Choose Your Own Adventure Leans into Gaming
Chooseco, owner of the Choose Your Own Adventure brand of books and games, exhibited at Toy Fair for the first time in 2023 after having been scheduled to show its wares at the pandemic-canceled 2020 edition.
Pointing out that the franchise is as much game-based as book-based, Shannon Gilligan, co-founder and publisher at Chooseco, said the company’s products do very well in the channels that Toy Fair serves, including toy, game, and gift stores. Gilligan noted that, excluding sales through Ingram, gift and toy stores recently took over from bookshops as the company’s top direct-sales channel. “Bookstores are carrying more games as well,” she added.
Another driver of the brand’s recent success is the nostalgia factor. “We’ve seen a resurgence of all things 1980s, with the popularity of Stranger Things, and Choose Your Own Adventure is right in it,” Gilligan said.
Over the past five years, the brand has expanded into tabletop games with licensee Asmodee, with the first game published in 2017 and a second in 2018 together generating sales of more than 600,000 units. The brand has also moved into video games and has plans for a Tarot deck and guide for release in May 2024. In addition, the company has experimented with inbound licensing, releasing a co-branded Stranger Things: Heroes and Monsters title in the Choose Your Own Adventure book series, under license from Random House and Netflix, in April of this year. A Choose Your Own Adventure experience is on view at the Story Museum in Oxford, U.K., through March 2026; it features sequences from 28 classic CYOA titles peppered with clues for visitors to solve.
Underscoring its place as a game-based as much as a book-based property, Choose Your Own Adventure recently became the first brand rooted in publishing to be nominated as a finalist for the National Toy Hall of Fame, with its 11 competitors for the 2023 induction including Nerf, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Cabbage Patch Kids, baseball cards, and other famous toys and games.
Bendon Adds Candy and Cookies to Product Array
Bendon, known for its licensed coloring books and activity kits, continues to expand into more non-book categories with the acquisition of Primary Colors’ licensed candy and cookie lines. The deal was signed on September 29, just in time to announce it at Toy Fair in New York.
“It was a strategic move to expand into adjacent spaces at retail,” said Ben Ferguson, CEO of Bendon. He explained that the two companies sell to many of the same retail accounts, but in different departments, meaning that the deal expands Bendon’s footprint and generates incremental revenue within the store.
In addition, synergies exist between Bendon’s publishing and toy product and Primary Colors’ snacks—both companies hold many of the same licenses—creating opportunities for cross-merchandising to spur impulse purchases at Christmas, Halloween, or Easter, for example.
Primary Colors’ operations will be merged into Bendon’s, and the company is rebranding the licensed snack business, with cookies marketed under the Bendon Bites brand, candy under Bendon Sweets, and healthier snacks under Bendon Eats. Only one of Primary Colors’ executives, senior national sales manager Tyler McCrory—who worked at the publisher from 2005 to 2014—is coming to Bendon as part of the deal. Primary Colors’ ownership is retaining the company’s bakery business. Both companies are based in Ashland, Ohio.
Meanwhile, Bendon’s book and toy assortment continues to expand, with Pokémon, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Disney Wish among the new licenses in its portfolio; Hello Kitty and Lisa Frank seeing surging demand; and Bluey and Paw Patrol still going strong. Ferguson said the company’s new creative wood play line and its growing assortment of book-plus products are generating strong interest and sales from retailers.
Primary Colors is not Bendon’s first acquisition in recent years. In 2020, the company, which is owned by Irving Place Capital and Management, acquired T.S. Shure, a maker of creative play and hands-on learning products such as wooden magnet sets, mini activity tins, and jumbo floor puzzles.
Fox Chapel Pairs with ‘Paper Girls’ for First Licensed Tie-In Title
In its first-ever media tie-in, Fox Chapel Publishing has paired with The Paper Girls Show to publish a book for kids ages six to seven consisting of 20 beginner origami and paper crafts projects, all with a QR code that refers users to the episode of the series featuring that project, and 100 paper folding sheets. The book is set for a spring 2024 release.
“Collaborating with Paper Girls is an exciting opportunity for Fox Chapel to build on our achievements in the DIY book space, especially with origami,” said Elizabeth Martins, Fox Chapel’s director of public relations. “This collaboration presents a fantastic chance to introduce young minds to a brand that shares our dedication to engaging children with skill-building content that fosters critical thinking.”
The Paper Girls Show is an animated series that features best friends Caily and Reese as they think outside the box to solve everyday problems by making things. The action takes place in both the real word and in Confetti, a secret paper world of imagination and creativity. Each episode encourages viewers to follow the characters’ lead and create tangible solutions for their own lives. The series has won awards from Kidscreen, the Palm Springs International Animation Festival, and MIPTV.
Projects in the book range from a fashion dress to a musical note to a butterfly. Each activity teaches children to imagine, design, and create using narrative, digital technology, and physical paper crafts. Like the animated series, the book integrates foundational educational building blocks, organized into the categories of Making (covering STEAM concepts), Mindfulness (social-emotional learning), and Mistakes (growth mindset).
