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Kids Industries’ Gary Pope, The Roald Dahl Story Company’s Stephanie Griggs, Penguin Ventures’ Thomas Merrington, Making Things’ Fi Murray and Caroline High Consultancy’s Caroline High talk picture books – and share some thoughts on untapped gems.
Last week saw Waterstones announce the winners of its 2022 Children’s Book Prize.
The winner in the Best Illustrated Book category was Harry Woodgate’s Grandad’s Camper, beating a shortlist that also included Steve Small’s The Duck Who Didn’t Like Water, Lu Fraser’s The Viking Who Liked Icing and Andy Harkness’ Wolfboy.
I’ve taken a bit of an extra interest in the world of picture books since welcoming a baby back in January, and it’s a sector bursting with creativity – and brand potential.
Some of the biggest brands in this space, like Peter Rabbit, The Gruffalo and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, regularly embark on smart, authentic brand collaborations. These kinds of partnerships can boost brand awareness, strengthen a book’s connection with readers and ultimately help cement the reputation of the source material.
It’s also encouraging to see some fairly recent picture book hits also embrace the world of licensing in creative ways.
Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers’ The Day The Crayons Quit was published in 2013 and tells the story of a box of crayons who go on strike because they’re not happy about how they’re being used. It was followed by a sequel – The Day The Crayons Came Home – in 2015.
The books have spawned finger puppets, plush – and of course, a line of tie-in crayons. A live action film adaptation is also in the development at Sony Pictures.
Elsewhere, Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back – published in 2011 and a firm personal favourite – tells the tale of a bear looking for his lost hat. While it hasn’t signed deals in sectors like apparel or toys, it did get a National Theatre stage adaptation that debuted back in 2020.
It begs the question, what gives a picture book brand potential? What does one need to extend into sectors like toys, apparel and live events successfully? And are there any picture books out there brimming with untapped licensing potential?
To help answer these questions, we’ve turned to Kids Industries’ Gary Pope, The Roald Dahl Story Company’s Stephanie Griggs, Penguin Ventures’ Thomas Merrington, Caroline High Consultancy’s Caroline High and Making Things’ Fi Murray.
Gary Pope, Co-Founder, Kids Industries
“A picture book is special because it speaks directly to the child’s imagination; they absorb the illustrations whilst a loved one’s voice breathes life to the pictures forming in their minds. The medium itself, for me at least, is precious. The act of sharing a story is perhaps the most communicative, human and ancient of interactions. Get it right with a picture book and the cries of “Again, again, again…” never stop. Familiarity in literature rarely breeds contempt.
For me, the best is – and will always be – The Gruffalo. I’ve used it when working with children countless times and I’ve told the story to my own children a thousand times. We’ve watched it, too. My goodness didn’t Magic Light do a good job. And yes, we’ve bought most of the product. And we’ve done that because of the power of the story itself. That’s what makes it licensing gold.
Yes, Schaffer’s art is compelling, but it’s Donaldson’s writing that sets it apart – the rhythm, the pace, the characterisation, the twists and turns, the humour, and the allegorical nature of this almost Fairy Tale. There is a timelessness to The Gruffalo that makes it the kind of Fable that Aesop himself would’ve been proud of. It’s quintessential storytelling; it just doesn’t get any better.
A book that I’ve always thought had licensing legs is Would You Rather… by John Burningham. It’s a brilliant blend of fantastical question poser – ”Would you rather your house was surrounded by a jungle, snow or water? – and more close to home questions like: ”Would you rather be lost in a shop or your mum have a row in a café?” I can just see these massive questions for little people being brilliant jumping off points for content and conversation. I reckon the right licensing agency would have a field day with the humour too.”
Stephanie Griggs, Creative Director, The Roald Dahl Story Company
“Picture books that successfully cross into being a standalone brand are those that have a narrative that resonates with its audience off-page just as successfully as on-page. Distinguishable illustrations that translate across many touch points are a crucial cherry on top.
One of my favourite illustrators is Jon Klassen. His wryly comic picture-book This is Not My Hat is a firm favourite with both myself and my three-year-old son and I think his illustrations are crying out for a kids apparel range.
He has an online shop, and also one with his Mother (@homehomeca on Instagram) selling his designs on lovely handmade felted pennants. I think these would translate beautifully well into further soft furnishings, too.
Whilst on the subject of picture books, it would be remiss for me not to mention Never Grow Up, a guide to growing up the Roald Dahl way, with enthralling new illustrations by Quentin Blake. It came out last Summer, and is out in paperback this June – I can confirm it is a delight!’
