaches kids to count, Gaudet said, but has plenty of movie-based irreverent humor that adults will appreciate.

A Magical Tale of Becoming a Disney Licensee

Patricia Cardello published her first original book under The Magical Tales brand in 2011. She achieved success with titles such as The Magical Tale of Santa Dust: A Christmas Tradition, her first and bestselling title to date; The Magical Tale of the Friendship Dreidel: A Chanukah Tradition; and 13 other original books-with-activities. That led to her catching the eye of Disney Publishing Worldwide. The Magical Tales has now become a Disney licensee—a rare coup for a small company. In December, it released Disney Olaf’s Frozen Adventure: A Holiday Traditions Activity Kit, representing the first in a series of Disney-licensed book-plus packages and activity kits centering on holidays and family traditions.

“We’ve always pursued Disney,” Cardello says. “We thought it was a perfect combination. Nothing came from our original discussions, but we kept in touch, and when Disney started looking into this niche they turned to us. What we do is unique, and the response has been great.”

The book-plus products include an original 32-page storybook plus an added item or two tied to the content, such as an ornament, stencils and stickers, or balloons and confetti, designed to spark a family tradition. The activity kits contain nine to 11 items, on average, such as stickers, letters to Santa, puzzles, thank-you cards, and the like, all tied to a particular holiday, celebration, or tradition. In two cases so far, The Magical Tales combined the two formats into a book-plus-activity kit package, at the request of retail buyers.

The first Olaf release saw 100% sell-through in the specialty and mass market, according to Cardino. New products for 2020 and 2021 include a second Frozen title, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure: Their NEW Holiday Tradition, as well at least six other books and kits tied to properties including Mickey and Minnie, Cinderella, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Pooh.

To smooth the product development and approvals process, The Magical Tales hired a Disney-dedicated team of graphic designers, illustrators, writers, and editors. “Disney maintains very strict control, so we hired people who have worked with them for years. They have the Disney training and know what’s acceptable and not acceptable,” Cardello said. “We wanted to work within their system.”

The agreement has opened up some new marketing and distribution opportunities. Disney is featuring a forthcoming title, Cinderella: My Gratitude Journal, in a video promoting the property’s 70th anniversary. And the retail presence of the Disney books has expanded beyond The Magical Tale’s standard network of specialty stores, such as Hallmark and Learning Express, into mass channels such as Target, Walmart, and grocery stores. Meanwhile, the company’s core series will continue, with a tooth fairy title upcoming.

PI Kids Expands Relationships with Disney, Other IP Owners

The PI Kids imprint of Phoenix International Publications has expanded its licensing deals with several key rights owners, allowing it to expand into new formats to supplement the sound books and other interactive formats for which it is best known. “We’re not going after new one-off licenses, but we’re doing more with our big licensors, including Disney,” said Lynn Sikora, director of marketing.

For Disney, new series include My First Stories, which extends Disney Baby into formats for slightly older children, introducing readers to the classic Disney characters and films. Lead titles set (so far) for an April release include Alice Wants to Grow, The Aristocats’ Show, Mowgli’s First Dance, and Tinker Bell’s Best Birthday Party. This series consists of re-covered versions of titles published by Hachette in France. “It’s our first foray into repackaging,” Sikora explained.

Another series, original from PI Kids, is Disney Growing Up Stories. It features interactive board books starring the nieces and nephews of classic Disney characters and is focused on social-emotional topics (e.g., being truthful), first experiences (going to the dentist), and parental concerns (screen time). The first titles will come out in fall 2020 and include First Pet!, a spin-and-slide board book; First Loose Tooth!, a peek-and-pull board book; and First Day of School!, a flap-and-fold board book. Separately, PI Kids will also release cloth books under the Disney Baby brand this fall.

The imprint is also expanding its Baby Einstein range, licensed from Kids II, with bath books, cloth books, and introductory coloring and activity formats for the very young. In addition, it is adding to its Encyclopedia Britannica/Merriam Webster license, launching new picture books under the Merriam Webster brand that highlight language, idioms, and definitions. Two titles to start include A Loveliness of Ladybugs, featuring words that describe groups of animals; and Wild Goose Chase, about animal-based plays on words.

In Brief

Plush maker Yottoy is extending its Golden Books range by adding characters from a new Golden Books series illustrated by former Disney animator Joey Chou, starting with I’m a Dragon and I’m a Unicorn. It is also one of just two licensees for The Busy World Richard Scarry, creating a range of plush portraying the characters Huckle Cat, Lowly Worm, and Bananas Gorilla, all in cars with working wooden wheels…. Bendon is publishing coloring and activity books tied to toy company Zuru’s Rainbocorns brand…. Author and artist Mary Engelbreit is now represented for licensing by Firefly Brand Management…. Tie-in publishers for the upcoming film Bill & Ted Face the Music include Welbeck for a making-of title and Dark Horse for comics…. Two Penguin Random House imprints are publishing gaming guides and graphic novels tied to Fortnite gamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. Clarkson Potter is releasing Ninja: Get Good and Ninja Notebook in August, while Ten Speed Press is releasing Ninja: The Most Dangerous Game in December…. Dr. Seuss Enterprises partnered with Sugar Creative for a Dr. Seuss’ ABC: An Amazing AR Alphabet! app…. My Audio Pet has acquired the rights to Sesame Street as its first licensed addition to its book-and-miniature-character-speaker line…. PI Kids’ soundbook tied to Random House’s Sesame Street-licensed The Monster at the End of This Book will feature the voice of Grover from the TV series as the narrator…. Highlights is launching a retro-driven licensing initiative called Highlights for Grownups. It is currently working with Zazzle and Hot Topic on Demand, with plans for licensed products to hit retail shelves in time for Highlights’ 75th anniversary in 2021…. In the U.K. and Ireland, personalized book marketer Signature Gifts acquired the rights to Build-A-Bear for a line of books telling stories from the bear’s point of view. Licensing Link Europe represents the property in the U.K…. Speaking of the U.K., Rebel Girls is expanding its brand in that market, with the assistance of agent Rocket Licensing. Gibsons has the rights for puzzles and Portico Designs for stationery, gifts, and lunchware.