Science Emergency? Chico Bon Bon to the Rescue
On September 28, Simon and Schuster’s Simon Spotlight imprint will introduce the first four titles based on Chico Bon Bon: Monkey with a Tool Belt, a Netflix TV series with STEM themes. The show, based on the Monkey with a Tool Belt book series written and illustrated by Chris Monroe and published by Lerner, is produced and licensed by Silvergate Media. S&S had previously worked with the company on the Olivia TV series.
“Chico was pitched to us pre-pandemic. It appealed to us then and it appeals to us now,” said Valerie Garfield, v-p and publisher, licensed, novelty, and branded publishing. “It’s the humor. Yes, the show has STEM and there’s a lot of science in it, but it’s funny, it’s charming, and there’s a catchy theme song. It has a degree of cleverness and creativity that’s fresh and appealing to that preschool audience.”
Chico Bon Bon: Monkey with a Tool Belt stars the monkey Chico Bon Bon and his friends, the Fix-It Force. In each episode, the fixers answer the banana phone to discover the next science emergency, then solve the problem using teamwork and their mechanical knowledge. The TV series premiered on Netflix in May 2020, with four seasons available and a fifth in the works.
“There was a depth to the scripts that we knew would translate to books, maybe because its roots are in books,” Garfield said. “A lot of properties are adorable, but they have to translate to great stories in books, and that’s not always an easy transition.”
Titles coming out this fall include Gear Up and Go, an 8x8 with cardstock tools and a mini sorting activity; The Pizza Problem!, a Level 1 Ready to Read, in which the team figures out how to get a pizza delivered without it getting cold; Here Comes the Fix-It Force, a novelty board book with pull tabs that reveal the right tools to use; and The Banana Phone Is Ringing!, a shaped board book. “We have a large scope of rights and can do books at a wide range of price points and formats and be creative with it as well,” Garfield said. “It’s our job to make sure the spirit of the show translates to the books. They seem to be getting a nice response at retail as we start to go out now.”
Garfield noted that parents are looking to support their kids’ education, and the STEM undertones in this book should be appealing. “They don’t hide the science but they do it in such a fun, organic way that you realize science is part of life,” she said. “You don’t stop and do a science experiment. The science is built into the plot, so it’s a natural learning process.”
Garfield sees this property as having a long life ahead. “We want preschool properties that go long and deep and steady,” she said. “This seems like it will stick around for a while.”
Elmo’s New Pet Inspires Publishing and Products
On August 5, HBO Max premiered an animated special from Sesame Workshop called Furry Friends Forever: Elmo Gets a Puppy. The show, which features a brand-new music-loving character, Elmo’s pet puppy Tango, will follow its run on HBO Max with airtime on PBS Kids in 2022. The puppy will also appear in short-form content and will be joining season 52 of Sesame Street this fall as a Muppet.
In the special, Elmo and Grover find Tango, a stray, in the neighborhood. On the way to an adoption fair to find her a new home, they learn how to take care of her and find out why she is special. At the end, Elmo decides to adopt her himself.
“Elmo is one of the first friends children have, and Sesame Street shows them that friends come in every shape, size, and color,” said Gabriela Arenas, v-p global licensing at Sesame Workshop. “When Elmo gets a puppy, that’s a special moment.” She added that during the pandemic, many families adopted furry friends. “This is a way to show them the safe and age-appropriate way to take care of their pet.”
Tango and Furry Friends Forever are the basis of a new collection of goods from existing Sesame Street licensees, including publishers. “Publishing allows us to go deeper with the storytelling and have deeper engagement,” said Arenas. The first book titles will include a touch-and-feel edition of Furry Friends Forever: Elmo Gets a Puppy from Studio Fun and First Look and Find: Furry Friends Forever from PI Kids. The latter features seven scenes from the special that reinforce learning concepts such as counting, shapes, and rhyming, plus more look-and-find challenges at the back of the book. Other Sesame Street publishers will release Tango books in the future, including Random House Children’s Books, Lerner Publishing Group, and Bendon. The initiative also gives publishers the opportunity to promote new and backlist Sesame Street books that are pet-related.
