Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Henson Forms Publishing Division; Signs Bloomsbury For First Franchise

(from publishersweekly.com)

The Jim Henson Company has formed an internal publishing division, Jim Henson Publishing, to house new franchises that will launch as books and ultimately expand to television, digital productions, and merchandise. The division’s first project, the chapter book series Enchanted Sisters, is launching with Bloomsbury Children’s Books this fall.

“We wanted our own strong girls’ franchise at Henson,” said Halle Stanford, executive v-p, children’s entertainment, who heads the new division and will author two of the Enchanted Sisters books. Enchanted Sisters, for girls 7-9, features four characters called Sparkles, who are the daughters of Mother Nature and are responsible for the turn of the seasons.

Stanford notes that there has been a recent burst of entertainment properties featuring empowered girls. “When we first sold this, there was no Sofia the First, there was no Frozen,” she said. “It used to be a real struggle to sell a series squarely aimed at girls. But now there are these incredibly successful girls’ franchises. So we think the timing is right.”

Fonda Snyder at Rob Weisbach Creative Management brought the project to Bloomsbury. “The renowned, family-trusted brand of Jim Henson was really appealing to us,” said Catherine Onder, Bloomsbury Children's editorial director. “The sense of wonder and adventure and the delightful illustrations also were appealing.”

Paige Pooler, a character designer and artist who has worked in both the TV and book worlds, is illustrating The Enchanted Sisters books, while Elise Allen, a book and TV writer, will author the first two titles. Bloomsbury holds world English rights for the property.

Going forward, Henson’s publishing division will be home to new Henson-originated properties for which books make sense as the launch platform. Stanford explained that Henson is in the business of storytelling, and different stories lend themselves to different media. For example, “many sci-fi and fantasy properties have big worlds that lend themselves to children’s or YA books first, before rolling out into television or the digital realm,” she said. The company will partner with outside publishers to release each project.

Ongoing publishing programs for current Henson entertainment properties, such as the TV series Dinosaur Train (whose U.S. master licensee is Random House) and Sid the Science Kid (HarperCollins), will remain with their current publishers.

The first Enchanted Sisters book, Autumn’s Secret Gift, is scheduled for an August release, with subsequent titles, each starring a different sister, planned for winter 2014 and spring and summer 2015. Henson is about to start pitching the property for television; licensing and merchandising will likely follow the TV debut.