Books, Toys

Licensing Deals and Brand Extensions: Richard Scarry’s Busytown

As a part-time business instructor, I find book-based licensing deals fascinating. I’d love to know how much Warner Bros. is raking in from licensing arrangements for J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. And then there is Disney’s licensing of its version of Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. Still, it seems like there are far fewer licensing deals that originate with picture books and hold true to the original artwork and characters. Of course there is Curious George and the Hungry Caterpillar, but these examples are few and far between.

One exception is my children’s current obsession: Richard Scarry and Busytown. We’ve been reading Richard Scarry books for years. What Do People Do All Day? is a recent favorite. Scarry’s books are rich in detail. For example in “Building a New House,” Scarry shows how the pipes bring in clean water to the house and carry dirty water to the sewer. “Wood and How We Use It” reveals how a sawmill works, including the water wheel, saws and scrap lumber piles that later get turned into paper. My five-year-old eats up the “how things work” element of Scarry’s books.

I’m not sure how we stumbled across TV’s Busytown Mysteries, based on Richard Scarry’s books. However, one glimpse, and the children were hooked. The animation and characters seem to have jumped off of Scarry’s pages. Each episode challenges the children to make observations and solve a mystery, like who stole the muffins or what happened to the pickle car. Looking closely and finding interesting things are activities Scarry’s books invite children to perform, so the show is in keeping with the spirit of the books too.

My three-year-old sings the show’s theme song constantly. Even on the potty. At the top of his lungs. “There’s no doubt we can work it all out with Huckle….and Busytown!” Given the Busytown obsession, I was immediately on the lookout when my friend Sarah mentioned a that there was a Richard Scarry Busytown board game.

The game is a perfect extension of the Richard Scarry brand. The 6-foot game board is packed with pictures of Busytown, just like the books. The game is cooperative: everyone must work together to reach Picnic Island before the pigs steal all the food. Along the way the children get to work together to solve mysteries and earn bonus points. For example, they use magnifying glasses to find as many kites, ice cream cones or bicycles as they can around the town. It forces them to look carefully. Working together, they find more of the required objects. The game is a lot of fun for two to four players. It’s even won a Parent’s Choice award.

So, I’m curious, what’s your favorite licensing deal or extension of a children’s picture book? Why don’t picture book characters translate into more toys, games, TV shows and other products especially when there is such a market?