S&S to Debut ‘Not Quite Narwhal’ Tie-Ins

This month, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing’s Simon Spotlight imprint is releasing the first three tie-in titles to the animated series Not Quite Narwhal, produced and licensed by DreamWorks Animation and streaming on Netflix. The series is based on the books by Jessie Sima, also published by S&S. Like the books, the on-screen series is for preschoolers.

“They’ve done a really nice job of building out the world for the TV show,” said Siobhan Ciminera, v-p and editorial director of Simon Spotlight.

The first three titles, whose release is timed to the debut of season two of the show, include Unicorn Party!, a board book with sparkly foil; Kelp Finds a Way to Help!, a Ready-to-Read Pre-Level 1; and Welcome to Kelp’s World, an 8x8 with stickers. Three more books will follow in summer and three more in the fall, with 8x8s, Ready-to-Reads, and novelty titles the primary formats.

“It lends itself to traditional licensed formats like 8x8s, but also to lots of novelty formats with glitter and fun, sparkly things,” Ciminera said. “On the fall list there’s a book with a crinkly unicorn horn, which is a nice tactile element for younger readers.” The look of the show, with the distinct colors and textures of the land of the unicorns and the narwhals’ undersea environment, make the books stand out on shelf, she said.

With nine titles in the first year, the program is robust for a licensed publishing effort these days. “We’ve had a lot of success with the picture books and everyone is really excited internally and externally about the tie-ins,” Ciminera said. “The show is just lovely. It builds on the themes from the books about who you are and what makes you special, and how to deal with what we call the tiny traumas. It’s just irresistibly cute.”

More titles are under discussion for 2025. “We see this as a long-term license,” said Ciminera. “We love both the series and the picture books and it’s a delight to be working on this.”

The original series consists of three picture books, Not Quite Narwhal (published in February 2017), Perfectly Pegasus (March 2022), and Weather Together (May 2023). Sales of the first title jumped 33% in 2023, mostly in the months since the show debuted on Netflix in June of that year.

HarperCollins Sets Up Young Readers for Success with VeeFriends

HarperCollins is publishing Meet Me in the Middle, the first children’s book by Gary Vaynerchuk, also known as Gary Vee. Set for a July 2024 release, the title is based on Vaynerchuk’s VeeFriends entertainment franchise, which launched in the world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in 2021. HarperCollins holds world rights in all languages. Vaynerchuk is a digital entrepreneur whose experience includes co-founding Resy, authoring several bestselling business books, and investing in companies such as Twitter, Venmo, Coinbase, and Uber.

“Gary Vaynerchuk has long been one of the most popular authors on the HarperBusiness list, with four New York Times bestsellers and millions of books sold,” said David Linker, editorial director at HarperCollins Children’s Books. “So when we saw the massive popularity of his VeeFriends collections, we knew there was an opportunity to bring Gary’s message of inclusion and leadership to kids. The VeeFriends characters are charming and funny, and their world is just so ripe for great, compelling, kid-friendly storytelling.”

VeeFriends is designed to foster a sense of community and inspire creativity, self-discovery, accountability, and personal growth. It includes more than 280 unique characters, all created and drawn by Vaynerchuk and representing traits that he believes are keys to success and happiness. Meet Me in the Middle helps nurture one of those skills: empathy. The title is a “flip-around” picture book: when the reader starts at the front of the book, the story is told from the perspective of one character, and when the book is flipped around, the same story is told from the point of view of another character.

“The flip-around format was a genius idea from Gary, a way to match the format with the theme in showing how empathy plays a role in leadership,” Linker said. “Teams get better when we take the time to see the world from each other’s perspectives. And that’s the basic gist of Meet Me in the Middle, where Eager Eagle and Patient Pig, two of the most popular VeeFriends characters, are both playing for the same basketball team. Patient Pig dreams of scoring instead of always hesitating or passing the ball, and Eager Eagle knows he needs to slow down to really succeed to his potential. It’s a story and message that I think kids will really relate to and one that parents will love to share.”

