S&S to Publish Preschool Titles for CoCoMelon

Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing has secured the master publishing rights for CoComelon, a preshool entertainment franchise licensed by Moonbug. Simon Spotlight will release the first four books—an 8x8, a tabbed board book, a novelty title, and a shaped book with working wheels—in fall 2021, with a total of 10 titles to be published within the first year.

CoComelon’s content consists of animated, brightly colored videos of nursery rhymes and songs. A core group of characters, led by JJ, serve as role models to teach basic concepts, from letters and animal sounds to tying shoes and preparing for the first day of school.

“We’ve been studying what’s working on all the different platforms, and we’ve been watching CoComelon for the better part of a year,” said Valerie Garfield, v-p and publisher, novelty, licensed, and branded publishing. “At the heart of what CoComelon gets right is that it’s dealing with everyday things that parents and kids are dealing with. The kids can see that what Mom is saying about eating their vegetables is happening on TV too, and that everyone is happy about it. Parents get support and solutions, so instead of yelling, they can sing ‘Yes, Yes, Vegetables.’ And we can replicate and reinforce that in our books.”

CoComelon, which debuted in 2006 and was acquired by Moonbug last July, is a hit on both YouTube and Netflix. Its YouTube channel has accrued 100 billion views and 102 million subscribers to date, and is still growing. Meanwhile, its more than 100 consecutive days as a top 10 video on Netflix broke a record and resulted in it being named the #1 show on that platform for 2020, according to Reelgood.

“The brand has a very large audience, and we understand that there are expectations for our program,” Garfield said. “The question we asked ourselves was ‘What do these 100 million people watching have in common?’ The answer was that they are dealing with the daily stuff we’re all dealing with. If we can help them, in an honest and reassuring way, we’ve discovered the key to unlocking this property.” Simon & Schuster’s books will include original stories, adaptations of on-screen content, and occasionally full song lyrics, all for kids ages 1-4.

“CoComelon approaches its content in a joyful way and, especially over the last year, that has been extremely well-received,” Garfield said. “If you can go to the heart of parents’ frustrations and can do it joyfully, and they can see that other parents are dealing with the same issues they are, that’s a win.”

In other CoComelon publishing news, Moonbug has licensed Cottage Door Press for the sight-and-sound category, reported Melissa Tigges, Cottage Door’s director of marketing and partnerships. Formats included in its agreement include electronic board books, electronic story readers/song players (with and without books), cloth and board puppet books, cloth-like “indestructible books,” greeting card books, and book-and-toy combinations.

Sourcebooks and Alphabet Rockers Tackle Timely Topics

Sourcebooks Explore has acquired the rights to produce three children’s books with Alphabet Rockers, a hip-hop collective for children, founded by Tommy Soulati Shepherd and Kaitlin McGaw, that promotes education, diversity, a healthy lifestyle, and making change. The first title, a picture book, is set for a February 2022 pub date.

“They have a powerful message,” said Kelly Barrales-Saylor, editorial director for Sourcebooks Explore, who has a son with an interest in music and was following Alphabet Rockers on social media. “I was surprised there were no books and I thought maybe there should be,” she said. “I strongly believe in the need to talk to children about serious topics and not dumb it down. The things that go on in the adult world are the things that go on in the kids’ world too. That’s what the Alphabet Rockers do. They deal with the hard issues and the emotions.”

The first book contains an original story by Shepherd and McGaw that is inspired by their song “Not Alone.” “They cover a lot of different subjects in one book and are able to show how we’re all connected and how we’re able to stand up for each other,” Barrales-Saylor said. The book is illustrated by Ashley Evans, who last worked on Gabrielle Union’s Welcome to the Party (2020). “She loved this project so much,” Barrales-Saylor added. “It spoke to her and she got it instantly.”

The picture book format hits the sweet spot for the Alphabet Rockers in terms of age, but the formats and content of the second and third books are still to be determined. “Their mission appeals to kids at a wide range of ages, so there’s really no limit,” Barrales-Saylor said. She also stressed that the books are for all readers, whether they are deeply and personally impacted by the issues discussed, or not. “It’s for the children who are experiencing discrimination, but not just that,” she said. “It’s also about understanding the meaning of allyship and how to stand up for each other.”

Shepherd and McGaw founded Alphabet Rockers in 2007. Their albums, both Grammy-nominated, include Rise Shine #Woke, with a theme of standing up to hate; and The Love, focused on lifting up trans, two-spirit, and gender-nonconforming voices.

Scholastic Adds Lifestyle, Comic Properties to YA List

Scholastic is publishing a new interactive journal based on the lifestyle media brand Popsugar, set for a June 1 release, as well as a graphic novel based on the webcomic Magical Boy, scheduled for fall. Both are for teen and tween readers.

