The youngest end of the children’s publishing business has seen a surge in licensing deals, with publishers tying in with infant and toddler development brands from the worlds of toys and entertainment.

In one of the most recent examples, DK acquired the rights to Sophie la giraffe, a high-end toy and teether line, for the U.S., U.K., and Australia/New Zealand. DK is applying the brand to its most popular infant formats, including counting, touch-and-feel, and lift-the-flap titles, with the first four board books coming out in July in the U.S. and two being released in the U.K. in October. DeLiSo is the licensor of the French brand, which was introduced in 1961 and came to the U.S. market in 2000.

“It fits well with the kinds of books we do,” said Sue Leonard, DK’s publisher for preschool, who notes that the alliance came out of DK’s New York office, which initially made contact when looking for special sales opportunities. “We thought it would be fantastic for the trade as well as special sales. It will give our sales force an interesting way into some outlets we haven’t been in, such as top-end mother and baby stores that sell Sophie products. They want equally high-quality books to go alongside those.”

On the product development side, Sophie offered DK, whose books emphasize photography, the opportunity to incorporate illustrations. In addition, the group of animal characters associated with the brand opens up new editorial possibilities. “It’s a lovely opportunity to try something a little different, possibly with a little bit of narrative,” Leonard said.

DK holds digital rights to Sophie books as well and is planning to offer enhanced e-books. “The big challenge with our type of publishing is getting visual e-books seen and found,” said Leonard, noting that DK has been experimenting with e-books for some time. “A brand like this might be very helpful.”

A Sassy Deal

In a similar licensed venture, Penguin’s Grosset & Dunlap imprint is releasing its first four titles under the Sassy brand in fall 2013. The deal with Sassy, a marketer of development products including toys, hygiene, and feeding items, was announced earlier this year. G&D president and publisher Francesco Sedita had been thinking about tying in with a brand in the infant development area for some time, but wanted the right fit.

“It’s an unusual license, but in the best way possible,” Sedita said. While noting that there are great characters associated with the Sassy brand, he explained that the primary attraction, unlike with a traditional license, is the essence of the brand itself and not the characters.

Meanwhile, at the end of last year, Reader’s Digest Association introduced its first two titles inspired by BabyFirst, an infant and toddler-focused TV channel and new media producer. Harold Clarke, president and publisher, books and home entertainment, noted at the time that the network’s programs and characters were created in consultation with early childhood development experts. “This is usually the kind of content that makes the best baby books,” he told PW. “Had there not been a brand association, they would still be strong baby books.”

Character licensing is common in children’s publishing and is certainly present in the preschool segment. But it is less common aimed at infants and toddlers, who are not yet entirely tuned in to TV and pop culture. So a brand centered on infant development, care, and learning that is known and valued by parents makes sense.

“For preschool it is a bit of a departure,” said Leonard. She noted that DK does a lot of licensing, but has rarely done so in the infant/toddler segment. It recently began offering Duplo books, however, including Duplo/Disney co-branded titles, as well as the Sophie books. “We’re very interested in developing preschool ideas for licensing.”