Scholastic Expands Roster of Licensed Titles with monpoké and Poppy Playtime

Scholastic is bringing its long-running Pokémon publishing program to preschoolers with the introduction of monpoké, a new iteration of the property for children ages two to five that was released in Japan in 2019 and is just being launched in the U.S. A few Pokémon readers have reached down as young as age four, but the core program appeals to a sweet spot of ages seven to 12.

“We’ve been publishing Pokémon for over 20 years,” said Debra Dorfman, Scholastic’s VP and publisher, global licensing, media, and brands. “Parents have grown up with Pokémon. They’re still huge fans and they still play the game. They’re crazed, in the best possible way, and they want to introduce it to their kids as early as they can. Monpoké lends itself to young formats that parents are buying for their kids, and the friendly little characters are just adorable. It’s a natural sort of progression.”

Pikachu Loves was the first book published, in October 2023, as a loose tie-in to Valentine’s Day. Pikachu’s First Friends, a picture book that is an Americanized version of a title published by Shogakukan in Japan, came out in February, along with a touch-and-feel adventure book, Pokémon Playtime. A layered board book, Pokémon monpoké: Meet the Friends, was released on May 7. Future plans include a September title in Scholastic’s Water Wonder format, which features many licenses, and another picture book, with a slightly spooky feel that makes it relevant for Halloween, set for summer 2025. The latter is also adapted from one of the Japanese publisher’s titles.

“This is a parent buy, but Pokémon is such a household name, and the monpoké characters are so cute, I think young kids will be drawn to them as well,” Dorfman said. “And the picture book artwork is so beautiful and sweet that I think even non-fans will want to pick it up.” A series of YouTube shorts, Fun Times on monpoké Island, has also introduced the property to young children.

Scholastic publishes at least six or seven Pokémon titles per year, not including titles published just for the school channels, and there are more than 94 million copies in print, including handbooks, chapter books, readers, guides, graphic collections, and activity books. The latest title in its flagship handbook series, a super-deluxe 600-page tome, will appeal to all ages. “Everyone is eagerly awaiting that one, including adults,” Dorfman said. In May 2025, Pokémon will join Scholastic’s 5-Minute Stories format for the first time.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from monpoké, another new license for Scholastic is Poppy Playtime, a horror-gaming property from MOB Entertainment. This is in the vein of Scholastic’s popular Five Nights at Freddy’s YA series and Piggy middle-grade series, which is based on a Roblox game. Poppy Playtime hits a demographic somewhere in middle, in the upper middle grade/YA space, Dorfman said. “There’s just enough horror that it’s scary, but it’s not overly menacing.”

The first book is Poppy Playtime Orientation Notebook, an illustrated manual that released on May 7, which introduces readers to the main antagonist Huggy Wuggy and the other characters, their origins, and the world of Playtime Co. where the action involving monstrous toys takes place. The book is “authored” by a biologist and employee of Playtime Co.

'You’re My Little' Board Book Series Adds First Two Licensed Titles

Studio Fun, an imprint of Readerlink’s Printers Row Publishing Group, is releasing the first licensed title in the You’re My Little board book series, with the debut of You’re My Little Nightmare in July 2024. The title is based on Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and licensed by Disney. That will be followed in spring 2025 by a second licensed offering, You’re My Little Cookie Monster, licensed by Sesame Workshop. While the licensed titles will reside at Studio Fun, the non-licensed You’re My Little books remain with Studio Fun’s sibling imprint, Silver Dolphin Books.

The original series has 15 active titles, including picture books, sticker books, and customized and club versions, with the number expected to more than double in the next year or so. A total of eight million units are in print. “It’s an incredible series,” said Debra Mostow Zakarin, VP and publisher for Studio Fun and Silver Dolphin. “It’s really charming, and everybody loves it. We thought, what would it be like if we added a license? And we started to spitball ideas.”

The team noticed some licensed Nightmare Before Christmas baby products on the market, including a onesie featuring the phrase “Little Nightmare,” which sparked the idea for the book. Printers Row already publishes Nightmare books for both adults and children, and “it does fantastically across every age group,” Zakarin said. “Why not try it in our bestselling series?”

All of the original You’re My Little titles are authored by Nicola Edwards and illustrated by Natalie Marshall, but the licensed titles are being written, illustrated, and edited by an in-house Studio Fun team. “Before even submitting it to the Tim Burton team we probably did 10 to 15 rounds of changes,” Zakarin said. “It’s a lot, especially for a board book. It shows how special it is to us.”

