Random House Launches Ebony Jr.-Branded Little Golden Books
Random House Children’s Books has partnered with Ebony Jr., an Ebony Media Publishing brand, for a collection of Little Golden Books written and illustrated by Black creators and featuring African American stories.
The books are packaged by Lavette Books, which specializes in working with brands and celebrities to bring to life content with a Black point of view. Lavaille Lavette, who heads up Lavette Books and is writing the first four Ebony Jr. titles—two biographies and two fiction titles—also serves as president, publisher, and managing partner of Ebony Publishing and Ebony Media Publishing. David Wilkerson is illustrating the two fiction titles, while Anastasia Magloire Williams is doing the same for the biographies.
When Lavette approached Random House Children’s Books to present Ebony Jr., the timing was perfect, according to Sonali Fry, v-p and co-publisher, Crown Books for Young Readers, and v-p and publisher, Little Golden Books and Sesame Street. “We’ve been looking to expand our readership by introducing diverse subjects and making Little Golden Books more contemporary,” she said. “The brand really hasn’t been very diverse.”
That said, the balance has been improving. Of the nonfiction books on the Little Golden Books list currently, 20 (44%) are biographies, and eight of those feature people of color. “That number will be steadily growing, both with Ebony Jr. and our original Little Golden Books list,” said Fry.
The first two Ebony Jr. titles, Harry Belafonte: A Little Golden Books Biography and Beyoncé: A Little Golden Books Biography, will go on sale on January 10. “We wanted to feature people who were respectable and solid role models, and whose story would show the readers that dreams can be accomplished through hard work and determination,” Fry said. “We also wanted equal gender representation, and to include people that would appeal to more than one generation.”
The two fiction titles will be released in May and September 2023, respectively, and will feature an original character, Jayylen, a six-year-old who wants to be an engineer. Jayylen’s Juneteenth Surprise is a family-focused story involving a Zydeco artist who comes to the neighborhood for a Juneteenth celebration, introducing children to both Juneteenth and the New Orleans Creole musical style. And Jayylen’s Christmas Wish focuses on Jayylen’s plan to get his brother, who is in the military, home for the holiday. “It’s rare for military families to be depicted in books for kids,” Fry said.
Ebony has been in business for 75 years, known for its flagship magazine and now for digital content, books, podcasts, and other content platforms. Ebony Jr. magazine was in print from 1973 to 1985; the book publishing program marks that brand’s relaunch.
All Things Star Wars, in 91 Volumes
Fanhome, a brand of the Italian publishing and partworks company De Agostini, has released The Star Wars Encyclopedia, a 91-volume collection of 72-page books—6,552 total pages—available by subscription. When complete, the collection covers the nine feature films that comprise the Skywalker Saga, as well as the TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and The Mandalorian, both of which stream on Disney+.
De Agostini has been creating subscription collectibles for Star Wars fans for a long time, with editorial content, such as a 16-page magazine, included in each shipment. But this is its first collection that is purely publishing-based. Unlike other Star Wars reference works, this series crosses over the entire Star Wars universe, rather than being focused on a single film or character. The books are updated as new content becomes available.
The encyclopedia volumes, which have an approximately 9 x 11-inch trim size, contain information for all levels of fandom. “If you discovered Star Wars for the first time with Grogu [Baby Yoda], you will find a lot more here,” said Carlos Palomar, editor of the collection. “And if you think you know everything about Star Wars, you will get surprised when you discover the kyber crystals (the heart of a Jedi lightsaber), or you meet Darth Bane (a legendary Sith Lord), or find the Mandalorian in these pages.”
Together the books, with titles such as Imperial Troops, The Saga of Rey, The Millennium Falcon, and R2-D2, cover heroes and villains, weapons and technology, the space regions depicted in the saga, vehicles and starships, events throughout Star Wars history, and, of course, droids. Throughout the course of the full subscription, fans also receive value-added gifts including Stormtrooper bookends, a Sith mug, and six collectible posters. The first 100 subscribers also receive a Kylo Ren graphic t-shirt.
Not including the team from licensor Lucasfilm (part of the Disney family), there were about 25 people from De Agostini involved in the making of the encyclopedia. “We have different roles and different responsibilities, from the story group to the writers and graphic designers,” Palomar said. “But all of us must meet one requirement: be true Star Wars fans.”
