Penguin Joins Strawberry Shortcake in the Big City
Penguin Young Readers is bringing back Strawberry Shortcake in a new deal with Wildbrain CPLG, which has been the brand owner since 2017. The first titles are set for release in North America in fall 2022. They will be based on a new 2D-animated TV show, Berry in the Big City, which launches this fall on WildBrain Spark’s YouTube channel. The series consists of 40 four-minute episodes for children ages 3–6, with new episodes dropping every Saturday through June 2022.
The show brings Strawberry Shortcake, her cat Custard, and her friends Orange Blossom, Lime Chiffon, Lemon Meringue, and Blueberry Muffin to New York to run a food truck for baked goods.
“Strawberry Shortcake has been a staple of children’s publishing since the 1980s,” said Casey Nugent, associate publishing manager, brands and licenses, at Penguin Workshop. “This is a new look for Strawberry and her friends. It’s a modernization of everything that makes Strawberry Shortcake appealing to families, and it’s a great way to introduce the property to a new generation of girls who have never encountered it before.” Nugent noted that the show includes popular current themes, including baking, food trucks, and blogging. “With all of that, we can’t go wrong.”
Penguin has long been involved with Strawberry Shortcake, including its 2003 and 2010 iterations. Its last frontlist title was published in 2016, as the new IP owner wanted to clear the market of merchandise in anticipation of the current relaunch. Now, in the months leading up to the launch of the new books, it will reprint some of its key backlist titles, especially 8x8s.
The initial focus for the new titles will also be on episode-based 8x8s, always a key format for the property, according to Nugent. Two of the three titles on the first list will be 8x8s, with the third a sticker and activity book. Future plans include board books, picture books, and potentially cookbooks.
Wildbrain CPLG has announced a second 40-episode season of the TV series. Its other initiatives to support the relaunch include streaming TV specials, a Roblox game called Baking with Strawberry Shortcake, which will debut on October 2, live events, and music videos, along with a wide range of consumer products. Moose Toys is the master toy partner, with other licensees including Naturipe, Sunkist Growers, and Envy Apples for fresh fruit, Langers for juice, Zolli Candy for dentist-approved lollipops, Dippin’ Dots for ice cream treats, and Challenge for butter. The Snip-Its chain of kids’ hair salons is also on board.
Over its lifetime, Strawberry Shortcake has driven purchases of more than five million dolls and has generated $4 billion in consumer products sales at retail worldwide.
The Little Prince Flies to Canada and Chouette
Canadian publisher Chouette has acquired the publishing rights to The Little Prince for ancillary publishing formats including board books, cloth books, novelty books, paperbacks, 6x9 readers, and vinyl bath books. The publisher holds all rights for North America in these formats, along with global English-language rights. The books are being published under Chouette’s Crackboom! imprint, which specializes in innovative formats that spark curiosity and imagination in readers up to nine.
Licensing Works!, which represents The Little Prince for licensing in North America on behalf of global licensor SOGEXZ, reached out to Chouette. “I read The Little Prince in school, like everyone, and loved it,” said Simon Payette, Chouette’s license and business development manager and general manager. “It’s such a great book that it’s difficult to reach up to this level of quality, but we thought we could bring a little something in terms of trying to make it more appealing to a younger age group.”
The first release is Goodnight, Little Prince: A Nightlight Book, for ages 3 and up, coming out this October. In April 2022 will come The Little Prince: My Book of Feelings and The Little Prince Around the World, the latter featuring artwork that was created by author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry for a series of stamps in France. The final book, a touch-and-feel title called The Little Prince: Where Are You, Fox?, is planned for a release in late summer or early fall.
Titles are all listed as being for 3 and up, but each has a slightly different sweet spot when it comes to the age of the reader. The touch-and-feel is at the lower end of the spectrum, for example, while Around the World is more for younger school-age readers. Future titles are in the works, including potentially a mindfulness journal for young children to work through concepts such as gratitude, exploring their emotions, and being positive about the world around them.
The portrayals of the characters are all Saint-Exupéry’s original drawings. “We play a little with them to make sure they pop as much as they can and are the best possible visuals for the titles,” Payette said.
Chouette is publishing the books in English and French in Canada, and is planning to offer some titles in French in the U.S. as well, given the French roots of the story. Payette is also speaking with publishers about U.S. Spanish-language rights. “The Little Prince is huge in the Spanish world,” Payette said.
“We don’t usually get the chance to work on such a huge license,” he added. “It’s the most-read title in the world after the Bible.”
Scholastic Finds New ‘Friends’
Scholastic has secured publishing rights from Warner Bros. Consumer Products to publish children’s books tied to the TV series Friends.
The program will kick off in November with a picture book, Life is Better with Friends, which highlights the personalities and friendships of the characters, illustrated by iconic scenes from the show. For example, the “pivot scene,” where Ross, Rachel, and Chandler try to bring a couch up a staircase, illustrates how the friends work together. The picture book will be accompanied by The Official Friends Coloring Book, an advanced coloring title that represents the first official coloring book for the brand.
A third release, The Official Friends Quiz and Fill-In Book, comes out next spring, with more titles in development for later in 2022.
