The Magical Tales in Wonderland

The Magical Tales is one of a handful of licensees offering products tied to the Disney Junior series Alice’s Wonderland Bakery in its first season, adding three book-plus titles to its expanding Disney line. All three Season 1 titles will be exclusive to CVS for the back-to-school season before going out to mass retailers at large in 2023. More titles for Season 2 are in development.

The initial offering includes Whisk, Bake, Sprinkle, which includes an apron and recipes; Alice’s Wonderland Bakery Cupcake Kit, which encompasses all the items required to set up a cupcake stand, and Alice’s Wonderland Bakery Tea Party Playset, with everything needed to hold a tea party for four. All the sets include a board book containing an original story that complements the gift items.

In the more than two years since it first began working with Disney, The Magic Tales has released a range of titles, from a Mickey Mouse advent calendar—a particularly successful format for The Magical Tales across a number of Disney’s properties—to a Cinderella gratefulness journal, to one of its most recent releases, Dumbo: It’s Time for Night Night. For the future, the publisher is developing a mindfulness series that will incorporate a number of Disney characters.

The fact that the books are packaged with additional products helps secure placement throughout mass retail departments beyond the book aisle. The Dumbo title will be featured in the children’s apparel department at one retailer; other possibilities are bakeries, impulse sections, and toy departments (which is where CVS will carry its Alice titles). “We can work with the buyers to see where it fits in a store, beyond just the book department, and that’s been beneficial,” said Patricia Cardello, owner of The Magical Tales. The company just signed a deal with Readerlink, which will take over distribution of all of its titles.

During the pandemic, Cardello said she put a lot of her efforts where the revenues were, and that was the Disney license. In 2023, at the request of retailers, the company is refocusing on its proprietary The Magical Tales line, reformatting some of the old titles and adding new titles to the assortment, in addition to continuing to expand its Disney range.

Moxie & Co. Thinks Pink with Eloise

Moxie & Co. is now representing Kay Thompson’s Eloise children’s book series, illustrated by Hilary Knight, for licensing on behalf of Handmade Films, which secured entertainment and licensing rights in 2019. A feature film is in development, but the licensing program will be based on the classic books, according to Arlene Scanlan, co-founder of Moxie & Co.

“I’ve always loved Eloise personally,” she said. “Little girls love Eloise as they always have. It’s so precious and entertaining, and the art is so adorable. Simon & Schuster still sells a ton of Eloise books.”

The rights to the property had been in flux for some time until Handmade Films took over. Scanlan was introduced to Handmade by Jon Anderson, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, which is one of Moxie’s clients. “He said we should talk to them, since they were reviving it,” Scanlan said. “We finally put a deal together and were ready to show it two years ago at Licensing Expo, but then the pandemic hit.” The property will finally be formally introduced to the trade next week at this year’s Licensing Expo.

Licensees Yottoy and Tonies are already making products tied to the property, the former including plush and gift items and the latter audio content. Moxie has at least a half dozen new deals in the works, with plans including categories such as apparel, greeting cards, food, bedding, and puzzles. In September, Saks Fifth Avenue will feature an in-store and online exclusive promotion highlighting Yottoy’s 18-inch Eloise doll and a custom Saks shopping bag; the initiative may also include the products of two new licensees, namely pajamas from Hatley and pink hot chocolate from McSteven’s. A separate promotion is also being planned with the Eloise shop at The Plaza Hotel.

Eloise has been licensed in the past. “Twenty years ago there were 50 licensees,” Scanlan said. “We went back to a lot of them and they said yes immediately.”

Separately, Moxie has been working with Simon & Schuster on some significant initiatives, including a TV series in development with Lion Forge Entertainment for Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and an experiential exhibit in the works for Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.

Highlights Adds to Licensed Publishing Program

Highlights uses licensing to expand beyond its core trade channels, such as into mass and value stores, with titles tied to its Highlights Learning brand and to the activities well known from the pages of its magazines, notably Hidden Pictures. It has recently added a new licensee and expanded the programs of some of its other publishing partners.

