Created in 1955 by Dutch illustrator Dick Bruna, Miffy the little white bunny has been popular for over 40 years in Europe, Japan and Australia. She and her friends Snuffy the dog, Poppy Pig and bears Boris and Barbara have been featured in over 100 books that have sold more than 80 million copies.

Previously published in the United States by Price Stern Sloan and Kodansha, the Miffy books now have a new life through Big Tent Entertainment, Miffy's new U.S. publisher. "Miffy is pure and innocent, and her stories are popular with young children because she sees things from the same perspective that a preschooler does," said Rich Maryyanek, senior v-p of marketing at Big Tent. "The books are about the simpler things in life and the enjoyment of those things."

To aid in the launch, Big Tent turned to Barnes and Noble, with whom they signed a one-year deal to sell Miffy books exclusively in Barnes and Noble and B. Dalton stores.

"Barnes and Noble is delighted to be the ambassador for the world-renowned Miffy and Friends," said Josalyn Moran, director of children's books at Barnes and Noble. "The bright colors, cheerful rhymes and adorable characters will entertain and inspire preschoolers around the country."

In order to give the property increased visibility in the stores, B&N rolled out a Miffy boutique in 475 superstores in mid-February. The boutiques aren't just for books, however. According to Moran, they also feature exclusive Miffy products, such as puzzles from Galison and plush items from Big Tent. B. Dalton will also participate in the launch, highlighting Miffy with endcap displays in its stores throughout April.

Along with the boutiques, Barnes and Noble has 10 Miffy costume characters traveling to its stores. Big Tent also created year-long event kits, which have activities designed around winter, spring, back to school, Halloween and other holidays.

According to Maryyanek, Big Tent chose Barnes and Noble as its partner because Miffy is "first and foremost a book property, and Barnes and Noble seems to have the right fit for consumer outreach. Their confidence, support and enthusiasm in the brand made all the difference in the world."

Miffy is being launched with 13 books for spring, with more titles to follow in the fall. And once the year-long exclusive deal ends, the books will be offered to all retailers. According to Maryyanek, the other bookstores "will be happy to be selling a product that has a proven track record."

That sentiment doesn't necessarily ring true for independent bookstores, as in the case of All for Kids in Seattle. Chauni Haslet, current president of the Association of Booksellers for Children and owner of All for Kids, said she wouldn't be carrying the Miffy books once B&N's exclusive term ends. "It's a shame that there isn't a level playing field with independents who usually put books on the charts," she said. But she doesn't seem concerned about any loss associated with not carrying the Miffy books. "There are many wonderful books that we will be able to sell instead."

Big Tent has also announced a deal with the children's network Noggin, which will launch a daily Miffy and Friends half-hour TV series, starting in April.