Friends aired from 1994 to 2004 and has gained even more fans since then through repeats on TV and streaming platforms. Viewership research shows that teens and tweens are watching with their families, propelling the show to number one during the pandemic, said Debra Dorfman, v-p and publisher, global licensing, media and brands at Scholastic. The recent reunion show attracted strong publicity and viewership and the consumer products program, which includes t-shirts, accessories, cosmetics, Lego sets, and more, has been selling well.
“It’s just an iconic show,” Dorfman said. “I’m a huge Friends fan. I watch the reruns almost every night.” While the book is geared toward kids, she thinks there will be a wide audience. “I do think there’s going to be a big tween and teen market. Adults will see it when they’re in the kids’ section, and I think some accounts will probably place it in other departments.” She expects the titles would also do well in accounts like Urban Outfitters and Hot Topic. “I think it’s a great gift buy.”
Online sales also have strong potential, Dorfman believes, due to the heavy social media presence for the property. Famous moments from the show—many of which are portrayed in the book—appear often as memes, and Warner Bros.’ review of the book’s cover generated significant excitement online. “It was huge,” Dorfman said. “We got so many likes.”
The books are illustrated with a chibi art style that has been incorporated into many other Friends licensed products. “We wanted a cool, clean, kid-friendly look and decided to use the same style that the other consumer products were using,” Dorfman explained. “Everyone loves that look.”
The deal was under discussion for a long time before Warner Bros. was ready to take the plunge. “Many, many years ago we were on the Warner Bros. lot for Harry Potter,” Dorfman recalled. “People who visit the lot can’t wait to go and sit in Central Perk [the coffee shop in the series], myself included. I was sitting on the Friends couch and I thought, we should be doing picture books and novelty books. So we’ve been talking about it forever.”
A Beautiful Day in Thunder Bay’s Neighborhood
Thunder Bay Press, the adult interactive activity and reference imprint of Printers Row Publishing Group, has acquired rights to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood from Fred Rogers Productions.
“Mister Rogers has always been high on our list,” said Peter Norton, Thunder Bay’s v-p of publishing. “It’s just the positivity of Mister Rogers, and the kindness and neighborliness, and the nostalgia. He treated kids as equals and encouraged kids of all ages to stay curious. The lessons are just as meaningful today as they were then.”
The first two titles are Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: Pieces of Wisdom Jigsaw Puzzle Book, a format featuring nine two-sided, 96-piece puzzles depicting scenes and phrases from the series (October 5, 2021), and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Crochet, featuring patterns and instructions to make Mister Rogers, the characters in the Land of Make-Believe, and the trolley (spring 2022). “We’re trying to put as much positive content in there as we can,” Norton said.
The company hopes to do more titles in the future. “This is a license where we do see big opportunities for some of our other formats,” Norton said. Thunder Bay publishes books on rock painting, scratch art, sticker art, and embroidery, among other subjects.
The imprint began building its licensing program just over three years ago. Other new licenses include The Office, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Mandalorian, adding to a list that already includes Frozen and other Disney properties, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Bob Ross, and Friends. “Children’s licensing is a massive business, but on the adult nonfiction activity side there are fewer players,” Norton said. “We are filling a void by threading the needle, pun intended, between family activities and nostalgia. We’re creating content that resonates with people of all ages and bridges the generations with positive content.”
Grove Street Partners with NBA Hall of Famer Wilkins
Grove Street Publishing, a start-up publisher of physical book titles for children that are enhanced with augmented reality, has entered into a partnership with NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins for a line of books for children. The titles, for kids ages 5–9, highlight themes of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The company anticipates releasing the first title by the end of 2021.
The first book puts a character based on Wilkins in a fictional universe where he needs to use his basketball skills to get out of a precarious position and perhaps save the world. The book’s augmented-reality features will allow readers to see the story come to life on their mobile device. A custom plush basketball also will be available for purchase. A portion of each sale will be donated to the nonprofit organization KultureCity, which creates inclusive experiences for individuals with sensory disabilities.
The deal came about when Kevin Phun, CEO and co-founder of Grove Street Publishing, was browsing on LinkedIn shortly after watching the NBA finals and thinking about creating some books that bridged sports and storytelling. He stumbled upon Wilkins’ profile. Although he did not know if it was really Wilkins, he decided to send a message and was surprised to get a response. In a follow-up call, the two realized they had a similar vision about children’s education and entertainment, leading to the partnership.
Meanwhile, educators, nonprofits, and librarians had been asking whether GSP had content with themes of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and only about 10% of titles available through its online platform, Grover, did. In researching the market, Phun noticed that the books focused on DE&I often contain less-than-ideal storytelling. “We wanted to create great stories that pass along these important messages,” he said.
GSP launched in August 2020, with the first title—The Fibbing Giraffe, written by Phun with David White, GSP’s chief creative officer—coming out later that year. The platform now has 100 titles, including three from Grove Street alongside books from other publishers. The company recently signed a deal with toy company ROYBI, a bilingual and educational robot powered by artificial intelligence, to co-create a character and content based on that brand.
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