The High Republic: Disney Lucasfilm and Partners Go Epic
Disney Lucasfilm Press is launching a new publishing-first Star Wars storyline, Star Wars: The High Republic, in the fall. “Basically it’s an all-new era of storytelling for Star Wars,” said Michael Siglain, creative director of Lucasfilm publishing. “It’s one giant story for fans of every age, told over several years and across multiple publishers.”
The program, which was code named Project Luminous during development, focuses on an as-yet-unexamined era 200 years before the film Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, when the Jedi Knights are at their height. A quote from the character Obi Wan Kenobi in Episode IV: A New Hope inspired the premise: “For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic.” Or as Siglain said, “It’s the Jedi Knights of the Round Table.”
The storytelling launches with an adult novel, Del Rey’s The High Republic: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule, which is about “The Great Disaster” that kicks off the story. What happens in that book is reflected through its ripple effects in the other four early titles, Star Wars: The High Republic by Cavan Scott, an adult-targeted comic from Marvel; two titles from Disney Lucasfilm Press, the YA novel Into the Dark by Claudia Gray and the middle-grade novel A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland; and Star Wars: The High Republic Adventures, an all ages comic by Daniel José Older, from IDW. All five are rolling out at retail in the fall.
“It’s not one story aged down,” Siglain said. “Each format tells a different story, for different ages, with some crossover between them. Each book is a piece of the puzzle, and they connect at linchpinmoments.” Other publishers will join the world of The High Republic in future seasons, with Becker & Mayer, Insight Editions, Viz, DK, Abrams, and Titan all developing formats from “nonfiction” manuals and encyclopedias to behind-the-scenes books to in-world titles. “We’re exploring this world from every possible angle,” Siglain said.
He noted that readers can stick with one format over time and be satisfied. “But reading multiple formats will be a more fulfilling and enriching experience,” he said. “You can follow the adult novels, but when a character you like pops up in a Marvel comic you can chase it there. Or a parent and child can be reading two pieces of the same story, and there’s a shareability factor.”
Support for the program has come from the top levels of Lucasfilm. “[Lucasfilm president] Kathleen Kennedy said, ‘Can you do something new with publishing? And be bold with it,’ ” Siglain reported. “We’ve tried to meet that challenge.”
New from Scholastic: Dragon Prince and Ricky Zoom
Scholastic is launching a middle-grade publishing program tied to The Dragon Prince, a Netflix original animated fantasy series produced by Wonderstorm and co-created by Aaron Ehasz and Justin Richmond.
“The stories were amazing and it felt perfect for publishing,” said Debra Dorfman, Scholastic’s v-p and publisher, global licensing, brands, and media. “Families are viewing the show together, which is so appealing.” She added that the timing has been ideal, since the first three seasons of the TV series ended in 2019, allowing the books to be a bridge to the fourth season, scheduled for spring 2021.
“We loved that the property was co-created by Aaron Ehasz,” Dorfman continued. Aside from The Dragon Prince, he is best known as the head writer on the Nickelodeon show Avatar: The Last Air Bender, a hit from the mid-2000s. Ehasz is co-authoring the first middle-grade novel, The Dragon Prince: Book 1: Moon, releasing in June 2020 and based on season one of the series. “It’s always nice when the creators are the writers,” Dorfman said.
“The Dragon Prince was conceived as this big, deep, epic story,” Erhasz said. “From the beginning, Justin and I knew it would someday have life as a deeply developed novel that included all these ideas you wouldn’t have time to do in the series. We can answer questions people who are watching would want to know. And there are some new details that will give people an understanding of where the characters are going.”
Ehasz’s co-author is his wife, Melanie McGanney Ehasz. “Melanie’s been a wonderful partner in this,” he said. “She’s respectful of the material and of Justin and my relationship, but also has pushed us to bring the story to a new level.”
An in-world title, Callum’s Spellbook by Tracey West, came out in March, while an original graphic novel, written by Peter Wartman and illustrated by Xanthe Bouma, will follow in September. “It’s an important story and a canon story that takes place shortly after season three and before season four,” Ehasz said. A second novel is in the works for spring 2021 and a second graphic novel for fall 2021.
Separately, Scholastic is working with Hasbro-owned eOne, its longtime partner for Peppa Pig, on a new program for Ricky Zoom. The preschool TV series launched on Nick Jr. in fall 2019.
