Children's Features

Happy Birthday, Arthur
Karen Raugust -- 1/22/01
This May, the lovable aardvark, star of many books and a PBS TV series, turns 25

Creator Marc Brown in 1976, the year
Arthur first appeared, and today.
While Marc Brown's Arthur will always be eight years old, his book and TV franchise marks its 25th anniversary this spring. Young readers have purchased close to 50 million Arthur books since the first Arthur Adventures title, Arthur's Nose, appeared in 1976 from Little, Brown.
"I can't believe Arthur's still around!" said the author with a laugh; he explained the character's longevity by saying, "The issues that Arthur deals with in the stories are something that children can relate to."

"There's always a great story, and the characters are always real to life," agreed Kerri Goddard Kinch, senior publicist at Little, Brown Children's Books. "Marc writes with a really nice sense of humor that appeals to parents as well as children."

Many of the anniversary festivities will take place in April and May--the official birthday is May 25--although the celebration started last fall and will run through the end of this year. Marc Brown Studios, Little, Brown and Random House (which also publishes Arthur books) have put together 3,400 retail kits to assist bookstores in hosting Arthur birthday parties. They will be shipped on April 1, timed to Little, Brown's release of a 25th-anniversary edition of Arthur's Nose, for which the company is planning a 90,000-copy first printing. "It's the first time we've ever worked with another publisher on a retail kit," said Kinch.

In This Article:

For the kit, Little, Brown provided activity pages and a full-color poster, Random House
Arthur's nose, and the rest of his
look, have changed over the years.
supplied a three-foot-tall Arthur standee, and several licensees contributed products such as masks and stickers as giveaways. Children will be able to make an Arthur paper-bag puppet, play pin-the-bow-tie-on-Arthur, learn how to draw Arthur and listen to an Arthur story.
Also in April, Little, Brown will release Arthur's Birthday Activity Book, its first activity book for the property, as well as the premier entry in a second chapter book series, Arthur Good Sports. More than 32 million copies of Little, Brown's 95 Arthur titles are in print as of this spring, including 250,000 copies of the original Arthur's Nose in hardcover and paperback.

Random House Children's Publishing offers an additional 25 Arthur titles, mostly for younger children, including oversize sticker board books and chunky books. "They do really well for us," said Judith Haut, executive director of publicity. One of their series, Arthur Step into Reading sticker books, has racked up combined sales of nearly three million copies at retail, plus two million through book clubs.

Random House is centering much of its attention during the anniversary on its new Step into Reading sticker book, Arthur's First Kiss, released January 2001. It is shipping an Arthur Step into Reading prepack at the end of February that contains 24 copies of assorted Arthur titles and a free shrink-wrapped pack of coloring posters. Random will also offer special terms on select Arthur backlist titles. The company has 13 million Arthur books in print, with more than 700,000 copies of its bestselling title, Arthur's Reading Race.

McGraw-Hill Children's Publishing markets 32 Arthur workbook, coloring and activity titles through its recent acquisition of Landoll and American Education Publishing. Landoll/AEP acquired the Arthur license in 1998.

Bookstores Plan PartiesBorders, Barnes & Noble, Zany Brainy, Waldenbooks and Store of Knowledge have all agreed to host events around Arthur's birthday, according to Kinch.

For the last three years, Borders has sponsored some sort of Arthur-focused promotion, according to spokesperson Kendra Smith. Last year the chain sponsored Parenting magazine's
The anniversary activity
kit is a joint effort between
Arthur's publishers and
Marc Brown Studios.
"Off to School" writing and drawing contest, which centered around the Little, Brown title Arthur's Teacher Moves In and received "thousands and thousands" of responses. The contest's grand prize winner will meet Brown in May, and his or her story will be on display at the Children's Museum of Manhattan, on the Arthur Web site and in Parenting and Family Life magazines.
Three hundred Borders stores hosted Arthur events last fall in conjunction with the contest, which included goody bags containing products from Little, Brown, Random House and other partners. The chain created an Electronic Gift Card depicting Arthur in a birthday scene--gift cards often serve as birthday presents--and sold 10,000 of the 25,000 available in four days. The chain also ran a buy-two-get-one-free promotion on Arthur titles. This year, from August through November, Borders will tie in with Parenting's reading and writing contest again, focusing on the upcoming D.W.'s Library Card (featuring Arthur's sister), and will hold Arthur birthday parties in select stores at that time.

Barnes & Noble is planning an Arthur birthday promotion in late spring. Debra Williams, B&N spokesperson, says sales of Arthur are steady, particularly in picture books, with the top three titles being Arthur's Family Vacation, Arthur Meets the President and Arthur's Baby. Barnes & Noble stores have a section dedicated to Arthur, as many bookstores do.