“I love interactive journals and guidebooks,” said Debra Dorfman, v-p and publisher, global licensing, media, and brands. “We were thinking about who we could work with that had positive messaging and we thought of Popsugar. I’m a huge Popsugar fan. They are so positive on their social media channels and they also represent a very diverse community.” The 128-page journal, Popsugar You’ve Got This! A Creative Guide to Powering Your Happy, includes quizzes, story starters, to-do lists, playful activities, positive affirmations, prompts to encourage kindness, and mindfulness techniques.

Popsugar’s primary audience is millennials—Group Nine said the brand reaches 50% of that group through its various platforms—but it has a significant teen and tween readership as well, Dorfman said, noting that some of the brand’s licensed products, including clothing lines at Kohl’s and Old Navy, are geared toward these younger consumers. “I think the journal will appeal to a wide audience,” Dorfman said.

Scholastic opened discussions with co-founder Lisa Sugar before the 2019 acquisition of Popsugar by Group Nine, with which Scholastic was already working on a line of middle-grade books tied to The Dodo animal brand. Sugar continues to lead the Popsugar brand, which attracts more than 36 million viewers per month on Popsugar.com and more than 33 million followers on its other digital platforms.

Separately, Scholastic is publishing Magical Boy, a Tapas Studios Original webcomic by illustrator and comic artist The Kao. Licensor Tapas Media, a Korea-based, creator-driven digital channel featuring short-form storytelling, distributed 30 episodes of the webcomic, which Scholastic will adapt into a graphic novel.

“We had been talking to Tapas about different opportunities and we loved this story so much,” Dorfman said. “The character is so special, and the webcomic has a great positive message about acceptance, adventure, and being who you are. It’s the first licensed property for us with a transgender protagonist. It also felt very nostalgic in a way.” She said the property is reminiscent of Sailor Moon, the classic anime that also incorporated transgender themes. The webcomic has attracted more than four million views on Tapas.

The Kao is the pen name of Vincent Kao, who also created the web series Mondo Mango. Liz Parker at Verve Talent & Literary represented Tapas in the deal.

Gory Books Scares Up Horror Stories

Witter Entertainment has partnered with independent comic publisher 215 Ink to launch Gory Books, a line of children’s book–style adaptations of horror properties meant to appeal to adults and teens. The first book is an adaptation of George A. Romero’s classic horror film Night of the Living Dead, licensed from Image Ten Productions. The title is written by Mike D. Perkins, who heads 215 Ink and whose brother, comic book artist Will Perkins, illustrates.

Witter Entertainment was founded in 2018; its main business consists of selling VHS tapes of horror films. Founder James Cilano was considering what other cool pop culture products he misses from childhood that might appeal to horror fans, when he thought of children’s storybooks. “You grow out of the content quickly, but the art and style stay with you your entire life,” he said.

The Night of the Living Dead adaptation falls somewhere between parody children’s books like Go the F**k to Sleep, which are for adults only, and the growing pool of licensed board books that appeal to adults but can be shared with children, such as Wizards of the Coasts’ The ABCs of D&D, Godzilla vs. Kong and other titles published by Insight Editions’ PlayPop imprint, and ComixTribe’s C Is for Cthulhu, among others. Night of the Living Dead is not for children per se but extends down to teens who love horror films. “YA is where I would put it,” Cilano said. “It’s probably not appropriate for a five-year-old. You don’t want to lay down for bed and read Night of the Living Dead.”

That said, Cilano is planning more books for other horror films, and in the future some titles for children younger than YA might be a possibility. “We’re testing the waters with this one,” he said, noting that there might be ways to age some properties down while staying within the genre. “Horror is like a roller coaster where you face your fears, and there are themes like teamwork. There may be ways to clean it up into something more useful for kids.”

Night of the Living Dead was made available for pre-order through Diamond Comic Distributors in October, with strong demand from comic book stores leading to a near-sellout of the first run of about 1,000 copies across three variant covers. A variety of bundles that include the books, VHS tapes with packaging inspired by the books’ cover art, and other products are also available on Witter Entertainment’s site.

In Brief

Readerlink imprint Studio Fun International is publishing a second picture book based on the Chickapig brand, which has its roots in board games. Chickapiglet, Who Lives Where?, launching February 16, is a follow-up to the 55,000-copy-selling Little Joe Chickapig, released in January 2020. Both are authored by brand creator Brian Calhoun.... Studio Fun is also expanding its Blippi program with 12 new titles in 2021; the first 13 books published since 2019 have sold nearly 400,000 copies across formats. Moonbug is the licensor.... In cookbook news, The Wiggles paired with Are Media for two children’s cookbooks, Cooking with the Wiggles and Emma’s Tea Party, for the Australian market (with more titles planned), while Insight Editions added Marvel’s Deadpool to its growing roster of licensed cookbooks.... Chronicle Books has expanded its Lego Books program, with 13 new products (including books as well as journals, puzzles, stationery, and desk décor) set to be released this year.... IDW is publishing a new art book, The Marvel Art of the Brothers Hildebrandt, on February 23, celebrating the illustrations Greg and Tim Hildebrandt have done for Marvel Comics since 1994.