Riding the Baby Shark Wave

Last December, Scholastic published Baby Shark: Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo, a 24-page, 9x9 paperback based on the public-domain song that is the basis of the wildly popular YouTube video and earworm from Pinkfong. The book, with original illustrations by John John Bajet, has shipped 300,000 copies as of mid-March, and a second title, Bedtime for Baby Shark, is planned for July 2019. More titles, including additional paperbacks and perhaps novelty or activity books, are under discussion.

Scholastic had been considering going after a license for Pinkfong’s version when Ken Geist, v-p and publisher of Scholastic Trade’s 0-8 division, saw Josh Groban and James Corden perform the song on The Late Late Show and realized it was in the public domain. At an acquisition meeting the next day, Geist played the Late Late version to his team and the company decided to go ahead without a license. “There are lots of different five little monkeys jumping on the bed—there can be lots of baby sharks doo doo doo’ing,” he said.

Meanwhile, the famous Pinkfong version of the song has attracted more than two billion views and counting. Pinkfong publishes board, sound, and activity books in its home country of South Korea, which are distributed by local publishers in other Asian territories. In the U.S., some of the books are available through Pinkfong’s shop on Amazon.

A global licensing effort for the Pinkfong brand is just launching, with Wow Wee serving as the master toy licensee in the U.S.—making Baby Shark versions of its popular Fingerlings, to name one item—and several other toy companies signed on as well. (Pinkfong, owned by SmartStudy, did not respond to PW’s request for an interview.)

Random House Launches Minecraft Fiction, Activity Books

Random House Children’s Books is publishing the first two titles in its new Minecraft Woodsword Chronicles chapter book series, Into the Game! and Night of the Bats!, on March 26. A third title will follow this fall, with more ahead in 2020. The inaugural books, authored by Nick Eliopulos and illustrated by Luke Flowers, are the first Minecraft titles from Random’s children’s group.

Minecraft has been in the Random House family for two years, with Del Rey publishing handbooks, in-world titles, and several guidebooks to Minecraft modes and realms, as well as two bestselling novels, Max Brooks’s Minecraft: The Island in 2017 and Tracey Baptiste’s Minecraft: The Crash in 2018. Two more Del Rey novels are planned for this year.

About a year ago, Random House Children’s Books started talking with licensor Mojang, a division of Microsoft Studios, about bringing the property into chapter books. “Del Rey had such a good experience with them, and there was so much unofficial stuff and fan fiction published that we knew there was a market for it,” said Dennis Shealy, editorial director of licensed publishing. “So we thought, we should do something official, and they agreed.”

“Mojang told us at the time that they were really surprised how many six- to nine-year-olds were coming to [the Minecraft convention] MineCon,” added Chris Angelilli, v-p, editor-in-chief, and executive director of licensed publishing.

The plot takes a diverse group of two boys and three girls into the world of Minecraft by way of magic virtual-reality goggles, presenting them with mysteries and problems to solve in both the fantasy and real worlds. The game of Minecraft can be played in survival, building, or adventure modes (or a combination thereof) and elements of all three of these approaches are reflected in the books. “Some players like the creativity and building element, some like solving problems, and some want to take chances to move the story forward,” Shealy said. “All of that is in the books. Mojang really helped remind us to keep that balance.”

Random will also launch a series of Minecraft activity books this summer. The big, glossy, full-color titles contain more than 500 stickers and are targeted primarily toward the same six to nine age group as the chapter books, with each focusing on a particular mode or region within the game. The first two titles, Minecraft Official Survival Sticker Book and Minecraft Official Aquatic Adventure Sticker Book, are set for a July release.

Carlton Augments Licensing Portfolio with Disney

U.K.-based Carlton Books has signed a licensing deal with Disney to produce augmented-reality titles based on a variety of properties coming out of Disney’s corporate family, which includes Disney, Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel.

The first title, Toy Story: Woody’s Augmented Reality Adventure, is a character guide tied to the Toy Story franchise, with AR elements on every spread, set for a May 2019 release in anticipation of the summer 2019 debut of the film Toy Story 4. “We made the page a stage for the Disney characters to perform and interact,” said Japhet Asher, Carlton’s digital director. Sterling is the U.S. distributor for the title, which will be followed by two more as-yet-unannounced books in the fall.

Carlton is a global leader in the AR segment, having long published books in a variety of genres and formats for all ages under both its own intellectual properties and a variety of licenses (including with Disney in earlier iterations of the technology). All told, the company has sold more than five million units of AR-powered books worldwide. This fall, Carlton is publishing its first original AR novel, The Ghostkeeper’s Journal & Field Guide: An Augmented Reality Adventure, written by Asher, which won a 2018 FutureBook Award from The Bookseller.

Licensing lends itself well to the AR format. “Our Jurassic World titles, and there are three of them now, have been hugely successful,” Asher said. The Jurassic books use models created by Industrial Light & Magic for the films to enable interactive maps and journeys, dinosaurs the reader can control, and other elements. “We use the best quality assets we can obtain. And we’re not forcing a licensor’s content onto a specific platform where the activities are the same for each brand. We do each experience in a bespoke way to reflect what’s best about the character and story world.”

The integration of AR onto the page can be a way to attract young people to reading, Asher said. “What we have found is that the ‘screen generation’ comes back to books through this enhanced, immersive experience.”

