S&S Highlights Preschool Problem-Solving with 'Donkey Hodie'

Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing has acquired the rights to the puppet-based preschool TV series Donkey Hodie, which is scheduled to debut on PBS in early 2021. The show is from Fred Rogers Productions, producer of the classic Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as well as the current PBS series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Simon & Schuster is also the master publishing licensee for Daniel Tiger, which has exceeded 10 million books in print.

“We have had a long relationship with FRP and we love working with them. Daniel Tiger has become such an important backlist property for us,” said Valerie Garfield, v-p, publisher, novelty and licensed publishing at S&S. “The Fred Rogers brand and approach to content has struck such a nerve with parents, which you don’t often see with other properties. I hear all the time how important their content is to parents, in bad times and in good times as well.”

Donkey Hodie is a yellow donkey with a magenta mohawk, who lives in the land of Someplace Else with her friends Purple Panda, Duck Duck, and Bob Dog. Just as Daniel Tiger is the son of Daniel Striped Tiger from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Donkey is the granddaughter of the original Donkey Hodie character. Each episode will feature reimagined versions of Fred Rogers’s original songs, along with new music, to reinforce the show’s themes.

Garfield believes the time is right for Donkey Hodie. “It’s teaching kids to solve problems and be innovative,” she explained. “It’s about helping kids stand on their own. Like the social-emotional content of Daniel Tiger, this is content that is pertinent to kids and needed by parents.”

The first books are set to launch in spring 2022, along with the initial range of consumer products, about nine months after the anticipated premiere of the show. The list will likely be similar to the Daniel Tiger publishing program, with storybooks, beginning readers, 8x8s, board books, and some novelty titles in the mix. “We’ll do formats that capture the sensibility of the show,” Garfield said, noting that interactive elements such as lift-the-flaps and gatefolds will be highlighted. “The readers will be able to try things and see what happens, and learn from that. It’ll be the same experience as the show, but at a tactile level.”

All of FRP’s content is modeled on the principles pioneered by Fred Rogers on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. “Fred was the first to really talk directly to the kids, as people, and that’s a quality that FRP has in all its properties. They don’t talk at kids, they talk to kids,” Garfield said, adding, “Donkey Hodie is so different from what’s out there, and we think that will be an instant draw. It’s a fun, sweet, reassuring character at a time when the world needs a fun, sweet, reassuring character.”

Lego Solicits Fan Feedback to Develop First Title for Adults (and Teens)

The Lego Books imprint, a global strategic partnership between Ameet and the Lego Group, has partnered with Unbound to publish The Secret Life of Lego Bricks, the first-ever book for AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego). Created “for AFOLs, by AFOLs,” the book will also have appeal to teens who are strong fans of the brand, especially as a gift, according to Eric Huang, Ameet’s v-p and publisher. “There are definitely teens who consider themselves to be AFOLs,” he said.

When Lego Books was launched last year, one of the goals was to create titles specifically for AFOLs. “All of our publishing has been for kids, even though some books appeal to the adult collectors, too,” Huang said. “But adults are such a passionate and important part of the Lego community.” The question was how to accomplish this goal. “These can be highly geeky, really awesome books, but they’re not something that would sell enough in Barnes & Noble, Walmart, or Waterstones.”

The solution was Unbound, a publisher of crowdfunded books. “Unbound caters to a very passionate fan base, so we can create something just for AFOLs, with no constraints,” Huang said. “We don’t have to sell 20,000 in one retailer in one country.”

Three AFOL book concepts were initially developed by Lego, with input from a group of AFOL ambassadors with whom Lego has developed relationships over the years. The three concepts—including Brick Museum and 100 Bricks That Built Lego History, as well as Secret Life—were posted on Lego Ideas, the company’s innovation platform where fans can submit and vote on new product ideas. The winning title is now available for pre-order exclusively on Unbound.

Through Unbound, fans can pledge anything from $90—which gets them a hardbound book with their name included on a list of supporters—on up. Higher pledges result in more valuable add-ons, from a limited-edition print of a 1958 Lego wooden duck, to a signed retired Lego Star Wars set, Ewok Village, to a personal tour of Lego House in Billund, Denmark, with a designer. “We’re offering money-can’t-buy experiences for the fans,” Huang explained. The campaign opened on August 17 and by midday on August 25 was 90% funded, with 1,542 supporters pre-ordering at different levels. The campaign will accept pledges until early 2021 and the completed book is set to be sent to funders in spring 2022.

The Secret Life of Bricks is authored by Daniel Konstanski, an AFOL who serves as the U.S. editor for Blocks Magazine and is considered one of the leading fan authorities on Lego. The book offers a history of Lego bricks and other pieces, integrating material from the Lego archives and interviews with the Lego designers, technicians, and managers who created the pieces. “It’s revealing the personal decisions the designers make that go into creating the bricks, things the public wouldn’t know,” Huang said.

Additional Lego titles for AFOLs are expected to be announced in conjunction with the Frankfurt Book Fair in October.

Dr. Seuss Reaches Out to Infants, Teens, and Teachers

Dr. Seuss Enterprises has been busy of late, with new consumer product forays addressing underserved markets such as infants, teens, dollar store shoppers (especially teachers), and international consumers. “The expansion is definite and intentional,” said Susan Brandt, president of DSE. “We recognized that, even in the midst of Covid-19, there are opportunities to bring these familiar characters into new channels and categories.”

One area of focus is products for infants and young preschoolers, ranging from feeding and bathing items to toys. “On the publishing side, our success has been immense in board books,” Brandt said. “But we realized we did not have a lot of products to support mom and baby.”