In addition to the new book, the brand encompasses collectibles, product collaborations, comic strips, and animation, with partners including Mattel’s UNO and Masters of the Universe, Squishmallows, Crocs, and Topps. Andy Krainak, president of VeeFriends, is looking forward to a trading card game currently being developed, where fans can trade cards outlining the attributes of the characters and compete with one another. “We’re also very excited to continue to produce VeeFriends animated content for kids on social media channels that has over-the-shoulder value for parents,” he said. “Our goal is to teach parents and children about the traits and attributes of VeeFriends characters to allow for more conversations about parenting and growing up in the 2020s.”

Dark Horse Launches Ghostbusters Mini-Series for Teens

Dark Horse Comics is debuting a new, four-issue mini-series based on a specific time period in the Ghostbusters franchise. Titled Ghostbusters: Back in Town, the mini-series bridges the stories told in the 2021 film, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and the upcoming 2024 release, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. Ghostbusters: Back in Town #1 will be published on March 27, followed by the other three on a monthly schedule.

In the mini-series, the young Spengler family from the two films—mom Callie and siblings Trevor and Phoebe (whose grandfather is Egon Spengler, one of the original Ghostbusters)—along with science teacher Gary Grooberson, move from Summerville, Okla., to the Manhattan firehouse that served as the Ghostbusters headquarters in the original film. Trevor and Phoebe must deal with moving into a new town, their strange new house, and their normal teenage growing pains, while immersed in their careers as Ghostbusters.

Jenny Bingham-Blenk, editor of the Ghostbusters program at Dark Horse, said Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan, director/co-writer and co-writer, respectively, of the two films, had a strong vision about the project and how they wanted the comics to address how Phoebe, Trevor, Callie, and Gary have to adapt to their new lives in New York. “It’s a great way to explore them as individual characters—and introduce some creepy new antagonists—and see how they become the more fully formed Ghostbusters that we’ll witness in the new movie Frozen Empire,” she said.

The comics are for ages 12 and up, with appeal to adults as well as teens. “In the spirit of Afterlife, these comics are going to be a great chance for different generations to connect and share through their mutual love of the Ghostbusters IP as a whole,” Bingham-Blenk said. There will be cameos in the comics from some of the original Ghostbusters.

More comics are in development, all centering on the Spengler family and taking place in the period between the Afterlife and Frozen Empire films. “Part of what’s always made Ghostbusters special is the way that the stories blend a unique brand of clever, quippy humor in with their sci-fi and horror elements,” Bingham-Blenk said. “It was a perfect fit with the rest of the Dark Horse catalogue, which has always focused on sci-fi and horror titles at its core. But unlike some of our other more adult material, the Ghostbusters comics are going to be readily accessible to a younger audience.”

Judy Moody Feels Good About Animation and Licensing

Trustbridge Entertainment—a division of Trustbridge Global Media, parent of Candlewick Press, Walker Books, Peachtree Publishing, Holiday House, and Pixel+Ink—has paired with production company 9 Story Media Group and its Brown Bag Films division to produce animation tied to Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody series, illustrated by Peter Reynolds, as well as Matt Tavares’s picture book, Dasher: How a Brave Little Doe Changed Christmas Forever. Both properties are published by Candlewick. Trustbridge retains licensing and merchandising rights for the animation-based IP.

Candlewick released the first of 15 original Judy Moody books, Judy Moody Was in a Mood, in 2000. That series, along with three spin-off series, collectively count more than 43 million books in print worldwide. There has been one live-action film, Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, released in 2011.

“She’s been around almost a quarter of century, and she’s had almost no screen time, so it’s long overdue,” said Bob Higgins, CEO of Trustbridge Entertainment. “She’s a timeless, resonant, and relatable character. And she’s funny.” He described the format as an animated family sitcom for kids, with Mr. and Mrs. Moody very present in the TV show as in the books. “It’s somewhere between Bluey and Bob’s Burgers,” he said. “There’s really nothing in the middle that’s a 22-minute, animated family sitcom.”

The social-emotional learning aspect of the books lends itself to current television trends. “It’s definitely what we’re leaning into, but not in an educational way,” Higgins said. “Animation leaves Judy in a timeless third-grade place where she’s allowed to feel all the feelings. She’s aware of her feelings and even names them sometimes. She’s also far from perfect, and that’s what makes her lovable.”