The first shipment features two books, with subsequent shipments containing four books each. Each book is $9.99, with a shipping and handling fee of $2.40 per shipment; the first four titles are heavily discounted and the first shipping and handling fee is waived. The subscriptions can be canceled at any time during the process.
Fanhome launched in 2020 as De Agostini’s pop culture brand in the U.K., U.S., and Germany. (Some of the products available through Fanhome are also sold in other countries, including Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Brazil, and Eastern Europe, under the De Agostini brand.) Its projects, which are all available by subscription and can take from one to two years to complete, include Iron Man’s Mark III armor in 24-inch size, a 1:8 scale model of the Dodge Charger from the Fast & Furious films, and a fully functioning half-size model of R2-D2, among others. All of the products are exclusive to the company and include lots of little-known and behind-the scenes material that fans cannot find elsewhere.
Cottage Door Gets Cooking with ChopChop Family
Cottage Door Press is launching a line of children’s books in partnership with ChopChop Family, a nonprofit organization that reaches three million people a year through magazines and other content, with goals of inspiring children to eat healthily and building awareness of where food comes from. The first title, released this month, is I Made This: Snacks, a cookbook for ages 1-3. The recipes are simple, like making a sandwich by stacking cucumber slices and a piece of cheese.
The second title, set for a January release, is Eatable Alphabet, based on informational kitchen activity cards sold by ChopChop. Each spread shows a photoreal letter of the alphabet made from a food (e.g., avocado for “A”), with information and activities such as simple recipes (avocado toast). The title has a wide age range, from toddlers who are learning the alphabet to kids as high as age seven who can make the recipes independently, according to Melissa Tigges, senior director of marketing and partnerships at Cottage Door Press.
“This was one of the most collaborative titles I’ve seen with any licensor,” Tigges added. “They were really involved and invested.” In the books, fun illustrations are combined with the photoreal art, and additional content is added for both kids and parents. “The cards are contemporary and minimalist, and really beautiful, but for this age group we wanted to bring an element of fun and interactivity to it as well.”
Separately, Cottage Door has added two classic preschool licenses to its roster, Spin Master’s Paw Patrol and Mattel’s Thomas: All Engines Go. For Paw Patrol, “We had a lot of discussions about where there was white space,” Tigges said. The company was able to secure rights to create new illustrated art, which it is using in a Peek a Flap book (for June 2023) and a Roll and Go title (fall 2023). The latter is a wheeled vehicle slipcase format that contains three small board books; another new license in this format is Zamboni (November 2022), the idea for which came from Cottage Door’s then-Canadian distributor. Rounding out the Paw Patrol program is a puppet book and a proprietary Birthday Card Book format, both using the property’s traditional art style.
As for Thomas, Cottage Door has rights for a six-button sound book and a shaped board book, both featuring screen grabs from the TV series. “What we really like about it is there’s original song content in each episode,” Tigges said. “It’s very cute and it lends itself very nicely to electronic song books.” More titles are likely for 2024, potentially including a seasonal title and one featuring the character Bruno, who has autism.
There are new developments for Cottage Door’s existing licenses as well. Its license with Canticos brought it into the bilingual space, and it recently added Spanish-language rights for both CoComelon and Daniel Tiger. Spanish-English three-button versions of Daniel Tiger Potty Time and CoComelon Wheels on the Bus will come out in January and February, respectively.
When Cottage Door Press acquired Parragon’s assets in 2018, it found itself in the adult puzzle book space, and it is starting to add some licenses to that program, including John Deere, with a Word Search title released this past June, and Smithsonian, for four puzzle books in March 2023. The company has also been co-branding some of its character and brand licenses, including John Deere and Daniel Tiger, with its Colorforms license. Paw Patrol and Thomas are also being considered for Colorforms treatment.
Finally, Cottage Door partnered with toy company Tomy to create custom books for a new proprietary book-and-toy line under the Yumi Ami brand. The property features five empowering dolls from different cultural backgrounds for kids aged 3–5, each packaged with a book telling the character’s story. They will hit the market in July 2023.