Studio Fun Finds Lost Kitties

Studio Fun International, an imprint of Printers Row Publishing Group, is expanding its relationship with Hasbro by publishing an assortment of books tied to Lost Kitties, a line of blind-box collectibles introduced by the toy company in 2018. “Blind boxes” are toys that consumers purchase “blind,” discovering which character they have acquired only after opening the packaging. “Preteens just love blind boxes,” said Rosanne McManus, v-p and publisher. “And these are really fun. We’re just obsessed with them in the office.”

The books are for readers age six and up, which is older than a typical Studio Fun license. “We’re looking at doing some things for slightly older kids, and when Hasbro showed us the line we fell in love with it,” McManus said.

Formats include a collector’s guide featuring close to 100 characters, which comes with a two-sided poster and will go on sale May 7, followed by two readers on May 21, Hasbro Lost Kitties Level 3 Squad Goals: #NOMZ and Hasbro Lost Kitties Level 3 Squad Goals: #ADORBS. The readers give fans new insights about the squads into which the kitties are organized. Hasbro Lost Kitties #Sticker Squad Color-In Sticker Book will be added to the list in September, and joke and meme books are in development. Chapter books and other fiction are possibilities for the future.

As with all collectible lines, there are continuous waves of new characters, in this case including both kitties and mice. “It’s easy to update and refresh the books with all of these new characters,” McManus said.

Sterling Enters Wetmore Forest

Funko, best known for its licensed Pop! vinyl collectible figures depicting Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and all manner of other pop culture properties, has signed Sterling Publishing for a children’s book series based on its first major proprietary brand, Wetmore Forest. Seven books will be available exclusively at Barnes & Noble stores from June 15 through the end of the year, merchandised alongside Funko Pop! characters and other Wetmore merchandise. Barnes & Noble is Sterling’s parent company.

Wetmore Forest is a magical Pacific Northwest rainforest populated by a group of Pop! Monsters developed three years ago as the first Funko Pop! figures based on original IP and released through Funko Online as a special series. “They really took off,” said Sean Wilkinson, Funko’s creative director. “We added plush and put them in our Funko Store, and then they grew organically to a whole section and then a whole wing of the store. Everyone from young kids to my mother loves them.”

Character synopses created for use on product hangtags were the starting point for further story and character development, which ultimately led to the world of Wetmore Forest and the book series, as well as short animations on Funko.com and YouTube. (Funko is in talks with a production company about other entertainment vehicles.)

Six of the seven books will focus on a day in the life of each of the main characters, while a seventh brings all six together and introduces a conflict with an additional group of characters that live in the nearby mountains. The license is for a core market of kids age four through eight, but Wilkinson expects the books will have broad appeal, as the figurines do. “There are adult-y themes intermixed with the magical kids’ world,” he says.

The June launch will mark the first time Wetmore merchandise is available outside of Funko’s own retail channels, with products merchandised on a themed display. “It’s a cool shelf installation that’s charming and captures the magical rainforest look of the property,” Wilkinson said, adding, “Barnes & Noble loved what we were doing, and Sterling has been a great partner to work with.”

Bob Books Expands Mission

Bob Books recently licensed ETA Hand2Mind, a marketer of supplemental educational resources to teachers and parents, for Bob Books-branded versions of Hand2Mind’s VersaTiles skills practice system. Products under the Learn to Read With... Bob Books and VersaTiles banner include a Beginning Readers Set, a Sight Words Set, and an Advancing Beginners Set, all for pre-K through grade 1.

“They strongly and truly believe in the educational system and they have a unique approach to learning,” said Adam Michaels, Bob Books’ CEO, of Hand2Mind. “We want to do something different and creative in everything we do. It’s a perfect fit.” While the two companies have overlapping distribution channels, ETA Hand2Mind’s strong presence in schools has been a positive for the publisher, giving it more presence in that market.

Bob Books, founded by late author Bobby Lynn Maslen and her husband, illustrator John Maslen, has been marketing books and book sets intended to teach children to read, and love reading, for more than 40 years. Scholastic has served as publisher in North America since 1993, reporting more than 16 million Bob Books titles in print. The brand has expanded of late into complementary products such as workbooks, wipe-away board books, flash cards, apps, and plush toys.

More recently, Bob Books has begun signing licensing deals with outside partners. University Games’ Briarpatch markets the Bob Books Happy Hats Beginning Reading Game and is developing more board games. Bob has also licensed publishers for expansion abroad, including in China, South Korea, and Japan, where consumers are showing high demand for books to help children learn English. An announcement of a deal for digital and entertainment content is expected soon.

In Brief

Random House is adding to its Stranger Things list in 2019 with the first YA novel based on the property, Stranger Things: Runaway Max by Brenna Yovanoff (June 4), along with two companion books, Hawkins Middle School Yearbook/Hawkins High School Yearbook (March 26) and Will Byers’s Secret Files (September 24).... Insight Editions is adding to its range of stationery, journals, gifts, and books tied to HBO’s Game of Thrones with four new Art Of titles to celebrate the series’ final season. They include Game of Thrones: The Storyboards this spring and three additional titles, The Art of Game of Thrones, The Photography of Game of Thrones, and Game of Thrones: The Costumes, in the fall…. Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar is being featured in collaboration with the U.K.’s Royal Horticultural Society this summer, with events across the RHS’s four gardens and four flower shows. Rocket Licensing is the U.K. licensing agent for The World of Eric Carle.... Dr. Seuss Enterprises has partnered with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for a Cat in the Hat license plate to support The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, and with Hallmark, Vandor, and Tervis for new graduation gifts tied to Oh, the Places You’ll Go!.... Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and its licensing agent Brandgenuity has signed Goliath Games, Basic Fun, and Spirit Halloween as new licensees for Carmen Sandiego.