Random House Children’s Books and Clarkson Potter, both part of the Penguin Random House umbrella, have acquired the rights for a tie-in publishing program based on Waffles + Mochi, a new children’s series about healthy foods, cooking, and fearless eating. The TV series comes from Higher Ground Productions—the company founded in 2018 by Michelle and Barack Obama in partnership with Netflix—and will debut on Netflix on March 16.
“We’re honored to be supporting Michelle Obama’s mission to promote children’s health and literacy,” said Chris Angelilli, v-p, editor-in-chief, and director, licensed publishing, at RHCB. Noting that the company does not currently have any properties on its list that focus on healthy eating, he added, “It’s a great addition to our portfolio.”
The content of the show is hush-hush until the premiere but, based on the trailer, it is an eclectic combination of stop-action puppet animation and live action, with other visual styles mixed in. It features humor, storytelling, fact-based content, and music, as well as guest appearances from chefs and other celebrities. The two puppet stars—Waffles, a yeti-like character with waffles for ears and tummy, and Mochi, a Japanese rice cake—work in a supermarket and go on global adventures to search for ingredients as they learn about foods, cooking, and health.
The first title, Follow That Food!, is a picture book written by Christy Webster and illustrated by Sarah Rebar. In an unusual move for a licensed title, it will release on March 2, two weeks before the premiere of the TV series. “We thought once the word was out there and people saw the trailer, there would be huge demand for books,” Angelilli said. “So it makes sense to go out a little bit before the show premieres.” The picture book will be followed by Pickle Party!, a Step into Reading title, and Rainbow of Flavors, a deluxe paint box book with stickers. Both have publication dates of July 13.
Waffles + Mochi: The Cookbook, by Yewande Komolafe, will come out in November from Clarkson Potter, whose previous TV tie-in cookbooks for kids include the MasterChef Junior Cookbook and MasterChef Junior Bakes! “We have worked closely with the show creators, Erika Thormahlen and Jeremy Konner, to build a cookbook that embraced the show’s joyful approach to families coming together in the kitchen to cook and eat,” said Aaron Wehner, executive v-p at Crown Publishing/Random House and publisher of Clarkson Potter. “Like the show, each chapter brings children on an adventure, encouraging them to explore new ingredients and try out new recipes.” Komolafe has translated many of the dishes seen onscreen, along with meals inspired by the show, into accessible make-at-home recipes.
The initial RHCB titles are based on episodes, but as the partners discuss future lists for fall 2021 and into 2022 and 2023, they are considering the potential for books with original content, as well as additional formats such as big sticker books, 8x8s, and possibly board books. The audience sweet spot is ages 3–7, but Angelilli believes the books could attract a wider readership.
Michelle Obama has taken a hands-on approach to the show and the publishing program, according to Angelilli. “She’s been involved from the beginning,” he said. She wrote an introduction to the picture book, she and her team have reviewed and approved everything, and she appears on screen in the show.
The Waffles + Mochi deal is a continuation of Random House’s partnership with Netflix, which began with Stranger Things books, published by RHCB and Del Rey, and has also included StoryBots, a property created by JibJab Bros. Studios that was acquired by Netflix in 2019.