Rights Edition: Tove Jansson’s Moomin Characters Licensed to Barnes & Noble

In News by Porter Anderson

Almost 80 years after the first of Tove Jansson’s Moomins appeared, the US market finds the durable characters at Barnes & Noble.

In the Bologna Licensing Trade Fair/Kids area of Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the Moomin Characters’ worldwide licensing agency, Rights & Brands (R&B), catch the eyes of trade visitors and illustrators on their way to meetings. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Now Published in Nearly 60 Languages
Less than two weeks before almost 29,000 trade visitors and illustrators were walking past a large Moomins R&B display at the 60th Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the United States’ largest bookstore chain, Barnes & Noble, announced a new licensing rights deal with the estate of Tove Jansson (1914-2001), the Swedish-speaking Finnish illustrator and writer best remembered for creating the Moomin books for kids.

Handled by Moomins Characters Oy Ltd. in Helsinki, the official rights holder of all the Moomin characters, the deal is bringing the Moomins to 20 of Barnes & Noble’s more-than 600 stores in the United States.

Stores involved in the new licensing are in:

  • New York City
  • Glendale and Los Angeles in California
  • Seattle and Lynnwood in Washington state
  • Grand Chute, La Crosse, and Madison in Wisconsin
  • Arlington, Frisco, and Hurst in Texas
  • Muskegon in Wisconsin
  • Bolingbrook and Oak Brook in Illinois
  • Blaine, Duluth, Maple Grove, Maplewood, Roseville, and St. Cloud in Minnesota

And it will surprise many in Europe and the United Kingdom—where Moomins can seem as ubiquitous as Disney characters are in the States—to know that many Americans are seeing these portly white figures for the first time.

Those who do know Moomins may wonder how it could possibly have taken almost 80 years for them to find a home in the States. When Publishing Perspectives asked the company why it seems that the States has been so slow on the Moomin uptake, Roleff Kråkström, told us, “We have intentionally waited until we have found a strong partner and until we have felt that we have the resources needed.

Roleff Kråkström

“Our growth elsewhere has kept us busy, and the competition is hard in the United States. We could not have asked for a better partner than Barnes & Noble.”

So tot up one more advantage that Barnes & Noble is getting from its leadership by James Daunt—the chief executive shared by the Stateside Barnes & Noble with the United Kingdom’s Waterstones. It turns out that he’s a longtime Moomin man and just the “strong partner” Kråkström talks of needing to airlift the Moomins into the Newer World.

James Daunt

I have long been an admirer of Tove Jansson’s creative spirit and the inspiring world she created with the Moomins,” Daunt says, “stories that still to this day resonate deeply with readers of all ages.

“Jansson’s life story, her literature, and her art are meant to be celebrated and enjoyed by all, and we at Barnes &  Noble couldn’t be more pleased to have the opportunity to bring Jansson’s work to American audiences.”

Sophia Jansson

The Moomins’ board president, and Tove Jansson’s niece, Sophia Jansson, is also quoted in the news of the new licensing deal, saying, “Tove was an  incredible artist and an exceptional person. She wasn’t afraid of walking her own path and was true to her ideals, and these things fed into her creations.

“They’re part of what makes the Moomin stories so special. We are incredibly  proud to have in Barnes & Noble a partner that is equally as excited as we are to bring the Moomins to America.”

The American publisher for the Jansson estate’s many works is Macmillan’s Farrar, Straus & Giroux. And Union Square Kids, along with Boxer Books, is opening a line of licensed Moomin books, including picture books and pre-school editions.