“It’s so adorable,” Dorfman said. “It has a very well-balanced cast of characters with great personalities, and it has themes of friendship and community. It’s off to a great start on TV.” Dorfman noted that parents love Peppa and watch with their kids. “I think they’ll love Ricky too,” she said. “I see the same longevity with Ricky that we’ve had with Peppa.”
Publishing will launch in September 2020 with three titles, including two 8x8s, Welcome to Wheelford, an introduction to the characters, and Ricky’s New Badge. Each 8x8 in the series will come with an added-value component such as a poster, stickers, or trading cards. The third title is Ricky to the Rescue, a shaped storybook with handles and lots of extras. Following in spring 2021 are an 8x8, a storybook collection, and a Water Wonder title. Future titles are likely to include elements such as working wheels and touch-and-feel textures. “We’ll do the usual holiday, back-to-school, and seasonal titles, but there’s the potential for lots of novelty formats,” Dorfman said.
The Elf on the Shelf Turns 15, Reorganizes
The Elf on the Shelf is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year with several new initiatives. “Everything we’re doing for the 15th anniversary is supporting our vision to tell the story of Santa’s North Pole,” said Chanda Bell, co-CEO of licensor Creatively Classic Activities and Books and author or co-author of 18 books in the franchise.
CCA and B is being reorganized to support the three main prongs of its business, namely entertainment, immersive activities, and consumer products (including publishing). A company name change is expected to be announced later this year, according to Bell, after a delay due to the Covid-19 situation.
The entertainment portion of the business encompasses the company’s in-house-produced animated specials, which tell the backstory of the Scout Elves and the Elf Pets. A fourth, Elf Pets: Reindeer Rescue, is planned for release later this year. A touring musical hit 32 states last year and is expected to expand to 62 U.S. cities for Christmas 2020. The company is talking to Hollywood studios about more film and TV opportunities.
Experiential initiatives, meanwhile, include last year’s test of a Santa Mall exhibit outside of Chicago, set for expansion this year, as well as a number of others in development. The brand also has a new 3D interactive website that recreates the North Pole, with videos, weekly challenges during holidays, games, and activities and maintains a strong social media presence.
Consumer products include in-house managed books—with 18 titles across formats to date and sales approaching 20 million copies—and other products. New for this year is The Elf on the Shelf’s Night Before Christmas, which will be a Target exclusive in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, 50 licensees produce more than 150 products, including books in a few niche formats such as Bendon’s Imagine Ink titles. Products range from advent calendars to gingerbread houses and beyond. “There is so much love for the pajamas,” Bell said. New U.S. licensees for this year include Kellogg’s and Hallmark, among others. International licensing is also on the rise, with new licensing agents in Australia and Canada and a growing program in the U.K.
The company is also considering how to extend its activities past the holiday season. “Santa’s North Pole operates 365 days a year,” Bell said. “We are exploring brand-right opportunities to tell our stories year-round in a way that will feel authentic to our fans.”
National Geographic Kids and ESPN Team for Sports Books
National Geographic Kids, which came to the Disney family in 2019 with the latter’s acquisition of its parent company, Twentieth Century Fox, has paired with another Disney brand, ESPN, for a series of children’s books. It’s a Numbers Game! is a middle-grade series combining real-life sports and math. The first title, It’s a Numbers Game! Basketball, which covers topics such as the geometry behind the perfect shot, was released in February and has a foreword by the late Kobe Bryant.
“When we first became part of Disney Publishing, we were thinking about what made sense for our brand as part of this broader publishing family,” said Becky Baines, v-p and editorial director, National Geographic Kids. “They’re very big on preserving the integrity of the brand. They don’t want to put Marvel and National Geographic together just to sell more books. It has to make sense.”
It turned out Alison Overholt, ESPN’s senior v-p, multiplatform storytelling and journalism, was a big fan of the imprint’s Little Kids First Big Book series and wanted to know if there was a sports book in the mix. That sparked the idea to pair the ESPN brand with a different series in the pipeline, It’s a Numbers Game! “ESPN was interested in expanding more into the kids’ area and into books, and we liked their expertise in sports,” Baines said. “It felt like a good fit. They’re about news and information, and so are we. We want to reach kids everywhere they are, but we don’t have much street cred in sports.”
Other titles to follow include It’s a Numbers Game! Soccer, with a foreword by Alex Morgan (Dec.) and It’s a Numbers Game! Baseball, with foreword by Sean Dolittle (Feb. 2021). The books are authored by James Buckley Jr., a former ESPN writer. “His excitement for all sports is so strong, and it really shines through,” Baines said, adding, “We’re very excited to have a female spokesperson [in Morgan], because we really want to speak to both boys and girls with these books.”