Sesame Workshop is also working with General Mills. The backs of its boxes of licensed Sesame Street 123 Berry and Sesame Street C Is for Cinnamon cereals open like a book and feature dual-language English/Spanish stories starring Elmo. Six Furry Friends Forever short stories are featured on the boxes this summer in conjunction with the special.
In addition to the books, other licensed merchandise tied to the new content includes Dance-and-Play Elmo and Tango from plush maker Gund, bandages from ASO, organic snacks from Earth’s Best, t-shirts from Trevco, clothing from Children’s Apparel Network, custom apparel and pillowcases from CPS, bedding and nap mats from NoJo, toddler footwear from SG Companies, and customized print-on-demand products from Zazzle.
Random House Hits the Court with 'Space Jam'
Random House Children’s Books is the publisher for Space Jam: A New Legacy, the long-awaited sequel to the original film starring Michael Jordan that was released in 1996. Like the original, the current version stars Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes characters, this time with NBA star LeBron James and other players.
“The original Space Jam is a pop-culture classic, and fans of the original want to share the new film with their kids,” said Chris Angelilli, v-p and editor-in-chief, licensed publishing, Random House Books for Young Readers. “It has all the ingredients: the Looney Tunes, basketball, a touching father-son story, and of course LeBron James. You can’t underplay the power of King James.” Angelilli said he first contacted Warner Bros. about publishing rights when the film “was just a rumor.”
The first six books were published on June 1, about six weeks before the July 16 premiere of the film. They include Tune Squad, a Little Golden Book; Tunes vs. Goons, a storybook with more than 30 stickers; Join the Team!, a Step 2 Step into Reading title; Space Jam: A New Legacy: Official Activity Book, with more than 50 stickers; Space Jam: A New Legacy: Official Character Guide; and Space Jam: A New Legacy: The Junior Novelization. Two more titles follow the initial six, including Space Jam: A New Legacy: Glow-in-the-Dark Poster Book, released on July 20, and Get in the Game, a Step 3 Step into Reading title with more than 30 stickers, set for August 31.
The list is similar to a standard RHCB movie tie-in program, with the exception of two additional formats that made sense for this film, namely the character guide, to help viewers keep track of the movie’s many characters, and the glow-in-the-dark movie poster book, which reflects the look of the film. Several other licensees also integrate glow-in-the-dark elements into their licensed products, from the soles in Nike’s Air Force 1 sneakers to highlights on Spalding’s basketballs.
Like all Warner Bros. films during the pandemic era, the movie was released both theatrically and on the HBO Max streaming platform at the same time. While publishing movie tie-ins can be tricky due to the challenges of the film business these days, “the publishing has definitely performed to expectations,” Angelilli said. “We’re talking to Warner Bros. about their plans and are open to future publishing.”
Fred Rogers Productions and 9 Story Brands have added the Storypod interactive storyteller platform to the licensing program for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, along with several other new licensees. Existing Daniel Tiger publishers Simon and Schuster and Cottage Door Press are also expanding their lists. S&S is releasing five new titles (Daniel Visits a Pumpkin Patch, Daniel Plays with Max, Clap for the Helpers, Read with Daniel Tiger, and Baking Day!). Cottage Door Press is adding a writing and tracing skills book and Colorforms titles. (9 Story Brands also licenses Colorforms.).... Dr. Seuss Enterprises partnered with audio platform Tonies for audio experiences, starting with a Cat in the Hat title including several Cat in the Hat stories as well as There’s a Wocket in My Pocket. More titles will follow.... Children’s clothing company Vineyard Vines paired with Simon & Schuster and First Book for its annual Whales for a Cause campaign, inspired by its whale logo.... In the U.K., products based on The Brilliant World of Tom Gates hit Sainsbury’s and Argos this month. The Point.1888 is the licensing agent for the property, which consists of a series of books and a tie-in TV series. Scholastic publishes the Liz Pichon-penned books in the U.K., while Candlewick offers some of the titles in the U.S.