Little, Brown and Xist Go Deep into Irish Folklore with Cartoon Saloon
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Xist Publishing are expanding their graphic novel and early reader programs, respectively, tied to Cartoon Saloon’s Irish Folklore Trilogy film series. The two companies first released titles in conjunction with the third film in the series, WolfWalkers, which premiered in 2020. Now both plan to release additional titles tied to the first two movies in the trilogy, The Secret of Kells (released in 2009) and Song of the Sea (2014). The three films are related thematically and conceptually, but are not a continuous trilogy.
Both publishers first connected with Cartoon Saloon at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas prior to the pandemic. “I had no idea what I was walking into,” said Samantha Schutz, editorial director of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. “My jaw dropped and I was sitting on the edge of my seat. When we left the meeting I said, ‘This is so gorgeous. We have to have this.’ ”
Calee Lee, founder and CEO of Xist, was familiar with the property. “I’ve personally been a big fan of Cartoon Saloon’s work since The Secret of Kells came out,” Lee said. “I love these movies so much. The art is absolutely gorgeous and unique, and the hand-drawn animation lends itself well to books.”
Little, Brown’s titles are graphic novels in jacketed hardcover, paperback, and e-book editions. “We want these books to be extra special,” Schutz said. “We want them to be essential to the fans and also attract readers who have never heard of the movies. We’re thrilled with how the first book has been received and how strong the sales were.”
Cartoon Saloon co-founder and creator of the film trilogy, Tomm Moore, played a big role in creating and curating art for the books, Schutz said, even adding scenes that were deleted from the film. He is also writing an 18-page original graphic novel short story that takes place in the same world, which will be included in Song of the Sea. “I don’t even like to call these books movie tie-ins,” Schutz said. “The content and the hand-drawn visuals are so fabulous, it truly feels like the book came first.” LBYR’s Song of the Sea is set to publish in March 2023, and Secret of Kells will round out the trilogy in March 2024. WolfWalkers was released in December 2020.
Xist’s line of early readers—four titles tied to WolfWalkers so far—have also done well, particularly the digital versions that form the core of Xist’s business. “We’re seeing these titles in our top 20,” Lee said. “Hundreds of thousands of kids last quarter read these books. I think we’re bringing the titles to a pretty broad audience and bringing that audience back to the films.” Sales have been steadily growing each quarter since the first books were released in spring 2021.
The pandemic has caused a slower-than-expected rollout of Xist’s publishing program, but six Secrets of Kells books are set to release this fall, in time for the holiday season, while four to six based on Song of the Sea will come out in 2023. “We want to give them the space, publicity, and bandwidth they deserve,” Lee said.
The property is Xist’s first major media tie-in, but the company is looking to do more in the future. “We have a significant niche audience that can help build these brands,” she said.
Kids Can Supports STEM with 'Elinor'
Kids Can Press has acquired the license to publish children’s graphic novels and picture books based on the STEM-centric TV series Elinor Wonders Why, which debuted in September 2020 on PBS Kids’ broadcast and streaming channels. The series, for kids ages three to five, centers on bunny Elinor and her friends, bat Ari and elephant Olive, who explore Animal Town and learn lessons about respecting others, caring for the environment, the importance of diversity, and working together to solve problems.
“The characters are adorable,” said Lisa Lyons Johnston, president and publisher at Kids Can Press, who first became interested in the property when she saw early versions of the characters over the shoulder of an animator while she was on a tour of Pipeline Studios, which produces the animation. Ultimately she ended up pursuing the rights from licensor Shoe Ink. “The property is a good fit for both the educational market and retailers across North America, and we felt we would find a home for Elinor in all of those channels.”
The STEM content was also a draw. “We know that girls’ interest in science tends to wane over time, so it was appealing to me personally that it had a little girl as a main character who was interested in science,” Lyons Johnston said.
The first two titles, Elinor Wonders Why: Hiding in Plain Sight and Elinor Wonders Why: Forest Giants, are graphic novels and will kick off the publishing program in fall 2022. Two more graphic novels, Elinor Wonders Why: Bugging Out and Elinor Wonders Why: How to Carry a Cupcake, are scheduled for spring 2023. “Graphic novels are doing very well in the market right now, and the content and graphics lend themselves beautifully to this format,” Lyons Johnston said.
In fall 2023 and spring 2024, the first two picture books based on the property will be released. Like the graphic novels, they will be based on episodes in the TV series. While the publishing plans are limited to graphic novels and picture books for now, Kids Can Press also has rights to nonfiction books and chapter books for young readers.
The series’ co-creators, Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson, both of whom are physicists, are heavily involved in the creation of the books, including writing some of the titles. Cham writes the online comic Piled Higher and Deeper and Cham and Whiteson have previously collaborated on a book for adults, We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe. They also have a podcast, Daniel & Jorge Explain the Universe. This is Cham’s and Whiteson’s first foray into children’s books.
“The show is a ratings hit and the early reaction to the books in the marketplace has been very strong in pre-release,” Lyons Johnston said. “It’s been received warmly and preorders are strong in all channels.”
