Scholastic has been named the global master publishing partner for Alma’s Way, the animated TV series created by Sonia Manzano, the actor best known for her long-time role as Maria on Sesame Street. Scholastic acquired the license from Fred Rogers Productions for the show, which airs on PBS Kids.
“Sonia Manzano is an in-house favorite, and so iconic,” said Debra Dorfman, Scholastic v-p and publisher, global licensing, brands, and media. “To know she was really involved in the show the way she is, and then with Fred Rogers Productions behind it, it was the perfect combination. Fred Rogers Productions is the best. They know kids.”
“Scholastic was one of the first companies we reached out to when the show was still in pilot,” said Matt Shiels, v-p of business and legal affairs at FRP. “They met us at our level of enthusiasm.” He cites the Scholastic Book Fairs as particularly appealing, as well as Scholastic’s ability to do a true bilingual program, a first for FRP.
The first three Alma’s Way titles will launch in spring 2023, including two bilingual 8x8s, with English and Spanish versions of the story appearing on each spread, plus an early reader that will be published in separate English and Spanish editions. The first 8x8 is Alma the Artist, based on episode two of the series, and the early reader is Junior’s Lost Tooth, based on an early fan-favorite episode featuring Alma’s brother. The third title is still to be determined.
Scholastic also holds rights to board books; jacketed hardcover picture books; novelty, activity, and sticker books; phonics; bind-ups and box sets; and e-books and audio books, as well as non-exclusive rights to sticker and activity books outside the U.S.
The 40 half-hour episodes of the TV series, which highlights Latino culture through language, food, and music, feature six-year-old Alma, a confident Puerto Rican girl who lives with her multigenerational family in the Bronx. As Alma figures out how to navigate everyday issues, she models social-emotional skills such as empathy, responsible decision-making, and self-awareness.
“It’s a unique show in its way,” Shiels said. He noted that Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, another FRP production, is about the fundamentals of social-emotional learning, while Alma’s Way takes those skills to a slightly older audience. “It’s about how every child has an ability to think things through. Alma has good intentions, but sometimes things go sideways. When they do, she shows you that you can figure out how to move forward by thinking things through and assessing the emotions of those around you.” Shiels believes that Alma’s thought process can be carried into the books as well.
Shiels is also looking forward to seeing how the books can bring the Bronx setting to life. The producers of the series went with Manzano to the Bronx before production to get a sense of the rhythm, flavors, and sounds. “They really captured it well in the artwork and you’ll see that in the books as well.”
“Alma is a really great role model,” Dorfman said. “I think she’s going to be aspirational for younger kids. She’s a confident little girl who loves her family and shows empathy for others. I know she’s animated, but I talk about her like she’s a real girl, because she seems like it.”
Currently all the books are episode-based, but original publishing is a possibility going forward, including, potentially, a title authored by Manzano, according to Dorfman. Manzano wrote Becoming Maria for Scholastic a few years ago and has a middle-grade book, Coming Up Cuban, set for this August. “She’s a real storyteller,” Dorfman said. “And the story in Alma’s Way is so rich, and there are really interesting characters that could break out into their own books. There’s a lot of room for original stories. We’ve done that with older properties, but not so much with younger series, which is exciting.”
Dorfman said that publishing plans will be aligned with other consumer products activity. The property is represented by Brand Central for licensing and plans are in place for toys, apparel, bedding, costumes, and all the typical categories for this age group.