The Paper Girls Show comes from children’s media company Global Tinker, whose other projects include a graphic novel series, Style Engineers Worldwide, a podcast, Mindfulness Maker Program for Kids, and more.
Fox Chapel announced the new book just before Toy Fair, where it had an expanded 30-foot booth. It was showcasing titles from its new children’s nonfiction imprint, Curious Fox Books, which is launching with more than 30 titles in early spring 2024; new graphic novels based on its SEL series by creator Kayomi Harai, Ninja Kitties; and ongoing core programs such as its My Sticker Paintings line.
‘Claris’ Leaves Paris to Enter U.S. Market
Bunnies by the Bay and Pink Poppy are introducing the first products to the U.S. market tied to Megan Hess’s picture book series starring the fashionable mouse Claris. The property has an extensive range of licensed products available in Hess’s home country of Australia and in other global territories.
Bunnies by the Bay is distributing products from Australian licensee Jasnor, including apparel, plush, dolls, stationery sets, cutlery, drink bottles, tableware, baby clothing, and backpacks, while the U.S. division of Australian licensee Pink Poppy is debuting a selection of its children’s dress-up, apparel, jewelry, and accessories products. The merchandise was on display for the first time in this country at Toy Fair.
Hess has created seven picture books about Claris, starting with Claris: The Chicest Mouse in Paris, released in 2018, with the most recent being Claris: The Chicest Mouse in Paris: Pasta Disaster, out this month. The franchise has expanded into a second line of picture books starring Claris’s friends, marketed under The World of Claris banner; four seek-and-find books under the Where Is Claris? umbrella, each taking place in one of the fashion capitals of Paris, New York, London, and Rome; and three board books. All are published globally by Hardie Grant and distributed in the U.S. and Canada by Chronicle Books.
Hess is a fashion illustrator who contributed the drawings for Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City. She has written her own books for adults on the fashion business and its personalities; has contributed illustrations to publications such as Time magazine, the New York Times, and Italian Vogue; and has created marketing imagery for luxury retailers and brands including Bergdorf Goodman, Harrods, Fendi, Prada, and more.
Some of the licensed product and collaboration partners for Claris in Australia and elsewhere include Pickawall (wall décor), Valentino (handbags), Jaspal (apparel), Papinelle (pajamas), Deitea (tea), and Linen House (home textiles), among many others.
In the U.S., FAO Schwarz has a Claris shop selling the books as well as products from Bunnies by the Bay and Pink Poppy.
Dog Man and Cat Kid Hire New Licensing Agent
Dav Pilkey’s Monster Island and his literary agency Writers House have named the Joester Loria Group as their new global licensing agent for Pilkey’s Dog Man and Cat Kid Comic Club properties.
“We liked what they’ve done with Eric Carle,” said Amy Berkower, president of Writers House. “It’s a good prototype for what Dav wants to do with Dog Man. We want to have a wider and deeper program that is more international in scope and more strategic in conception.”
Scholastic published the first Dog Man title in August 2016, and the 11 titles have more than 60 million copies in print in 45 languages to date. Spinoff series Cat Kid Comic Club was launched in 2020 and also regularly hits the bestseller lists.
Existing licensees for the properties include University Games, Raymond Geddes for classroom materials, and Out of Print for t-shirts and face masks. Cat Kid Comic Club: The Musical, produced by TheaterWorksUSA, launched a North American tour in 2023, and a Dog Man movie is in development with DreamWorks Animation.
Merrymakers formerly represented the property for licensing, signing on as the agent in 2019.
Nelvana secured global distribution deals with Canal+ in France and Treehouse in Canada for its animated series Millie Magnificent, based on Ashley Spires’s STEM-themed books from Kids Can Press. It has also licensed Fat Brain Toys for a tie-in board game called Make That Most Magnificent Thing. The newest book in the series is The Most Magnificent Maker’s A to Z…. Yottoy is producing a new doll based on Victoria Kahn’s Pinkalicious. It also extended its program for Mo Willems’s Pigeon, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2023, adding a new plush figure tied to the most recent release, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Sleigh…. The Op Games is releasing Clue: Diary of a Wimpy Kid and a Dr. Seuss-branded version of Scrabble in its latest extensions of classic Hasbro board games…. The Royal Mail in the U.K. is issuing a set of six Paddington stamps in honor of the 65th anniversary of the first Michael Bond book starring the character. The Copyrights Group represents Paddington for licensing…. Zoonicorn partnered with Storypod for audio stories, starting with a Zoonicorn Craftie featuring three original audio tales and 11 songs, to be released in time for the holiday…. The Lumistella Company unveiled The Elf on the Shelf Santaverse as the name of its new world capturing the year-round life at the North Pole. HarperCollins’s previously announced middle-grade novel, set for release next year, as well as the picture book Extraordinary Noorah: Santa’s Magical Arctic Fox, which Lumistella published in September 2023, will both play an important role in building the world. New storytelling and products based on the Santaverse will be released over the next several years…. Surge Licensing and Webtoon Entertainment have licensed Walter Foster for how-to-draw books based on Webtoon Originals content…. Begin Again is releasing a sustainable range of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom toys, including an ABC balance game, wooden blocks, and wooden roller animals.