By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Johnston: ‘Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’As the Toronto-based Kids Can Press opens its 50th year by returning to its highly successful “Millie Magnificent” content from author and illustrator Ashley Spires.
Publishing Perspectives readers will recall the 2019 The Most Magnificent Thing animated short produced by the production company Nelvana and its parent company Corus Entertainment. Corus is also the parent of Kids Can Press.
This time, the Spires material is being developed for an animated television series, rather than a film short.
Spires’ two books published to date in the series are The Most Magnificent Thing (2014) and The Most Magnificent Idea (2022). A third entry in the brand, The Most Magnificent Maker’s A to Z, is to be released in the autumn. In it, the company’s material says, Spires “takes readers on an inspirational alphabet journey, as our favorite characters from The Most Magnificent Thing walk us through all the words that little makers need to know.”
Kids Can Press’ media messaging indicates that the original book “about a little girl who perseveres through a frustrating creative process” tapped into the how-to/maker trend in children’s books. Released in 2014, the book is reported to have sold something approaching 800,000 copies, with translation rights sold into 21 languages and/or territories. The second book, The Most Magnificent Idea, was released in the autumn of 2022 and sold more than 25,000 copies in three months, the company says.
In the forthcoming series being created for a preschool audience, Millie is an 8-year-old “inventor, creator, and problem-solver” who works with her “Creato-crew” friends Maya and Ben–and dog Wallace–to find “the most magnificent solutions to their neighborhood’s challenges.”
In a prepared statement, Lisa Lyons Johnston, Kids Can Press publisher and president, is quoted, saying, “The Most Magnificent Thing has resonated and inspired thousands of children around the world to foster their imagination and creativity, and we have loved watching Nelvana expand the universe of Ashley Spires’ beloved book, first to the big screen and now as an animated series.
“We’ll have more news, milestones, promotions and events to share throughout our anniversary year,” she says, “to showcase our successful partnerships and our dedication to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”
Spires has seen another series generated from her work, the Binky Adventure graphic novels, prompting the development of an animated series titled Agent Binky: Pets of the Universe. In that case, the work was produced by Redknot, a joint venture between Nelvana and Warner Bros. Discovery. The series has entered a third season.
Georgaklis: ‘Tremendous Accolades’
In the upcoming Millie series, Ruth Ramirez has been tapped as series director, with Sheila Rogerson as head writer, Jillianne Reinseth as supervising creative producer, Laurie Handforth producing, Jelena Sisic as art director, and Eva Zhou’s design supervision. Voice casting includes Kaia Oz as Millie; Ian Ho as Ben; and Tianna SwamiNathan as Maya.
In a comment, Nelvana’s head of development Athena Georgaklis is quoted, saying, “Both Ashley Spires’ book and Nelvana’s short film have received tremendous accolades as they captured the hearts and minds of audiences around the world and motivated them to be like Millie—a creative thinker who always goes out of her way to help others.
Georgaklis points to the female leadership of the production team, which of course extends to the author, as well.
“I am so lucky to work with a publisher with such close ties to an animation studio,” Spires says. “As a child, I dreamed of working in animation, and having published with Kids Can Press, which has a unique relationship with Nelvana, that dream became a reality—not once, but twice.
“Now my role as an author-illustrator has expanded to television writer and producer.”
Kids Can Press’ work in the books-to-film arena has included Franklin the Turtle, another in-house project with Nelvana, a series of books written by Paulette Bourgeois with illustrations by Brenda Clark. Those books reportedly have more than 65 million copies in print as well as Nelvana’s animated series for television.
The 2019 short film adaptation, The Most Magnificent Thing, Kids Can Press says, has been selected by close to 100 international film festivals and has had attention (nominations or wins) from almost 30 award programs.