February 16, 2006


Bionicle Legends #1: Island of Doom. By Greg Farshtey. Scholastic. $4.99.

Just My Luck. Adapted by Laurie Calkhoven. Scholastic. $4.99.

Fear Factor: Yuck! Grossest Stunts Ever! By Jesse Leon McCann. Scholastic. $4.99.

Winx Club: P.A.S.S. Book. Scholastic. $7.99.

Winx Club: Alfea School for Fairies. Scholastic. $4.99.

Care Bears: Phonics Box Set. Scholastic. $12.99.

Guinness World Records: Fearless Feats. Scholastic. $4.99.

     There are positives and negatives in licensed products for both parents and publishers.  Parents get recognizable products that children will really want to read or play with if they are fans already – but the likelihood of long-term interest, substantive information or ongoing enjoyment is small.  Publishers get products with a built-in audience – but must meet that audience’s expectations by not straying too far from the simple, formulaic ideas and stories that created the fan base in the first place.  Not even Scholastic, as good a children’s publisher as exists today, is immune to the lure of licensed products – or to their limitations.

     These products come with target age ranges from the youngest children to preteens.  Bionicle Legends #1: Island of Doom, for ages 9-12, is based on the Bionicle characters created by the makers of LEGO blocks after they decided that free-form play, the company’s stock in trade for nearly half a century, was not enough for today’s kids.  Adventure and predetermined characters were called for.  This decision turned LEGO into pretty much just another toy company and went strongly against its reason for being (the very name LEGO comes from a Danish phrase meaning “play well”).  But kids who think LEGOs are action-figure things will immediately recognize this story of the six beings that arrive on an isolated island in pursuit of something that is both of great value and of great evil potential.  Ho-hum, again, you say?  Then pass the book by.

     Also for ages 9-12 – but targeting mainly girls, as Bionicle targets mainly boys – is Just My Luck, a very simple novelization of the latest Lindsay Lohan film.  The idea is that Lohan’s character, Ashley Albright, has great gobs of good luck and therefore is fabulous, stunning, successful and all that.  Her co-star, Chris Pine, has great gobs of bad luck, and Lohan seems to catch (through kissing!) a case of the same stuff, leading her to career disaster (no fair saying “yay!”) and an eventual appreciation of pizza, good friends – and Pine’s character, Jake Harden.  The book follows the movie plot closely, and anyone wanting to re-live the film – without a DVD – will enjoy it.

     Anyone wanting to re-live Fear Factor (why?) will enjoy Yuck! – whose title is not a comment on the TV show but a reference to tanks full of mealworms, a shake of maggots and house flies, a box containing 10,000 Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and so on.  This book, for ages 7-13, is actually cleverly arranged, with facts, photos, crossword puzzles, quizzes and interviews with Fear Factor contestants.  It’s still gross, though; fans will consider that a compliment.

     Winx Club, offering five cutesy-pie fairies to the 5-to-10-year-old set, comes with offerings for the younger and older part of the age group.  The acronym in P.A.S.S. Book stands for “Pass Along Secretly and Silently,” and the book looks like an old-fashioned diary, complete with lock and key.  Aimed at ages 7-10, it includes quizzes, fill-ins, glitter stickers and more.  For ages 5-7, Alfea School for Fairies offers a look at the fairies’ rooms at their school, with lots of stickers to decorate the individual rooms and shared living room.

     Care Bears: Phonics Book Set, for ages 3-5, stands out among these licensed products for its educational orientation.  The box includes a dozen short books that use the Care Bears characters to help kids learn to read.  Each book contains a simple story, such as Meet the Care Bears or All Set for Bed!  And each story has a purpose: for example, Best Friends helps young readers learn about plural words.  This is a set worth having if your young children like the Care Bears and if you, as a parent, can handle an overdose of treacly sweetness in the name of education.

     The most interesting of these licensed products has no specific age target: Fearless Feats, based on “Incredible Records of Human Achievement” (so the subtitle says) from Guinness World Records.  The first Niagara Falls tightrope walk, the heaviest vehicle ever pulled with teeth, the most surfing championships won, the youngest solo transatlantic sailor, the oldest barefoot water-skier – learn about these and many other unusual people and  human achievements here.  Some entries are worthy of Fear Factor: chainsaw juggling, bathing with rattlesnakes.  Others are simply odd: longest toenails, heaviest weight lifted by a human beard.  The biggest oddity, though, may be Scholastic’s publication of a book that promotes the Guinness volume – and ignores its own annual Scholastic Book of World Records.  That must be just another of the wonders of licensing.

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