Hasbro Pairs with RH, S&S for New Children’s Programs

Hasbro has announced publishing initiatives based on new iterations of two of its franchises, Dungeons & Dragons and Transformers. The news was released at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair earlier this month.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, the March 31 film based on the gaming franchise, has inspired a series of tie-ins from Random House Children’s Books, which released an 8x8, Level 3 Ready to Read, sticker-activity book, junior novelization, and deluxe junior novelization on March 7. In addition, sibling imprint Random House Worlds released two tie-in prequels for YA-and-older readers , The Druid’s Call by E.K. Johnston and The Road to Never Winter by Jaleigh Johnson, while IDW is offering a prequel comic, The Feast of the Moon.

The Dungeons & Dragons franchise has already taken hold among young readers through HarperCollins’s middle-grade Dungeon Academy series, which debuted with two titles last November. Four additional books are set for 2023, with more planned for 2024. “The success of these has really been phenomenal,” said Michael Kelly, Hasbro’s v-p of global publishing. “This is a unique storytelling brand. We know the fans are readers and love storytelling, since that’s what the game is about. And they enjoy discovering new stories in the books. The success of Dragon Academy shows us that.”

The movie provides an opportunity to build on that foundation among young readers. “It looks like an all-ages romp around the world of Dungeons & Dragons,” Kelly said. When it comes to tie-ins, “it’s been quite a while since we’ve had this much excitement around a movie program.”

Meanwhile, the Nickelodeon TV series Transformers: EarthSpark, which launched in fall 2022, will be the basis of a series of books for young readers from Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, a new partner for the Transformers franchise.

“I think EarthSpark is some of the most exciting animation there has been for Transformers,” Kelly said. “It’s a unique story in that it’s the first time where Earth characters have a symbiotic relationship with Transformers characters.” In the show, two children in Pennsylvania find a crystal in a cave and, when they touch it, two new Transformers characters, known as Terrans, come to life with a little bit of human DNA. This marks the first time in the franchise that Transformers characters have been “born” off their home planet of Cybertron.

Transformers have always been sentient, but it can be hard to convey that through giant robot characters, Kelly explained. “Here we can really show a coming-of-age story where we’re introducing the two Terrans and they’re learning about the environment around them,” he said. “The emotions we have, we can see in the Transformers. It’s still an adventure story, but it’s grounded and human. The storytelling is a fantastic way to bring a new audience into the brand, and then once that happens, there’s so much to grow into.”

Simon & Schuster’s EarthSpark books, which will launch in July, include a guidebook, an 8x8 of the origination story, and two ready-to-read titles for ages 6-10. Chapter books will follow. Before that, Simon & Schuster is releasing a children’s book program for the seventh Transformers feature film, Rise of the Beasts, in early May, consisting of a Level 2 reader and an 8x8. Bendon is releasing coloring and activity and Imagine Ink titles for the film.

Kelly likens the movie to the more family-friendly original 2007 Transformers movie or the younger-skewing Bumblebee (2018), rather than some of the recent sequels. “It’s close to those in tone and feeling,” he explained. “It’s not one of those films that’s just brushing the R rating; there’s still lots of action and the stakes are high, but it’s solidly PG-13.”

HarperCollins Pairs with Moose for Magic Mixies

HarperCollins Children’s Books has acquired the rights to Magic Mixies, a collectible toy line for children ages five to eight, from Moose Toys. The initial list includes three Level 1 I Can Read titles: Magic Mixies: Welcome to Mixia!, which came out on March 14, followed by Magic Mixies: A Mixed Up Adventure in July and Magic Mixies: Castle Chaos! in September. All are connected stories based on the first season of the YouTube show. “It’s such a hot property, we wanted to get it out as quickly as possible,” editor Alexandra West said.

“I first heard about Magic Mixies when it won the award for Creative Toy of the Year [from the Toy Association],” West continued. “Then I went to my local Target and it was clear it was the hottest toy in the store, with its own floor display.” After she approached Moose Toys’ licensing agent, Wildbrain CPLG, she confirmed how well the toys were selling and discovered that animation, consumer products, and games were on the way. “It’s a big step to create animation and they had already taken that step,” West said. “It showed me that they were ready to take it to the next level, and that they had the characters, lore, and art.”

The first toy, the Magic Mixies Cauldron, was released for the 2021 holiday period and became the top-selling toy of the season. Magic Mixies overall is currently the number-two brand in the plush category, behind Squishmallows, according to the NPD Group. The play involves putting magic ingredients in the cauldron, waving a magic wand, saying the magic words, and revealing a plush toy. Other products have followed, including a Castle Playset, a Magic Crystal Ball, and the collectible Mixlings line, which featured 40-plus characters in the first wave.