You’re My Little Cookie Monster is set for release in spring 2025. Studio Fun is also brainstorming other licenses that would be a good fit and mocking up covers to present to the licensors. The team is looking at which of its existing licenses make sense with the series, as well as considering brand-new licenses. “We’re really being thoughtful about it,” Zakarin said. “We won’t do it just for the sake of expanding the license.”

Crown Books Gets into Mischief with StEvEn & Parker

Random House’s Crown Books for Young Readers imprint will publish two middle grade graphic novels based on StEvEn & Parker, a series of animated shorts distributed on YouTube with 2.25 million subscribers, created by Parker James with Los Angeles-based animation studio Toonstar. The comedic series is about two brothers, the chaos-causing and dinosaur-loving StEvEn and his long-suffering older brother Parker.

Phoebe Yeh, VP and editor-at-large at Crown Books for Young Readers, discovered the property after Parker’s agent reached out to Mallory Loehr, senior v-p and president of Random House Books for Young Readers. “She knows my tastes and said I should check out the proposal,” said Yeh, who has worked on humorous graphic novels like Max & the Midknights by Lincoln Peirce and Once Upon a Space-time by Jeffrey Brown. “I read the proposal and saw that the sense of humor was just excellent. ’I was completely sold on it.” The impressive social media stats were also a draw, she said. “And Parker is a very gifted storyteller.”

This is different from other publishing projects Yeh has worked on, in that an entire Toonstar team, as well as James, is involved in the creation of the novels. Yeh said the collaborative process has been similar to working with any first-time author, with the typical back and forth to get the premise, manuscript, illustrations, and layout right. But the involvement of a team of creators rather than solo writers and artists really speeds things up. Noting that the challenge on graphic novels is how long they take to come to fruition, Yeh said, “I’ve never worked this way. It’s so much faster. They’re super creative and they’re not cutting corners, but they’ve figured out a way to do it so quickly.” The studio uses AI-powered technology to produce its animation quickly and at low cost, but Yeh said every aspect of the graphic novel is made by humans.

The first title is expected in spring 2026. While only two titles are on tap for now, the creators have a number of ideas and the deal could be expanded down the road to include more titles. And, given how fast the first title is coming together, Yeh said, the publishing schedule could be compressed compared to that for a typical graphic novel series, which usually yields no more than one release per year.

The inaugural StEvEn & Parker book will introduce the two brothers in the context of a trip to a state fair. The graphic novel format gives the creators an opportunity to develop the story beyond what is possible in the short animations, but at the same time capture the essence of the original. “If you like the YouTube [series] and the TikToks, the book will feel the same,” Yeh said. “It’s fun, and it’s funny.”

No Retirement in Sight as Barbie Turns 65

Barbie marks her 65th birthday this year, and more than 40 brand partners are joining the party, including Random House, Rizzoli, Quarto, and Assouline.

“Since 1959, Barbie’s mission has been to inspire the limitless potential of every girl, and that’s never been more relevant than today,” said Ryan Ferguson, head of global publishing at Mattel. “[Barbie] is both timeless and timely. You could see that last year, when the whole world turned pink.”

That pink-hued world was a result of the anticipation for and success of the Barbie movie in 2023. The film caused a significant bump in sales of Barbie books, according to Ferguson. “But we were already on an upward trajectory before the film,” he added.

One of the books timed to the anniversary is Random House’s ’’Barbie Official Coloring Book, an all-ages title featuring very detailed line art of key Barbies throughout the years, including the 1959 Teenage Fashion Model Barbie, 1990 Totally Hair Barbie, and 2000 Modern Girl Barbie, among others.

In March, Rizzoli published Barbie: The World Tour, a fashion-art book created by Margot Robbie, the star and producer of last year’s film, her stylist Andrew Mukamal, and photographer Craig McDean. Quarto launched Barbie: Inspiration, History, and Legacy this spring. And Barbie by Assouline, which released at the end of last year, is a 340-page, luxury coffee table book about the decade-by-decade evolution of the Barbie brand.