The National Geographic Kids team has been working with ESPN to open doors to new distribution channels and marketing opportunities. “They got reviews for us in Sports Illustrated for Kids and Sports Business Journal, which we wouldn’t have had otherwise, and they’re helping us find these spokespeople to work with us, which is huge,” Baines said.
Paddington Bear, TV Star
HarperCollins is adding to its evergreen Paddington publishing program with tie-ins based on the new TV series, The Adventures of Paddington, which premiered on Nickelodeon in the U.S. in January.
The first tie-in title, The Adventures of Paddington: The Wrong List, released on March 31. “This is our cornerstone title for the series,” said Tomas Palacios, executive editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books. The 32-page paper-over-board picture book includes a “Helping Paw” chart listing responsibilities kids can do around the house and two sheets of stickers to track progress. That will be followed by two I Can Read titles: Pancake Day and Paddington and the Painting, in May, and another, Paddington and the Pigeon, in September. Rounding out the list is a tabbed board book, The Adventures of Paddington: Meet Paddington, in May; a Halloween-inspired 8x8 storybook, The Monster Hunt!, with more than 50 stickers, in July; another 8x8, The Magic Trick, in September; and a themed 8x8, Love Day, which comes with Valentine’s Day cards, in December. More titles are in the works for 2021.
Palacios believes Paddington’s literal take on the world and his curiosity and childlike wonder are part of the reason for his longevity. “He always sees the best in people and wants them to see the best in him,” he added. “Wherever he goes, Paddington always tries to make the world a better place, even if he makes it a messier one first. I think we can learn a lot from this little bear from Peru.”
As the master publisher for Paddington, HarperCollins continues to add books inspired by Michael Bond’s classic series, from I Can Reads and storybook collections to box sets and chapter books. More than 70 classic Paddington titles have been published, with sales surpassing 35 million books worldwide.
Licensor Copyrights and U.S. agents Bravado and Retail Monster have licensed a number of other companies to produce TV tie-in merchandise, including The Bentex Group for children’s apparel, Franco Manufacturing for bedding and towels, and PhatMojo for toys. Studiocanal, which produces the TV show, is also developing a third Paddington feature film.
Mango Explores Dinosaurs with 'Dino Dana'
Mango Publishing, a small independent house founded in 2014, worked with Canadian production company Sinking Ship to create an in-world field guide to dinosaurs tied to the latter’s children’s TV series, Dino Dana. The show starts its fourth season April 17 on Amazon Prime in the U.S. The live action and CG-animated series is about a young paleontologist-in-training who learns about dinosaurs by setting up dino-experiments, with the help of a field guide that teaches her about dinosaurs and also gives her the power to imagine them into life.
“Sinking Ship contacted us based on what they had read about us, and once we met them we found we were kindred spirits,” said Chris McKenney, Mango Publishing CEO. “It was the easiest deal ever.” In an unusualsituation for a license, the agreement takes the form of a standard Mango publishing contract, without an advance. Future books are also a possibility.
Dino Dana airs on TVO Kids in its home market of Canada and on broadcast platforms around the world, including ABC in Australia and National Geographic Kids in Latin America. “We’re very strong internationally for a small publisher, and this is something we can leverage in our international sales,” McKenney said. In addition to the TV series, a feature film from Fathom Pictures is set for a one-day theatrical event in August, rescheduled from the planned March 21 release. The book is still on schedule for publication on May 19.
The tie-in with Sinking Ship has opened up some marketing opportunities for Mango. It plans to market and distribute the book with kids’ museums, science museums, and zoos once they are open again post-Covid-19. Michela Luci, the actress that plays the lead character, did an unboxing video for the book. And, “since it’s on Amazon Prime, that gives us a chance to go a little deeper with them,” said Brenda Knight, director of editorial acquisition. “The movie is an exciting opportunity to market the book as well.”
Cyber Group Studios is launching a Gigantosaurus video game in Europe, in partnership with Outright Games and Bandai Namco Entertainment. Candlewick publishes the books, written by Jonny Duddle, in the U.S.; Disney Junior airs the TV series worldwide…. Archie Comics and King Features Syndicate have paired for a one-off comic, Archie Meets Flash Gordon, which takes the Archies gang to space. It will be written by Jeff Parker, who wrote Flash Gordon for Dynamite Entertainment, and illustrated by Archies artist Dan Parent.