DSE is also increasing its presence in value/dollar stores, particularly with educational products. Teachers have increasingly been shifting their spending into this channel, Brandt said, while more recently parents have been turning to dollar stores for products to help them support learning at home. Last year, the company launched a limited partnership with Dollar Tree, including two books as well as products from two licensees, displayed in the retailer’s Teaching Tree section, in conjunction with DSE’s annual Hats Off to Reading celebration in March. It is looking to build on that relationship, as well as expand into other value-channel stores, this year.

A growing number of fashion collaborations, with the likes of Billabong, Skechers, Champion, Supreme, Comme des Garçons, and Stance, help DSE attract teenagers and young adults to the brand. “Some people might be surprised to learn that we appeal to teens,” Brandt said. “You have to be on-trend and cool and pick the right partners. Today at least, we’re considered cool.”

International markets are another area of interest, with Europe (especially the U.K., Germany, Spain, and Italy); Australia/New Zealand (one of the company’s top markets in per-capita book sales); Canada; South Africa; and Latin America being priorities. While these countries cannot rival the 93% brand recognition built in the U.S., the books, films, and TV series do have a track record around the world. “We haven’t pushed through consumer products like we have in the U.S.,” Brandt said. “So there’s an opportunity to build on the success of the entertainment and books. It’s a priority right now.”

Meanwhile, DSE will continue with its ongoing year-round tentpole programs in the U.S. in 2021, including Hats off to Reading in March (featuring The Cat in the Hat), Earth Day in April (The Lorax), graduation in June (Oh! The Places You’ll Go!), summer (Thing 1 and Thing 2), and National Kindness Month in October (Horton). It also has 60th anniversary celebrations in the works for Green Eggs and Ham this year and The Sneetches in 2021.

Papercutz Celebrates The Loud Family in New Seasonal Collections

Papercutz, the all-ages graphic novel publisher, has offered tie-ins to The Loud House, Nickelodeon’s top-rated animated show for kids 6–11, since 2017. It has published 10 collections of short stories, plus three three-in-one-collections, to date, all distributed by Macmillan. The first volume, The Loud House #1, is currently in its seventh printing, and the three-in-ones have been doing particularly well at Barnes and Noble, Target, and book clubs including Scholastic and Follett. There are five new Loud House volumes planned for 2021.

The graphic novels are a way to expand the property universe. “We feature a lot of characters who might not get the spotlight in the show,” said Jeff Whitman, managing editor at Papercutz. In October, the publisher is debuting the first in a series of themed volumes that will expand the line further. The Loud House Winter Special, releasing in full-color hardcover and paperback editions, is a snow day-themed collection of original, interconnected short stories.

The specials were originally intended as collections of repackaged material, with a few new stories, according to Whitman, but turned into all-original volumes due to the enthusiasm of the creative team, which includes staff from the show. As with all of the volumes, there are occasional Easter eggs for passionate fans of the TV series, who are loyal and hungry for more content, Whitman said. “This fanbase, along with the strong track record of the series in multiple markets, helped pave the way for these seasonal specials.”

Additional themed volumes in spring/summer 2021 will include The Loud House Summer Special and The Casagrandes: We’re All Familia. “We have featured these characters in our books since the beginning, and they are an important part of the tapestry of The Loud House,” Whitman said of the latter characters, which have also appeared in their own animated spin-off show since 2019. The Casagrandes special collects already published stories as well as some new content.

The Loud Family premiered on Nickelodeon in 2016. A Netflix movie will debut in 2021.

In Brief

CCA and B, LLC, publisher and licensor of The Elf on the Shelf and related properties, has changed its corporate name to the LumiStella Company. LumiStella is a magical Christmas comet in the lore of the company’s North Pole universe. The IP owner also has retained Creative Artists Agency to represent its brands for licensing and entertainment ventures…. Readerlink’s Studio Fun imprint is releasing what it believes to be the first children’s book to be packaged with a mask. The mask comes with Blippi: Have a Happy, Healthy Day, set for publication in May 2021 and licensed by the YouTube star…. The Little Prince, represented for licensing by LicensingWorks!, is featured as a deluxe action figure from Boss Fight Studio, with the latter represented by FanGirl Consulting & Brand Management in the deal.

Comic-related news: Nick Sekuck’s The Awkward Yeti and Heart and Brain brands, known from webcomics and six books from Scholastic and Andrews McMeel, are now being handled by Surge Licensing in the world of consumer products…. Comic book creator J.D. Matonti and his company APNG signed the Joester Loria Group to represent APNG’s property New-Gen, distributed by Marvel, for licensing; Jetpack has global rights to a new CG-animated TV series…. Panda Mony Toy Brands has licensed Dark Horse Comics for its first 62-page graphic novel based on its Alter Nation toy line…. New projects from IDW include a crossover between Hasbro’s Transformers and NBCUniversal’s Back to the Future, as well as a Star Trek: Voyager miniseries featuring the character Seven of Nine.

Lots of news from across the Atlantic: Hachette Children’s Group has acquired publishing rights to Tinpo, a CG-animated TV series owned by Cloudco, aired by CBeebies since 2019, and licensed by agent The Point.1888, for picture books, annuals, and story, activity, and novelty books…. The Point.1888 has also assumed licensing representation for Nick Butterworth, author of the Percy the Park Keeper series and other titles….Egmont is launching Hello Kitty books and magazines in the Nordic countries, Germany, Central and Eastern Europe, and Turkey, to launch in the first quarter of 2021…. Macmillan Children’s Books in the U.K. has licensed its preschool storybook Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell for a line of infant apparel at Tesco under the F&F clothing private label…. The World of Eric Carle paired with U.K. retailer JoJo Maman Bébé in a deal brokered by U.K. agent Rocket Licensing and master agent the Joester Loria Group.