Toy-based brands from Barbie to Bratz have long been a factor in licensed publishing. In recent years, they have ranked as some of the top licensed properties in the children’s book world. Many of these success stories were on view at this year’s Toy Fair. Klutz introduced Lego Chain Reactions, the latest of its titles based on that toy brand, which also counts DK and the trade division of Scholastic (Klutz’s parent company) among its licensees. “Lego has been a phenomenal seller for years now,” says Klutz spokeswoman Becky Amsel.
Parragon national account manager Grant Brandeis reports that the company’s Monster High titles, licensed from Mattel, were generating significant interest among show attendees; this year, the company added Mattel’s new brand, Ever After High, to its roster. (Both franchises have produced bestsellers for Little, Brown as well.) Meanwhile, Kappa—which has been a licensee of toy company MGA Entertainment since 2001, through its Modern Publishing division’s license for Bratz—was showing books tied to MGA’s Lalaloopsy and Mooshka brands.
Silver Dolphin added three new series to its list of Play-Doh books, which are licensed from Hasbro and which debuted at last year’s Toy Fair. “Our choice of licenses has always been about ‘hands-on,’ ” says Jon Rosenberg, v-p and publisher. He reports that Silver Dolphin will be part of an upcoming test of Play-Doh merchandise in Toys R Us stores. “There’s a notion that we could get some of our other titles in there if it works,” he adds. Some of Silver Dolphin’s licensed book-and-craft kits are packaged with the licensor’s product (in this case, cans of Play-Doh).
Many toy brands have evolved into entertainment properties over the last several years, which makes them even more viable for books. “There’s a real emphasis on storytelling,” says Michael Kelly, director of global publishing at Hasbro, which works with publishers such as Little, Brown; IDW; Bendon; and others. Hasbro’s properties include My Little Pony, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Littlest Pet Shop, all backed by TV, films, and/or gaming, as well as toy-only brands, such as Nerf and Scrabble. “We’ve created worlds or entire universes that extend across multiple touch points,” Kelly says. “Publishing is a big part of that.”
Classic toy brands often are popular with a wide audience. “There is an affinity toward these brands that spans multiple ages and genders,” Kelly says. My Little Pony has a comic series with IDW, as well as a roster of books from Little, Brown, ranging from 8 x 8s to collectors’ titles. For Transformers, “we have books for younger kids, but also for the 34- to 35-year-old who has been with us since 1984.”
This multigenerational appeal—along with the storytelling potential—makes many toy brands attractive to publishers, and to readers who want to extend their experience with a favorite toy through reading.