We chat to Walker Books’ Julia Posen about the company’s classic children’s characters.
Whether it’s choking back a sob during the final page of Guess How Much I Love You or recreating the swishing grass and squelching mud found throughout We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, the joy of these preschool stories comes in the telling.
As two of the best-known preschool books of recent years, the traditional tales are centred on simple family relationships and values, giving them an immediate relatability and intergenerational appeal.
“These books are two of Walker’s crown jewels,” says Julia Posen, evp and commercial director for Walker Books Group, “around which the company has built its reputation for quality and creativity. From a licensing point of view they offer varying opportunities and challenges, but both brands have a strong literary heritage as they were founded on the original picture book classics.”
Guess How Much I Love You has touched the hearts of children and adults alike over the last 20 years with its timeless expression of unconditional love, and the licensing programme has been in full swing for a number of years. An animated series launched in 2012.
With such a strong sentiment, the brand naturally works well across babywear and toddler apparel (from Paul Dennicci) and with Rainbow Designs’ nursery plush range. However, there are also opportunities for the brand across wider gifting categories, as the clear message of parental love lends itself well to other significant occasions such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
“The universal theme of love in Guess How Much I Love You is one that resonates with everybody,” explains Julia. “How many of us have tried to explain to someone how special they are and how much we love them? Author Sam McBratney put into words what everybody wants to express to their loved one and illustrator Anita Jeram melted our hearts with adorable illustrations of hares and nature.”
She continues: “It is no surprise that the book is a popular reading at weddings. We have also seen Valentine’s Day becoming a key opportunity, especially with our German and UK gifting confectioners. With so many applications, the brand continues to perform strongly in the UK and globally.”
We’re Going On A Bear Hunt similarly addresses family relationships; this time it’s those of a group of children as they embark on a bear hunt together. Their quest takes them on a cross-country adventure with nature providing plenty of tricky obstacles along the way, and Michael Rosen’s addictive, read-aloud text is accompanied by stunning watercolour art from Helen Oxenbury.
“We are currently at a very exciting stage with Bear Hunt,” Julia adds. “Having only had a small paper-based licensing programme to-date, based on the classic book, we have spent the last six months working side-by-side with the Lupus Films to create a new style guide based on the animation that will transcend all licensing categories; from babywear to gifting and gaming.
“It is very exciting to be able to feed in directly to the animators, and to be receiving artwork direct from the film on a daily basis.”
Fans of the classic book, which was first published in 1989, love the act of setting off on a bear hunt, but for a new audience, the Walker Production team, who are acting as executive producers with Lupus Films (The Snowman and the Snowdog) needed to extend the story to create the animated film.
“We have worked very closely with Michael and Helen to create the back story, develop the characters, and most importantly ensure that aesthetically, they resemble the character’s from a most beloved bedtime story,” says Julia.
The half-hour film will be a major Christmas release for Channel 4 later this year and Walker Books is anticipating a huge surge in demand for the brand as a result. The broadcast rights have already been sold internationally, while the licensed product (which spans across apparel, TV tie-in publishing and gift) is not far behind.
“We’re just finalising several new licensing deals now,” Julia reveals, “and can confirm that there will be an extensive range with a key supermarket retailer. We’re also very excited about the DVD release next spring.”
For now though, the focus is firmly on the film premiere which is taking place in December. The modern take on the classic We’re Going on a Bear Hunt story promises to be a beautifully crafted, timeless classic for a multi-generational family audience – following faithfully in the footsteps of its publishing stablemate Guess How Much I Love You.
“Both books are real gifts to a licensing team,” says Julia. “There’s so much joy associated with translating these images and words into licensed product. From such quality can only come more quality!”