PI Kids and Penguin Pair for Peter Rabbit
Phoenix International Publications’ PI Kids imprint has secured the world English rights to The World of Peter Rabbit, in a deal with Penguin Ventures on behalf of Penguin Random House’s Frederick Warne & Co. imprint. The first four titles will include a Me Reader, which consists of an electronic module that reads the book aloud at the push of the buttons, along with an eight-book library; a Me Reader Jr.; a Flashlight Adventure Book; and a Little Flashlight Adventure Book Box Set. The Flashlight formats will come out in late 2023 and the Me Reader formats in early 2024.
Peter Rabbit celebrated its 120th anniversary this year. “There aren’t that many opportunities with classic properties like this, which have been around a long time and where the publishing is controlled by the licensor,” said John Russell, v-p global licensing for PI Kids. “We were lucky to find some formats we could offer.”
PI Kids also has several other new licenses. They include three TV shows: NBCUniversal’s Gabby’s Dollhouse, for a One-Button Squishy Storybook, out now, plus a Little Sound Book, Textured Sound Pad, and First Look and Find, all out in spring 2023; Spin Master’s Mighty Express for a Little Storybook, First Look and Find, Go Go Gear Book, and One-Button Storybook, all available at retail now; and Boat Rocker’s Dino Ranch, for which PI Kids has rights in North America, Germany, and Latin America and is hoping to expand into other international territories. The first three formats in spring 2023 include a First Look and Find, Go Go Gear Book, and Little Sound Book.
“We’re looking for things that have international appeal, and there are more and more properties that are gaining traction internationally first,” Russell said. “Dino Ranch is one of those. In fact, our German office came to us with that. It had been on our radar, but when we realized it was already gaining traction internationally, we started looking at it more seriously.”
Finally, PI Kids is signed on to release books based on Spellbound, a feature film currently set for a spring 2024 release on Apple TV+. John Lassiter, formerly of Pixar, is now with Skydance and is one of Spellbound’s producers. “We’re excited about the opportunity to work with Skydance, since it has that great lineage,” Russell said.
The company is planning at least two titles to support Spellbound, including a Little Sound Book and a traditional picture book. “We usually don’t have picture book rights, which are typically with the master publisher,” Russell said. “We’ve been trying to acquire these rights more when we can.” PI Kids launched Sunbird as its imprint for non-licensed literary titles in 2020 and “as we’re gaining experience in the picture book format, we’re trying to apply some licenses to it.”
A New Entry to the Diary: Wimpy Kid Licensed Products
Wimpy Kid, Inc., the company overseeing commercial activities for Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise, has launched a new licensing program. Initial licensees include Go! Toys and Games and USAOpoly for board games and puzzles and Trevco for print-on-demand apparel. The first products are launching this fall.
The new program comes on the heels of an original animated movie on Disney+, released in December 2021, with a sequel coming up this December, as well as [the high-profile publication of the latest book in the series] https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/90727-jeff-kinney-rocks-out-with-release-of-17th-wimpy-kid-book-new-disney-movie.html, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Diper Överlöde. The promotional tour in support of the release features an in-person rock concert at each location, emceed by Kinney, featuring the fictional band portrayed in the title. All told, the franchise has sold more than 275 million copies, making it one of the top five bestselling book series of all time for any age.
Future licensed categories will include bedding and room décor, back-to-school merchandise, stationery, party goods, and more. The merchandise is expected to appeal to a wide audience, ranging from middle-grade and some younger readers up through Gen Z fans who read the first book when it was published in 2007.
The Wimpy Kid franchise previously spurred a licensing effort in the early 2010s, managed by Fox Consumer Products, which included products based on the Wimpy Kid feature films as well as the classic artwork from the books. In 2012, for example, in conjunction with the release of the third feature film, Walmart offered One-Stop Wimpy Shops in more than 2,500 of its stores, which included a range of merchandise, including some Walmart exclusives.
Dynamite Entertainment acquired the rights from Disney to publish original comic books based on the classic TV series Darkwing Duck, starting in 2023. The property is in development for a new series on Apple TV+…. Bendon Publishing has added BBC Studios’ preschool property Bluey for Imagine Ink coloring books in the U.S. and Canada. Penguin Young Readers is the master publishing licensee…. Lion Forge Animation and the public television station in St. Louis, Nine PBS, partnered for a multimedia literacy program called Drawn In. The project, which includes print and digital comics as well as animated video shorts and online educational games and puzzles, focuses on literacy for 6 to 8–year-olds, with a focus on communities of color.