Most stores reported great success with the books in general, especially following the TV show's debut five years ago. "Arthur books sell very well, as always," said Karen Rosenberg, owner of Imagine That!, a Riverside, Calif., children's-only store. "The chapter books are a great addition to the line." One independent retailer, however, told PW that their Arthur sales have fallen off since the TV series began, speculating that after the debut there was more Arthur merchandise available across more competing retail channels. Judy Bulow, backlist children's buyer at Denver's Tattered Cover, reported strong chapter book sales as well as continued movement in holiday-themed books, adding that the store has sponsored several Arthur costume visits. "He's probably the most popular of all the characters."

Promotions Stress ReadingMarc Brown Studios has organized several events to support the anniversary, which officially began at the Children's Museum in Boston on September 19. The Studio's anniversary consultant, Rachel Breinin, noted that the year-and-a-half birthday period allowed retailers, libraries, schools and museums to tie in whenever schedules permit.

Last September, Arthur was the spokescharacter for the ALA's Library Card Sign-Up Month. Libraries that held events could enter a sweepstakes for free Arthur books donated by Little, Brown and Random House, and Breinin reported that hundreds of libraries did hold such events.

Since October, Arthur has been featured in Pizza Hut's BOOK It!, a 16-year-old reading incentive program reaching more than 45,000 elementary schools, according to Boris Weinstein, BOOK It! consultant. Arthur will continue to appear on all BOOK It! materials through March.

In partnership with USA Weekend's 10th Annual Make a Difference Day last October, BOOK It! sponsored an Arthur Good Deeds Literacy Contest, receiving entries from more than 1,300 classrooms. The winner was a fourth-grade class in Rexburg, Idaho, that created a Storytellers Haunted Mansion and, with visitor proceeds, bought 1,600 books and donated them to a crisis center and nursing home. The class received $5,000 for books, a visit from Brown, and a Pizza Hut pizza party.

BOOK It! Beginners, a four-year-old, two-month read-aloud program targeting as many as 1.5 million children in 30,000 preschool and pre-K facilities, will also feature Arthur and friends during March and April. "We took advantage of the opportunity to partner with Arthur in our reading programs, and that's because the focus of Arthur is reading," said Weinstein. "It turned into a wonderful experience."

A traveling version of the Children's Museum of Boston's "Arthur's World" exhibit, developed with Arthur TV producer WGBH and Marc Brown Studios and sponsored by Pizza Hut and BOOK It!, began in San Jose last summer and will stop in 10 cities through 2003. A focal point will be a three-month layover at the Children's Museum of Manhattan, where Brown will attend the opening night in May and hold an illustration workshop for kids.

Licensing ContinuesThe Arthur franchise boasts 42 licensees, with a handful creating anniversary-specific product. These include Sony Wonder (video), Listening Library (audio), Galison/Mudpuppy Press (puzzle) and Eden Toys (limited-edition beanbag doll). Most other licensees are noting the anniversary in packaging or stickers. Random House is joining Sony Wonder in a national print ad campaign in Parents magazine and has anniversary-related inserts in Sony Wonder videos and Listening Library audio products.

Even without the anniversary, sales of Arthur licensed goods are robust. "This has been our best year yet," said Tolon Brown, Marc Brown Studios' licensing manager. Recently signed licensees include Publications International for sound books, TCBY and Hain for food items and the Marriott hotel chain, which will create an Arthur-themed room in its Orlando unit. Arthur's sister, D.W., has recently become a break-out character; Eden Toys is creating a full line of D.W. products that will be featured in an FAO Schwarz promotion late in 2001.

Meanwhile, the Arthur television show ranks first on broadcast and cable among children ages 2-11 for the 11th straight quarter; the character's first prime-time special aired at Christmas and a live musical is on tour.

"The really great thing about television was that we drew kids into reading," said Marc Brown, pointing out that just five million of the Arthur books sold so far were purchased before the show's premiere.

Television also had a creative impact. "With television, you have a more elaborate and intricate view of Arthur's world. I had to literally redraw the entire town," he said. "It fast-forwarded Arthur's world at an incredible rate."

Careful readers will notice that Arthur's appearance has changed in 25 years, from a long-nosed aardvark-like look in 1976 to the more boyish, snub-nosed, bespectacled Arthur of today. Brown explains to his readers that aardvarks mature, just as children do, and points out that Arthur's current appearance makes it easier to draw facial expressions.

Despite all the commercial activity, the property retains its literary roots. "Publishing has always been the focus," said Tolon Brown. Tolon is the author's son and the person for whom Arthur was created as a bedtime story. "It's very strange to see [Arthur] everywhere," he said. "It hasn't really sunk in yet, the popularity of it. I'm still amazed when people know who Arthur is."

"That's something that's given me a lot of pleasure," said Marc Brown about his son's involvement with the business. "You're telling the story to your son when he's five years old, and all of a sudden he's working with you 20 years later."

What has been the most rewarding part of the last 25 years for Brown? "Just knowing that Arthur has been helpful to kids and families," he said. "That's always been my goal."