Dasher, meanwhile, was published in 2019, with a sequel, Dasher Can’t Wait for Christmas, published in 2023. “It’s so timeless and warm,” Higgins said, likening it to classic holiday specials starring Charlie Brown or the Grinch. The goal is to make a one-hour special that families can watch together. “The character, adventure, and magic are all delivered in that amount of time, but it doesn’t overextend itself.”

Trustbridge Global Media, which purchased Walker and Candlewick in 2020, formed Trustbridge Entertainment to develop kids’ programming from its publishers’ IP in 2022. The company has a slate of about 15 book properties in the pipeline to date, including Maisy & Friends, Natalie and Alphonse, and Gustavo, the Shy Ghost, among others.

The company develops everything in-house, from the vision to the scripts, bringing in writers, directors, and sometimes animation studios like 9 Story before pitching to networks, distributors, and streamers, which speeds the time to market. It expects to pitch Judy Moody and Dasher in the spring, with the hope they will be greenlit by the end of the year.

Trustbridge is currently strategizing about how to build on the licensing infrastructure that Candlewick and Walker have in place, to enable the creation of licensed products not just for the book trade but also for Amazon, Walmart, and other mass retail outlets. That transition should be in place by the time the properties are greenlit, according to Higgins. The plan is to maintain classic book-based merchandise while also producing animation-branded products with a different look and feel. “There’s value in both,” he said.

One priority for Trustbridge is that the authors of the underlying IP have a say in the entertainment based on their creations. “We see ourselves as a bridge of trust between the creators of our books and our audience,” Higgins said, noting that the new entertainment division intentionally took the name of its parent for that reason. “The authors and creators are intimately involved in the translation of their creations to whatever screen. That’s a promise we make to our creators and our audience.”

In Brief

U.K.-based Nosy Crow acquired the rights to publish books based on Spin Master’s Unicorn Academy TV series, which airs on Netflix, for children’s books in all languages except German. Nosy Crow is the publisher of the books on which the series is based. Penguin Random House is the publisher of the original chapter books and the tie-ins in North America…. Dynamite has partnered with Warner Bros. Discovery Global Consumer Products to release comic books and graphic novels based on a range of properties for all ages. The first title, in February, will be tied to ThunderCats; other titles will be inspired by The Flintstones, The Powerpuff Girls, Space Ghost, Jonny Quest, The Wizard of Oz, We Bare Bears, and more…. Andrews McMeel partnered with Nelvana to develop a series of films tied to the five-book Trapped in a Video Game series by Dustin Brady. Nelvana will handle merchandise licensing…. IDW has renewed its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles licensing agreement with Paramount, which it has held since 2009, and plans a number of new titles and series as the property celebrates its 40th anniversary…. Jay@Play has been named the exclusive distributor of Gigantosaurus toys in the U.S., under license from Cyber Group Studios and master toy licensee United Smile. The toys are tied to the TV series, which airs on Disney+ and Netflix and is based on the books by Jonny Duddle, published in the U.S. by Candlewick…. Penguin Ventures, the licensing arm of Penguin Random House Children’s U.K., has launched a global licensing program for Tom Fletcher’s Who’s in Your Book? series. A direct-to-consumer e-commerce site has launched, with licensing to follow in key markets for the series, including North America…. Novel Entertainment, licensor of the U.K. book series Horrid Henry, written by Francesca Simon and illustrated by Tony Ross, signed with Star Editions to bring print-on-demand products including t-shirts, mugs, totes, hoodies, coasters, water bottles, and posters to a global audience. The property has an extensive licensing program in the U.K…. Rizzoli is publishing a fashion-art book called Barbie: The World Tour, under license from Mattel, featuring Margot Robbie, the star of the Barbie film, in designer clothing inspired by the movie. The apparel was created for the film’s press tour by the likes of Chanel, Armani, Donatella Versace, Vivienne Westwood, and more; images of original Barbie dolls and rare materials from Mattel’s Barbie fashion archives are also included in the book.