Chronicle Books has been selling Jane Wattenberg’s hip, accordion-style selection of baby faces, Mrs. Mustard’s Baby Faces, for 23 years. In 2007, she revamped the book, which is now available in a slightly larger format (the original photo collages were made with scissors, tape, and glue). But when the company passed on renewing the contract for its 1990 companion volume, Mrs. Mustard’s Beastly Babies, Wattenberg decided to republish it herself.
“I really wanted Beastly Babies to be back. So I took it as a great opportunity to experiment,” says Wattenberg, who did the same things for it that she did for Baby Faces. Shechanged the backgrounds, brightened the look, and readjusted the size. She even went to the same printer that Chronicle used in Hong Kong. “I like the ‘industrial part’ – talking to the printers, designers, and even the customs broker,” she says.
And she faces the inevitable challenges with good humor: getting Beastly Babies through customs, finding a place for 2,000 copies in her studio, and putting up a Web site. For example, when the Web designer she hired went MIA for a few days, which threw off her original publication date – Groundhog Day – she took it in stride. (He was delayed because he was scooped up with 300 other people who participated in Occupy Oakland.)
Beastly Babies is already on sale at some Northern California bookstores near Wattenberg’s home, and the Web site is now live. Booksellers and other retailers can contact her through the site for a wholesale discount. Wattenberg has also selling her Mrs. Mustard’s Books with the "Read with relish!" tagline direct to consumers, along with two other books of hers – Edward Lear’s the Duck and the Kangaroo, which she illustrated, and Henny-Penny and Never Cry Woof!, both of which she retold and illustrated.
So far the experience has only made Wattenberg eager for more DIY publishing. “I think I’m going to do some more novelty books,” she says, “and experiment with all the options out there: a flex book and an e-book. It’s really fun and I can be working on all my other projects.” She advises PW to tune in in six months for news of another baby book; the name is currently “under wraps.”
As for the identity of the real Mrs. Mustard (yes, there was one), she’s Wattenberg’s mother-in-law’s mother.