The cauldron, castle, and Mixlings all appear in the animated YouTube series on which the books are based. The show features a girl named Sienna, who finds a portal in her grandmother’s attic to the world of the Mixies. Two seasons of content on YouTube have generated more than 12 million views, and the brand in total has received more than 1 billion impressions for its marketing activities. In addition to the books, T-shirts from Bentex are currently available on Amazon.

Mango Teaches About Diverse Families with ‘Fay and Fluffy’

Mango Publishing has acquired the rights to release its first book tied to The Fabulous Show with Fay and Fluffy from Sinking Ship Entertainment and Lopii Productions. The show launched in Canada on WildBrain Television’s Family Jr. channel in February 2022 and stars two Canadian educators and drag performers, Fay Slift (JP Kane) and Fluffy Soufflé (Kaleb Robertson), who had previously gained renown through their drag storytime events in the Toronto area since 2016. Mango and Sinking Ship have been working together on tie-ins to Dino Dan and, starting this spring, Jane, an environmentally themed Apple TV+ series based on the work of Dr. Jane Goodall.

“When Sinking Ship reached out to us last August or September, we thought it was an incredible show with an important mission about acceptance,” said Hugo Villabona, Mango’s director of publishing operations. The editors turned to Mango’s data analysis team to take a look at what people were buying and what gaps existed in the market. “We had a lot of good data that this book made sense at the consumer level,” Villabona explained. “Parents are interested in helping their kids explore the world and teaching them about kindness and acceptance.”

Described as a humorous, educational storytime-based cabaret variety show for young children, the series’ primary themes are acceptance and kindness. It has a live, diverse audience; features puppet characters, animation segments, and special guests; and ends with a dance party. “Fay and Fluffy are educators who know how to talk to kids, and they just so happen to be dressed in drag,” Villabona said. On the show, the kids in the studio sometimes ask questions about how Fay and Fluffy are dressed, which they address straightforwardly with a message of acceptance and lack of judgment. “The show is not only harmless, but super-helpful,” said Villabona.

Intended as the first in a series, Mango’s inaugural title, which it hopes to publish in time for Pride Month in June, is The Fabulous Show with Fay and Fluffy Presents: The Fabulous Book About Family. It is written by the two CEOs of Lopii, identical twin sisters Georgina and Rennata Lopez, who executive produce the show. The book, an 8x8, 30-plus-page hardcover read-along format with a readership sweet spot of ages five to six, demonstrates the wide variety of families that exist. The book includes photos from the set as well as illustrations, and features activities and insights from real-life children along with the storytelling.

Although the show is only available in Canada to date, Mango plans to release the books in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia as well as Canada right from the start. “We love the characters and want to bring them beyond the audience that already knows them,” Villabona said.

The title is not without risks, given the political climate. “We were honest with Sinking Ship and Lopii that while we have done well with LGBTQ+ books in the past, we had no experience with them in the kids’ space,” Villabona recalled. “We are also in the state of Florida, and we shared our concerns about that. We said we wanted to do it and that that we knew readers, teachers, and librarians want books like this, but that we might run into problems. We’re fully expecting some blowback, and we’ll put up the fight when it happens. We’re excited to see how this goes.”

Scholastic Joins Global Learn with Peppa Program

Scholastic, a longtime North American publishing licensee for Peppa Pig, has been named the publishing partner for Learn with Peppa in the U.S. and Canada. The global brand extension first launched in the U.K. in January under license from Hasbro, with Penguin Random House imprint Ladybird being the global master licensee outside North America. The program also includes a dedicated website and a Hasbro-produced app.

“We’ve had so much fun with Peppa for so many years now, and we love a good brand extension,” said Debra Dorfman, Scholastic’s v-p and publisher, global licensing, media, and brands. “When Hasbro presented it to us, we saw that it integrated story with all of these different pillars of learning, and that made sense to us.” She noted that all Peppa stories have some sort of life lesson, and that Scholastic has published more overtly educational titles in the past that have done well. But the umbrella brand and the learning framework that Hasbro and Ladybird developed in coordination with educational experts set this program apart, she said. “It’s a good fit for our supplemental school channels, but it’s a great trade program as well.”

