The Publishing Post
Spotlight on Children’s Brands in Publishing
By Aimee Haldron, Nicole Haynes, Rosie Pinder and Emma Rogers
If you ask people about their favourite children’s books, it’s likely that big names such as Paddington, Moomin, Gruffalo, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Peter Rabbit will be among them. What do these characters and titles have in common? They are brands.
Brands are books, authors and characters that have transcended the pages of a single title and become much bigger entities. Perhaps they have been adapted into films or TV shows, the characters made into soft toys, the illustrations used in games, stationery and even socks. The key is that they are recognisable and widely loved.
In this piece, the children’s team reflects upon some of their favourite children’s brands in publishing and what their role is for readers and within the wider book industry.
Beatrix Potter is one of the most well-known children’s authors of the early 20th century, most famous for her character Peter Rabbit. Peter Rabbit first appeared in The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902 and followed in five more books between 1904 and 1912. During this time, lots of spin-off merchandise was made, including stuffed toys, board games, painting books and even wallpaper, making Peter Rabbit the oldest licensed character. More recently, he has been revived in the live action/animated film Peter Rabbit (2018), starring James Corden, Rose Byrne and Margot Robbie and its sequel Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway (2021). Peter Rabbit was perhaps one of the very first examples of a successful brand and shows how a character can transcend time, even when the author is no longer here.
Michael Bond’s children’s story, A Bear Called Paddington, has soared in popularity since its 1958 release. Paddington’s raincoat, bucket hat and marmalade sandwiches are widely recognised as emblems of this charming children’s tale. Receiving two BAFTA nominations, the 2014 adaptation of the beloved book is a prime example of fiction surpassing its literary roots and becoming its own entity. Paddington’s furry face can be found on greeting cards, wrapping paper, clothing apparel and much more. Loved by readers, Paddington’s polite manners (and hilarious ability to find himself in trouble) make him an endearing British icon. A special shout-out also to the Paddington Bear Twitter account which is worth a follow!
Julia Donaldson is probably one of the most famous children’s authors in the world. Her most notable work, The Gruffalo, was an immediate success and has now been translated into over 100 languages meaning children all over the world know her wondrous work. Since The Gruffalo, she has had many more famous titles; The Snail and the Whale, Stick Man and more recently the What the Ladybird Heard series, to name just a few. Donaldson has received countless awards and continues to write lyrical and imaginative stories for children making herself, as well as her amazing characters, a brand of their own.
It's not only older, traditionally classic books, characters and authors that have become major brands. More recently, musician and author Tom Fletcher has seen huge success with his Christmasaurus series. The first book, The Christmasaurus, was published in 2016 and follows the adventures of a boy named William Trundle in the North Pole where he encounters various festive creatures, including the Christmasaurus. In the past six years, Fletcher has published four more books about The Christmasaurus, including a rhyming picture book and an activity book, both released in 2022. In an interview with First News, Fletcher also teased the upcoming Christmasaurus movie, an animated movie musical with songs written by Fletcher himself and directed by Michael Gracey of The Greatest Showman. This shows that there is still ample space in the book market for new children's brands and who knows what the future may hold!
It is also worth noting, though, that despite the huge success of these brands, some may argue that their dominance could be harmful to the wider book market. With children’s literature only taking up 5% of review space, it is easy for voices to be lost in the crowd and this may discourage new writers from emerging. It is also conspicuous that many of the most well known children’s publishing brands originate from books by white authors. There is definitely a lack of diversity in this space that should be addressed with more focus on building brands around diverse authors and characters.
Nonetheless, it is clear that branding is an integral part of the children's book market and a fantastic way to encourage a younger audience to engage with literature. TV and merchandise can introduce new audiences to these books and show how advantageous it can be to expand into other mediums.