The new addition is Playstories, a maker of personalized storybooks based in Brazil. It is creating personalized versions of three Highlights board books—The ABCs of Kindness, Kindness Counts 123, and We’re Better Together: A Book of Community—in personalized editions to be published in summer of 2022.

Playstories’ platform allows readers to do more than just insert their names. They can select skin color, clothing, glasses, and other features, with more than 200 combinations possible. “The depth and breadth of personalization is really impressive,” said Jodie Cohen, Highlights’ director of marketing, licensing, and partnerships. “It really helps the readers see themselves in the book.” Highlights is one of the first licenses Playstories has secured for the U.S. market.

In addition to the new Playstories deal, Highlights has extended its deal with Bendon Publishing to include Imagine Ink titles in addition to its existing line of value-channel educational workbooks. The extension brings the Highlights brand into other distribution channels beyond the value stores that are the sweet spot for Bendon’s Highlights workbooks. In addition, Papp International, which previously published a single color-by-number title tied to Highlights Hidden Pictures content, is adding three new titles to its line.

Beyond publishing, Highlights signed Playtek as its new master licensee for learning and activity toys, with a debut set for 2023. “They’re working closely with the editorial team to create a product that stays true to our mission,” Cohen said. Playtek joins existing licensees Buffalo Games (board game), Baketivity (kindness cookies kit), Educational Insights (Hot Dots Jr. interactive workbooks), and Leap Year (boxed puzzles and card games).

Peeka to Create VR Experiences for HarperCollins Titles

Virtual reality platform Peeka has signed a deal with HarperCollins to create virtual-reality experiences based on three of its titles: I Want to Be a Doctor by Laura Driscoll, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri; Zuri Ray Tries Ballet by Tai Charles, illustrated by Sharon Sordo; and Peppermint Post by Bruce Hale, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis.

The experiences are downloadable through the Peeka app and can be viewed on a mobile phone or, for the full experience, through virtual-reality headsets of any type, available from Peeka or any number of other suppliers. Michael Wong, CEO of Peeka, said that the virtual-reality experience is another way to introduce kids to book content and bring them back to reading. At the same time, beloved book content in VR form can help expand the audience for virtual reality. “VR is also a supreme empathy tool, because you can jump into the shoes of a different person,” Wong said.

The license with HarperCollins has been a long time coming. Peeka pitched the idea to major children’s publishers back in 2016 but was directed to try independent publishers instead. It did just that, pairing with companies like Educate2Empower Publishing, which offers picture books about hard-to-discuss subjects like gender, diversity, and body safety and consent. The HarperCollins deal marks Peeka’s first with one of the publishing giants. “We’re finally hitting the momentum phase after six years,” Wong said.

He likened the VR experience to a Disneyland theme park ride, where you travel through a story while surrounded by a 3D version of the world depicted in the book. Users can go through at their own pace and stop to look at features along the way. “You’re really part of the story,” Wong said. “You see what’s going on around you, beyond what’s on the page.”

Peeka is in talks with other publishers about licensing their titles, as well as with entertainment and toy licensors that have publishing archives, such as the Smurfs and Legos of the world. These companies tend to be more receptive than traditional publishers to the idea of VR editions of their books, Wong said. “They own their publishing rights and they’re very excited for VR.”

In Brief

Cyber Group Studios has named United Smile as the worldwide master toy licensee for Gigantosaurus, the book-based 3D-animated TV series. U.K. agent bRAND-WARD brokered the deal…. Diane Alber’s A Little Spot, represented for consumer products by Surge Licensing, has signed Tomy International as its global master toy licensee. Products will include plush toys and plastic figures, all focused on social-emotional learning…. Quarto’s Little People Big Dreams series of biographies for children aged 3–7 has retained U.K.-based Rocket Licensing as its global licensing agent. Products under consideration include apparel, dress-up, games and puzzles, publishing, stationery, and gifting.