Ladybird launched with a full array of more than 80 titles, but Scholastic’s calendar will be more measured. The first title, 5-Minute Phonics, will release in May. This is a new format at Scholastic, a 96-page reader with five stories and five activities, that is also being married with other properties, including Pokémon and Gabby’s Dollhouse. A math-based abacus book will be released in the fall, with a social emotional learning title and a preschool science title (allowing young readers to get to know the world around them) in 2024.

The latter two will be 8x8s for the school channel, but the retail version will likely be slightly different. “We want a way to differentiate it from the regular Peppa 8x8 program,” Dorfman said. “There will be a clear message about the educational theme, so parents will know there’s a learning concept.” Many of the titles in the program will be U.S. adaptations of Ladybird titles, but there are likely to be some titles created specifically for the U.S. market as well.

The Learn with Peppa framework covers seven preschool-appropriate categories of learning: the body, creativity, math, English/reading, emotions, our world/science, and community. Michael Kelly, Hasbro’s v-p of global publishing, said the program, being worldwide in scope, is not tied to a specific curriculum, as those vary by country, state, and local district. “But it’s more in-depth than the soft learning that you see with traditional ABCs and 123s,” he said. “There’s a progression and it measures stages of learning, so parents can evaluate their child’s progress.”

Meanwhile, Scholastic’s regular Peppa program continues, with a minimum of seven titles per year plus some exclusive titles for the school market; 8x8s, readers, and novelty books are at the core. Proprietary titles are also developed for Costco and Sam’s. “Peppa’s the gift that keeps on giving,” Dorfman said. “Everybody loves Peppa.”

Fairy Tale Publisher Anboran Retains Spotlight as Brand-Extension Agency

Anboran, a publisher of fairy tales told from the perspective of characters of color, has retained Spotlight Licensing and Brand Management to help it expand its themes and imagery into new consumer product categories. The company, headed by Ronnie Anderson Jr., who writes and publishes all of the books, had already signed Mad Engine Global as its licensee for apparel before hiring Spotlight; Mad Engine’s products are available on the e-commerce sites of Walmart, Target, Sears, Amazon, Hot Topic, and Box Lunch.

Spotlight has a long relationship with Mad Engine and the company alerted it to Anboran’s work. “Mad Engine always has a great sense of the market, and everyone there loved it,” said Carole Postal, Spotlight’s president. “It really fills a need, in a beautiful way. There’s not much out there that’s like this, and there’s a market for it.”

One of the first orders of business is to sign a publisher to carry on with the book series, which so far includes titles such as Five Amazing Fairytales, Changing Beautiful, The Candlemaker and the Moon, Restoring Joy, Everla and the Stone Prince, and The Hairless Bear. “Ronnie is doing a lot of local grassroots marketing and is a great ambassador for his brand,” Postal said. “We want to place the books with a leading publisher, so the stories go out into the world in a bigger way. Publishing is a platform from which to build.”

Plans also include a variety of products that complement what Mad Engine is doing in apparel, including dolls, toys, costumes, games, puzzles, stationery, greeting cards, digital apps, arts and crafts, and room décor, among other categories.

The fact that the property is not yet well known to mainstream consumers is not a barrier to success, said Postal, given the nature of the property and the need for storytelling told through diverse perspectives. “Licensing has gotten so oversaturated, even if you have entertainment and publishing there’s no guarantee the market will be receptive,” she said. “You have to have something extraordinary to make it to the top, and this is extraordinary.”

In Brief

Angry Birds licensor Rovio announced that IMG would become its exclusive global agent for book, audio, and comic book publishing, putting all licensing, location-based entertainment, and publishing rights with the same agency for the first time. IMG began representing Angry Birds for consumer products licensing in 2020.... Scholastic will publish One Piece: The Official Coloring Book, a title for ages 7–10 based on the classic anime property, on August 1, followed by a how-to-draw title. Toei Animation is the licensor.... MerryMakers licensed Dav Pilkey’s Cat Kid Comic Club to University Games, also extending the license for Pilkey’s Dog Man with the company, which has released games and puzzles for the latter property since 2019.... Dr. Seuss Enterprises and Creative Minds Publications partnered with the NFL for the seventh annual Tackle Reading event on March 2. NFL athletes, cheerleaders, and mascots made appearances in select schools for Dr. Seuss-themed activities, including players reading Dr. Seuss books to the students. Participating schools also received a Dr. Seuss book and Dr. Seuss licensed products including school supplies from Geddes, t-shirts from Life Is Good and hats from Fun.com.... Spin Master launched a new franchise, starting with an original film and TV series on Netflix, based on Unicorn Academy, the book series by Julie Sykes published by Random House in North America. Toys and consumer products will follow in 2024.