Aside from these anniversary-themed titles, another new publishing venture is the company’s in-house imprint, Mattel Press, which lives alongside the company’s licensed publishing programs. The first list launched on May 9. The inaugural releases for Barbie include two career-specific titles, You Can Be a Gymnast and You Can Be a Pet Vet (with You Can Be an Astronaut coming in July), as well as a giant coloring book; there are also storybooks, readers, and sticker books tied to other Mattel brands, with original picture books and board books across these and other brands on the way.

All told, about 10 to 20 Barbie trade books are published per year, with more in years where there are films or other events. Other Barbie publishing licensees include Bendon and Printers Row Publishing Group’s Studio Fun imprint, among others.

Rainbow Brite Stars in New Coloring and Activity Books and Other Licensed Products

Rainbow Brite, which launched as a television series in 1984 and is known for its colorful look and its messages of kindness and optimism, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with more than a dozen licensees and more than 250 products, including coloring and activity books from Crown Jewlz.

After seeing significant interest in Rainbow Brite from potential licensees, due to its fit with the current trend for 1980s pop culture, licensor Hallmark created a presence on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok and received an enthusiastic reaction, with fans sharing their memories of the character and posting photos of their childhood doll collections and Halloween costumes.

“We are so energized by the fans’’response,” said Jill Schuler, director of licensing at Hallmark. “It’s so amazing how [the Rainbow Brite character] still resonates with the fans and how much they love her. They’re extremely loyal and enthusiastic, and very nostalgic about how the property made them feel. We love hearing that, because it ties back to the DNA of the Hallmark brand and the emotional feeling the property brings to the fan base.”

The licensed merchandise targets two tiers of consumers. Many of the products are designed to appeal to the original fans. But licensees such as Crown Jewlz and The Loyal Subjects, which makes a line of Rainbow Brite dolls, bring in children as well. “The fans who are now parents or sometimes even grandparents want to share that experience with their children and grandchildren,” Schuler said. “The Crown Jewlz products reach that younger consumer, but they also provide an experience the child and their parents, our loyal fans, can share together.” The coloring books have placement on end caps in Walmart and in Dollar Tree stores starting this month, and Hallmark is actively pursuing more publishing deals for the property. “There’s a rich history in the publishing category, and it’s ripe for expansion now,” Schuler said.

Social media and influencer marketing campaigns will support the anniversary and the licensed products throughout the year.

In Brief

Rebel Girls paired with Greenlight, a provider of free financial-education resources for classrooms, for a Financial Literacy Month promotion in April. It created a financial literacy guidebook called Rebel Girls Growing Up Powerful: Money Matters, for distribution in classrooms, libraries, and retail stores…. New publishing for Minecraft, which is licensed by Microsoft, includes workbooks with Bright Matter Books, the Minecraft Ideas Book from DK, and Minecraft: Official Pop-Up Book from Insight Editions’ Reinhart Pop-up Studio imprint.… Dav Pilkey and Writers House, and their licensing agent The Joester-Loria Group, signed Jakks Pacific and its Disguise division to create Dog Man toys and costumes, respectively. Products will be tied both to the graphic novel series and the upcoming Dog Man movie…. The Hidden Pigeon Company retained Retail Monster as its global agent to represent Mo Willems’s IP, including Elephant & Piggie, The Pigeon, Knuffle Bunny, and other characters and brands. It also retained Paula Allen of Screenland Literary Consultants as its publishing consultant and hired Tori Cook as senior v-p franchise management…. Dr. Seuss Enterprises partnered with artist Daniel Arsham for a sustainable collection of products tied to The Lorax, timed to Earth Day. A collectible art book, a hoodie, a long-sleeve shirt, a tray, and a print were available at Perrotin Store New York and through a dedicated online site…. Some of Sesame Workshop’s publishing licensees are releasing books tied to emotional well-being later this year, including Sleepy Time for Elmo!, a sound book from Phoenix International Publications, and 100 Words from the Street: Words to Grow Smarter, Stronger, & Kinder from Sourcebooks. The licensor also offered a number of free resources tied to Mental Health Awareness Month in May, including a digital storybook…. HarperCollins paired with McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams to celebrate the latest Pete the Cat book, Pete the Cat Screams for Ice Cream. McConnell’s is hosting a sweepstakes on its website and social media channels, with three winners receiving a year’s supply of ice cream and a collection of the 14 Pete the Cat storybooks. Harper is promoting the collaboration at book festivals, offering 15% off coupons for McConnell’s ice cream.