HarperCollins Returns to the World of My Little Pony
In early 2021, Hasbro released its first books as the new master publishing licensee for My Little Pony, after long-time licensee Little, Brown Books for Young Readers’ license expired. Harper had been Hasbro’s partner on the property before LBYR secured the rights more than 10 years ago. “It’s one of those classics that’s always going to be reborn in a new way,” said Tomas Palacios, executive editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books.
The program has nine titles to date, with a mix of movie, TV, and YouTube tie-ins, holiday titles, I Can Read and I Can Read Comics (the latter a new format from HarperAlley), 8x8 storybooks, modernized versions of older formats including 5-Minute Stories, and more, with a variety of art styles.
Several of the titles are tied to the property’s new 3D animation, which was introduced in a Netflix movie, My Little Pony: A New Generation, released in September 2021. “It was such a shift in how it looked, but it worked,” Palacios said. “The movie tie-ins are selling like hotcakes, and are still selling week to week. We can’t stop printing.” An I Can Read title tied to the movie was the first to feature the new look and is the bestselling book in the program to date.
The film was followed by a special in May 2022. A TV series, My Little Pony: Make Your Mark, will debut in September, followed by another special in November. All will have the new 3D look.
The publishing program also includes a number of original titles. In an unusual move for a major entertainment licensing program, some, including the I Can Read Comics title, feature a new 2D art style created and pitched by HarperCollins and embraced by Hasbro, which collaborated with Harper to finalize the look. An Easter title, My Little Pony: Easter Egg Surprise!, features a brand-new holiday story and has sold very well, Palacios said. A Christmas title is coming this fall.
Ultimately, the list will likely include about 75% tried-and-true formats and 25% unique concepts. A variety of ideas are being tossed around for potential future titles, indicating the property’s versatility. They range from a HarperChapters title (a four-color early chapter book that falls between an I Can Read book and a middle-grade reader), to a choose-your-own-adventure style title, to an advent calendar-type Halloween story with doors to open as you read along to reveal a surprise inside.
Other My Little Pony publishing licensees include long-time partners IDW for comic books and Bendon Publishing for coloring and activity titles.
Merrymakers Says 'Let’s Go' to ¡Vamos! Licensing Program
The World of ¡Vamos! picture book series, written and illustrated by Raúl the Third with color by Elaine Bay, is extending into consumer products, with MerryMakers newly representing the property for licensing. MerryMakers also serves as the property’s plush licensee, and that line has secured retail placement at Barnes & Noble.
The initial reaction at Licensing Expo 2022, where the property was introduced for licensing, was enthusiastic. “Everyone was all ears,” said Clair Frederick, MerryMakers president. “You could see people’s minds churn with the possibilities. Just to look at it sparked ideas.”
Several attributes are appealing to licensees. “It’s about building community, looking outward into the world, and building a bridge between communities,” Frederick said. “And it’s so colorful and fun. The art has so many layers, and lots to look at. It’s a very sophisticated, rich property with very broad appeal.”
The series, which stars lucha libre-loving Little Lobo and takes place along the border between El Paso, Tex., and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where the author grew up, has cross-cultural themes that are also appealing to many licensees and retailers.
Raúl has been actively promoting the plush line and is willing to support the licensing program, such as y creating custom art when needed. “He’s been so enthusiastic and supportive of our efforts, on social media and beyond, doing unboxings and posting IG Stories,” Frederick said. “He has taken to this with so much energy and is so capable, interested, and enthusiastic in making the product the best it can be.”
Potential licensees in all key categories have expressed interest, including home goods, calendars, games and puzzles, and apparel sold through a variety of retail channels. The first products are expected to be available by the end of this year. Classroom supplies and décor are also likely to be a key category, with particular relevance to the next two books planned for the series, ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Read and ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to School.
The publishing program has expanded into an early reader graphic novel series, El Toro and Friends, which takes place when the characters are small children, with three titles to date. “They are cute beyond belief, and important lessons in teamwork and confidence in your own abilities make these titles very fun and important,” Frederick said. There are also two titles in a series of Coco Rocho board books. Meanwhile, Raúl is currently adapting The World of ¡Vamos! into an animated television series with Silvergate Media and Mercury Filmworks.
“Raúl and Elaine have given us lots to work with,” Frederick said. “It’s an exciting property to launch, and it’s poised for continued growth.”
The core picture book series, which includes ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market (2019), ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat (2020), and ¡Vamos! Let’s Cross the Bridge (2021)—all of which have won Pura Belpré awards or honors, among others—will be the foundation of the licensing program initially.
Separately, MerryMakers is launching a licensing effort for the Cat Kid Comic Club brand, a spin-off of Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man franchise, which it also represents. Creativity is at the center of the Cat Kid program, with arts and crafts, paper products, creativity tools, and party goods among the products being considered. The program will allow the franchise to expand into some categories that have historically been off-limits for Dog Man.
Finally, MerryMakers’ program for Pete the Cat continues to expand, with Josmo Shoe Corp. being the latest licensee.
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