The original from 1984, and the redesigned jacket for the new edition.

A quarter century has passed since Audrey and Don Wood created The Napping House, a cumulative tale about a boy napping with his grandmother—along with a dog, cat, mouse and flea, all piled one on top of the other. Inspired by the couple’s own son, a reluctant napper, this story clearly resonated: the picture book has sold 1.6 million copies since its 1984 release by Harcourt. The publisher recently issued a 25th anniversary edition, which includes a CD containing a reading of the tale and six original songs. Here’s how The Napping House’s various incarnations came to be.

When the Woods’ son Bruce was young, he refused to take naps in his family's Santa Barbara home, but would happily doze off while snuggling with his grandmother, who lived two blocks away in what the family dubbed “the napping house.” That phrase struck a chord with author Audrey Wood, who had collaborated with her artist husband on two earlier children’s books. “As soon as I heard the words ‘napping house,’ I knew there was a book in there waiting to be released,” she recalls. “The title came easily. Finding the style and fitting the pieces together took many months and many versions.”

The Woods had no trouble finding a publisher for The Napping House. “We had heard that Harcourt was moving West,” explains Don Wood, who illustrated the book. “We thought, ‘a major publisher in the West? Radical!’ ” When he and Audrey showed up on Harcourt’s doorstep the day the publisher opened its San Diego office, they were warmly welcomed. “Rubin Pfeffer and Maria Modugno bought the book on the spot,” Don says. “It was the first book purchased by Harcourt on the West Coast.”

Don and Audrey Wood
in front of the
Napping House, 1983.

Harcourt later published a 10th-anniversary edition of The Napping House, which gave the authors a chance to correct what Don Wood “an error that had haunted us for a decade.” When he first created the book’s art, he painted a tiny flea on every spread—or almost every. “When I proudly unveiled the final paintings to a group of Harcourt editors, each painting was greeted with enthusiasm,” he says. “But then I pulled back the cover sheet on the ‘who thumps the child’ painting, and there was total silence. Finally someone asked, ‘Where’s the flea?’ The flea was the last touch I added to each painting, and I had forgotten it on this page.”

Don dashed to a nearby art store, purchased a tube of black paint and a tiny “flea-sized” brush and daubed in the missing flea. “But I only had time to apply one coat of paint, not two as I had on all the other fleas,” he explains. “Consequently the flea on that page printed very pale. For years mail came in asking where the flea was on the ‘who thumps the child’ page. We fixed that flea in the 10th-anniversary edition.”

The Woods were initially hesitant about redesigning The Napping House to mark its 25th birthday. “It has proven itself a children’s favorite, and the idea of reworking the book was scary,” says Audrey. But they changed their minds when they received a redesigned sample cover from Harcourt. “The new cover perfectly illustrates the liberating effects of digital technology on design,” Don says. “Suddenly hundreds of design options, unavailable to us in the 1980s, present themselves. This cover is alive and flowing and cozy—a vortex of slumber. Looking at it, we couldn’t resist.”

Don and Audrey Wood, 2009.
Photo: S. Chupity.

After the Woods signed on to update The Napping House, Don attempted to assemble the original paintings in order to “begin production from scratch,” but could only locate about half of the artwork. “However, I was able to access the digital scans and corrected the colors, contrast and saturation on many spreads,” he says. “Then we went through four proofs with the printers.”

The authors’ diligence, combined with today’s technology, enabled the new edition to reclaim “the vibrancy of the original art work,” observes Jeannette Larson, editorial director of picture books at Harcourt Children’s Books, who oversaw the editing of the new edition in its final stages. “With picture books, it is not unusual to lose something of the original art over the years, but we now have the ability to reproduce art so that it is much more true to the illustrator’s original intention.”

With this refreshed version, The Napping House is poised to be around for plenty of future anniversaries. “We are constantly hearing from new parents who were raised on this bookand have made it a part of their own children’s reading ritual,” Audrey says. “Who knows, maybe we can reach three generations? That’s extremely gratifying.”

The Napping House by Audrey Wood and Don Wood. Harcourt, $17.99 ISBN 978-0-15-256708-8