Thomas Merrington, Creative Director, Penguin Ventures
“At Penguin Ventures, we are so incredibly fortunate to manage the licensing programme for Peter Rabbit, the oldest licensed literary character in the world. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was an immediate success in Potter’s lifetime, with initial print runs surpassing all expectations.
Beatrix recognised that small children would be entranced by tales of animals set in the natural world and that they would want to experience these in the small book format that is now so intrinsically associated with the stories. At the time, this was quite revolutionary in publishing – and certainly added to their appeal and collectability.
Following the success of her stories, Beatrix went on to initiate and manage the licensing programme to meet the global demand for products featuring her most popular characters.
Beatrix Potter not only created compelling characters through her storytelling and illustrations, but also a conservationist and botanist, she was passionate about the natural world which is evident in the world she created for Peter Rabbit. This world building really is a gift in terms of IP development and licensing.
In addition to compelling worlds, it’s also essential to nurture the brand. With The World of Peter Rabbit, we are fortunate enough to have a brand that has global appeal and is loved across generations.
Peter holds a nostalgic place in many people’s hearts – so while the content is key, the way in which we have grown and developed the brand has been carefully considered to remain authentic to the original story and the legacy of its creator. We are ambassadors for The World of Peter Rabbit and custodians of Beatrix Potter’s legacy and we take this very seriously.”
Fi Murray, Founder, Making Things Studio
“Picture books are one of the most financially viable mediums to story-tell within our industry of content, product and licensing. They are the starter fuel to new worlds, characters and narratives that can prove so successful, they extend to consumer products and animated story-telling. Other times, they are the extension!
Picture books can come before or after – as the origin of a new IP or the extension to an IP – and can come to market in a relatively lower investment/shorter lead time process than their product and animation counterparts, making them a fantastic commercial entity.
I personally love Little People, Big Dreams – real life stories of awesome humans illustrated and narrated in a beautifully simple way. Someone needs to grab up the licensing rights to this book series… I’d love to see a little David Attenborough role play set or a baby David Bowie plush! And an animation series learning all about these heroes – imagine that on Netflix….cuuuuuuute!
One of the most special things about picture books is their accessibility – I finally got my little one’s library card the other day. I have the fondest memories of visiting the library in the Eighties on a Tuesday with my mum, sitting on the floor choosing the books for the week’s bedtimes. In the UK this is a free service and one to protect at all costs so that all children can have equal access to the power of reading – the most magical learning tool.
In a world where content is pushed to us all in a passive sense from such a young age, picture books are critical to a child’s development as it’s their first step to moving to text only books – being able to take words off a page and create new worlds, experiences and characters in their head. One of the most incredible things our brains can do…conscious dreaming!
One of my favourite German words is Kopfkino – translates to ‘head cinema’. This is when the brain imagines and plays visuals inside the head of dreamed up scenarios in real life.. Kind of like daydreaming – something teachers would always tell me off for! We’ve got to flex the brain in the early years to hone in on this as adults.
At Making Things Studio, one of our IP creation specialisms is story-led inventing – thanks mum for the library trips! The result of that could be a consumer product toy range, an episodic animation or indeed a picture book series… Watch this space!”
Caroline High, Founder, Caroline High Consultancy
“What gives a picture book brand potential? I love this question, as it crosses over into both my work and home life! Clever storylines and creative, impactful illustrations really cut through for me. I buy both Kindle and paperback editions and the wealth of quality picture books available at the moment is incredible.
Children have access to so many different devices and means of getting their hands on reading material. Publishers and IP owners are finding new and interesting ways of engaging with their target audience.
Free content on tablets is a huge winner in our household; everything from ‘read along stories’ to games. For example, Dr Seuss has some imaginative and interactive story books available on the Kindle Fire tablet which are perfect for helping children gain confidence in reading while having fun.
Children love to read books that are both relatable and imaginative – not an easy brief! Of course, key themes such as princesses, dinosaurs and dragons will also always grab the attention of pre-schoolers.
Sue Hendra and Paul Linet are one of my go to author/ illustrator combinations at the moment, with such favourites as Nobot the Robot, Supertato, Keith the Cat with the Magic Hat and Simon Sock. You really won’t be disappointed, the stories are engaging and witty! And the licensing opportunities are boundless.
Publishing heritage is great way to develop a long standing licensing programme; reading books to a child is a memorable moment and deep brand loyalty can develop.
A varied range is important, and any publishing IP that is looking to develop further into animated content and take that leap into the broadcast world, needs to have a wide scope of characters and story potential.
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