Mystery and Intrigue at Scholastic

Scholastic has acquired publishing rights to two licensed properties known for their intricate storytelling and mystery-solving: the story-based YouTube franchise Spy Ninjas and the murder-mystery game Hunt A Killer.

Spy Ninjas, represented for consumer products by Surge Licensing, is billed as the most-viewed “story-driven media franchise” on YouTube. It attracts more than 400 million monthly views and has more than 38 million subscribers. Each of the seven weekly episodes attracts more than one million views in the first hour of going live.

“The real appeal to us was the popularity, which is amazing,” said Debra Dorfman, v-p and publisher, global licensing, media, and brands at Scholastic. “It centers on a mission to stop evil hackers, and kids just love all that stuff. It’s silly but fun. And spy books and kits work well for us across all our channels. All around, it’s the perfect property for us.”

Under a three-year agreement, Scholastic will publish a series of middle-grade books in the U.S. and Canada. The first title, coming in January 2022—along with the first licensed products, including toys from Playmates—is an official guidebook. “The producers will share a lot of in-world stuff with us that we can share with the kids,” Dorfman said. “There’s a problem-solving storyline with a lot of original Easter eggs for the fans.” The first graphic novel and activity book—a paperback trifold spy-kit activity book with an add-on item related to the story—will follow in fall 2022. Each of the books will offer messages, clues, and hints that allow the readers, in their role as spy ninjas, to complete their missions.

Hunt A Killer, meanwhile, is a line of physical interactive mystery, sci-fi, and horror-themed games, available at retail and as a subscription service. The brand began with an adult audience in mind but has turned out to be an activity that families play together. The company has sold more than two million games since debuting in 2016.

“Five Nights at Freddy’s and other gaming properties do so well for us,” Dorfman said. “You can’t create a game without a storyline in mind, especially a murder mystery like this one. And they were willing to let us create original stories, which is something we always look for.”

The publishing program will consist of original YA novels that complement the plotlines in the games. Each is a standalone story by a different author, but all take place in the world of the game, with references to Michelle Gray, the private investigator who gives players their cases to solve. The first novel, Perfect Score by Angelica Monai, is set for a February 2022 release, with a second title planned for summer 2022. Scholastic, which has global rights to the property, will also publish graphic novels based on its own YA novels, as well as an in-world guidebook.

Insight Kids Taps into Emotions with Ninja Life Hacks

Insight Editions and its Insight Kids imprint have partnered with Grow Grit Press to acquire publishing rights for the Ninja Life Hacks brand. The property is a one million-unit-selling, self-published paperback storybook series created by author Mary Nhin in 2019, with more than 60 titles sold exclusively online. It focuses on developing social-emotional skills, resilience, grit, and confidence.

“We wanted to give kids and their parents, who are ever more busy, the tools to deal with their emotions,” said Raoul Goff, founder and president of Insight Editions. “Having characters kids can identify with is awesome. And these conversations are more urgent than ever before, especially now, given the times we’re in.”

Insight will expand the brand globally into new formats, including board books, activity books, and other products for kids up to age 12. The first six titles, in three formats, will debut in spring 2022. They include the Mini Ninja Life Hacks Board Book and four Ninja Life Hacks Activity Books, one each for Confident Ninja, Earth Ninja, Positive Ninja, and Diversity Ninja. Each of the latter contains coloring, stickers, and guided journaling intended to allow kids to practice the skills modeled in the core Ninja books. The last title, the Ninja Life Hacks Conversation Deck, features 52 cards and a booklet. More titles are being planned for fall 2022, including book-and-plush sets. Insight will develop new illustration styles to appeal to different ages and fit different formats.

“This isn’t a typical licensing deal; it’s more of a partnership,” Goff explained. “Mary built something incredible on her own, but now she wanted the right partner to help her expand the brand.” Nhin will be actively engaged in promoting the books, including at workshops and conferences, and will write many of the titles. Insight is also publishing the existing books internationally, and is in discussions with a number of potential partners in the U.S. about retail placement.

Goff said that Insight always likes to cross-promote and cross-merchandise its licensed titles with other consumer products, and this brand is no exception. Ninja Life Hacks is represented by The Brand Liaison for licensing and has been expanding into other consumer products categories, with recent deals including Fashion Angels for stationery, crafts, accessories, and classroom decor; Fun World for costumes; and Balchem for ice cream. Insight is also in discussions with organizations in the SEL and wellness space to endorse the books.

BuzzPop Takes Miraculous into Activity Formats

Little Bee Books’ BuzzPop imprint has become the latest publishing licensee for Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, the global TV series created by ZAG and coproduced with ON Kids & Family. It airs on the Disney Channel, as well as a variety of streaming services, in the U.S. BuzzPop will publish higher-end coloring, sticker, and activity titles for kids 6–12.

The series is about two teens, Marinette and Adrien, who secretly transform into superheroes, Ladybug and Cat Noir, working to drive evil out of Paris. In the real world, Marinette has an unrequited crush on Adrien, while in the superhero world, where the two characters do not know each other’s real-world identity, the tables are turned.

“Miraculous immediately appealed to me as a unique property for ages 6–12,” says Rebecca Webster, executive editor of BuzzPop. “The characters are empowering and diverse, and Miraculous and Cat Noir are both great role models. It offers imaginative play and an emotional outlet for that transitional period between kids and teens. And the show has such a high production value. It’s a delight to watch.”

The first book, set for a February 2022 release, will be Miraculous: Be Your Own Hero Activity Book, an 80-page full-color guided journal with lots of activity content for ages seven to 10. It is one of BuzzPop’s flagship formats. Titles being planned for later in 2022 and 2023 include an ultimate sticker and activity book and an activity book with temporary tattoos.

Miraculous has long been a global hit, but it has taken more time to gain a footing in the U.S. The past year, however, has seen the signing of 50 licensees in this country, including Playmates as the master toy licensee. A live-action feature film is set for release this fall, while Disney hosts quarterly television events and TV movies tied to the property. The series itself has been renewed for a 22-episode season five.

Miraculous also appeals to a large fan base aged 15 to 25, called “Miraculers,” helping drive more than 23 billion views of authorized and user-generated content on YouTube, 150 million app downloads, and sales of more than 200 million products globally over the past four years. Webster notes that there are products specifically aimed at this group from the likes of Swatch, and that teen and young adult Miraculous cosplayers were everywhere at San Diego Comic Con. As a result, BuzzPop is exploring opportunities to package content or finished books “in the spirit of cosplay” for this audience at specific retailers.

In Brief

Target is featuring a collaboration with author-illustrator Christian Robinson, known for You Matter and Another, in its stores this fall. More than 70 products include home goods, apparel (with adaptive and sensory-friendly items among the assortment), and books for kids and babies. The merchandise will debut August 15 in most stores and at Board and card game maker Solid Roots is launching a line of Berenstain Bears games under license from Random House Children’s Books.... Insight Editions’ Weldon Owen imprint is publishing Street Fighter: The Official Street Food Cookbook, featuring cuisines tied to the many nationalities of the Capcom video game’s characters…. Macmillan Children’s Books U.K. has acquired the rights to Lego City from Lego master publisher Ameet. It will publish a series of illustrated novelty board books for preschool readers.