Television Adaptations in 120 Countries

At a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Los Angeles, the Grove at Farmers Market location. Image: Moomin Characters

Kråkström tells us that the Moomins’ strong markets are:

  • Japan, with 40 percent
  • Scandinavia, including Finland, also with some 40 percent
  • The United Kingdom, China, South Korea and Poland accounting for about 10 percent

Tove Jansson. Image: Per Olov Jansson

Jansson’s first publication of a Moomin story from Söderström & Co. appeared 78 years ago, in 1945, and the escapades of the Moomin family in Moominvalley have remained largely thought of as charming kids’ stuff. Observers point out that by 1957, Jansson was publishing Moominland Midwinter, in which a darker, somewhat pensive tone began to infuse the character of Moomintroll, who, as the company puts it, was “the result of being forced to survive in a world to which he feels he does not belong.”

Although she had male lovers at times, the gifted and prolific Jansson’s most lasting relationships were with women, her main partner being Tuulikki Pietilä. The quiet connection they shared in Helsinki was balanced by summer months spent on a small island in the Gulf of Finland.

It’s said that the name “Moomin” came from Jansson’s uncle. She lived with him in Stockholm while studying in Sweden, and he tried to get her to stop filching food by telling her that a “Moomintroll” lived in the pantry.

A Moomin comic strip cover. Image: Moomin Characters

Jansson’s Moomin books now available through Barnes & Nobel are:

  • The Moomins and The Great Flood (1945) 
  • Comet in Moominland (1946) 
  • Finn Family Moomintroll (1948) 
  • Moominpappa’s Memoirs (1950) 
  • The Book about Moomin, Mymble & Little My (1952) 
  • Moominsummer Madness (1954) 
  • Moominland Midwinter (1957) 
  • Tales from Moominvalley (1962) 
  • Moominpappa at Sea (1965) 
  • Moominvalley in November (1970) 
  • Moomin Book One: The Complete Comic Strips of Tove Jansson (2006) 
  • Moomin’s Little Book of Numbers
  • Moomin’s Little Book of Words

And there is, of course, a podcast, for those who still have room in their listenting lives for more.

The actor Lily Collins hosts The Moomin Phenomenon podcast with Absolutely Fabulous‘ Jennifer Saunders engaged, as well.

That new audio series was introduced on March 1 and is available “wherever you get your podcasts,” as the saying goes.

More from Publishing Perspectives on international book publishing rights and licensing is here, more of Publishing Perspectives‘ rights roundups are here, more from us on illustration is here, and more on the Bologna Children’s Book Fair is here.

In case you missed anything you need from Bologna, here is the set of stories we’ve produced relative to this year’s trade fair there, so far:

Bologna’s 60th Edition Draws 28,894 Visitors
Bologna’s Licensing Awards: 160 Entries, 10 Winners
Poland’s Draga Group Announces an Audiobook Platform
The Folio Society: At Bologna To Meet Illustrators
Hometown Hero: Bologna Illustrator Andrea Antinori Wins Big
International Women’s Day: PublisHer’s Bologna Stand
The Best Children’s Publishers Prizes of the Year at Bologna
At Bologna: Abu Dhabi International Translation Conference
Elena Pasoli and Jacks Thomas on the 60th Bologna Book Fair Opening
At Bologna: Spain’s Publishers Report Growing Children’s Exports
Nicholas Yatromanolakis on Bologna’s Market of Honor: ‘The Modern Face of Greece’
IPA’s Events Lineup at Bologna Children’s Book Fair
‘AI’ at Bologna: The Hair-Raising Topic of 2023?
At Bologna: PublisHer Will Have Its First Trade Show Stand
At Bologna: The ‘Taiwan Stories Market’ Program
Pre-Bologna Rights Roundup: ‘Buy Ukrainian Book Rights’
Children’s Rights Edition: A 16th Bologna Licensing Trade Fair/Kids
Bologna Book Fair Names Cross Media Award Winners
Bologna Focus: Italy’s €283 Million Children’s Book Market
Rights Edition: Bologna Book Plus’ Rights Programming
Bologna Book Fair: 2023 Ragazzi Awards
Bologna’s 60th Book Fair: Illustrators Exhibition Winners
Greece Is Bologna Book Plus’ First Market of Honor

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.