Horses are at the heart of most of the 59 children’s novels penned by Marguerite Henry (1902–1997), whose equine protagonists were often based on real-life animals. The author’s stories struck a chord with readers: her King of the Wind won the 1949 Newbery Medal, and Henry also received two Newbery Honors, for Justin Morgan Had a Horse in 1946 and Misty of Chincoteague in 1948. This coming November, Simon & Schuster’s Aladdin imprint will launch a line of deluxe hardcover editions of 20 of Henry’s novels. The books feature a uniform cover look, and many include Wesley Dennis’s original art, digitally refreshed.
The debut books in the line, which will add three titles per season, are King of the Wind, Brighty of the Grand Canyon, and White Stallion of Lipizza. Aladdin is also publishing a series of original middle-grade novels, written by Cathy Hapka, entitled Marguerite Henry’s Ponies of Chincoteague, which starts up in July with Maddie’s Dream and Blue Ribbon Summer.
Henry’s oeuvre has a rather labyrinthine publishing history. According to Jon Anderson, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, her novels were originally published by Rand McNally. After the company that was then Macmillan (as opposed to the current publisher of that name) purchased Rand McNally’s children’s assets in 1986, Henry’s books were published under Macmillan’s Aladdin imprint until S&S acquired Macmillan in 1994 and folded Henry’s novels into its list.
Henry, who died without heirs in 1997 at the age of 95, left the rights to her work to the University of Minnesota. Several years ago, representatives from the university approached Sterling Lord’s George Nicholson to act as agent for the properties, and he negotiated a deal with S&S that enabled the publisher to reissue the Henry titles in hardcover, including some that had gone out of print; make the backlist available as e-books; and release the new middle-grade novels under the Marguerite Henry banner.
While sorting through Henry’s book contracts, Nicholson learned that the author had always looked out for illustrator Wesley Dennis’s interests. “They had a personal friendship as well as a professional relationship, and their careers intertwined for a long time,” he said. “She shared all royalties from the books with Dennis, which is highly unusual.” S&S’s hardcover repackaging program involves reinstating art by Dennis that had been dropped from some of the paperback editions over the years. The artist’s estate will continue to receive a portion of royalties from those reissues that feature his art.
Refreshing Dennis’s art for the deluxe hardcovers, which include full-color paintings as well as black-and-white illustrations, was a bit tricky, since most of the original art no longer exists. “Dennis was a working artist, and sold most of the art he created,” said Nicholson. In the absence of the original pieces, explained Anderson, “We are cleaning up the artwork digitally to create as clean a scan as we can, working from existing reproductions.”
Three new deluxe hardcover reissues are due in spring 2015: Justin Morgan, Sea Star, and Stormy. And the Marguerite Henry’s Ponies of Chincoteague series will add Hapka’s Chasing Gold in fall 2014 and Moonlight Mile in spring 2015.
“We’ve been publishing these books a long time, and they’ve always been fantastic sellers for us. This seemed like a great opportunity to revisit the publishing program and refresh the books,” said Anderson. “There’s a timelessness about [Henry’s] novels and a timeliness about the appeal of horses that have kept these books perennially fresh.”
Nicholson also credits Henry’s writing skills for her books’ longevity. “I of course reread all of her books in the last few years, and the best way to say it is that there’s a simple craft to these novels,” he said. “Her real characters and real family stories, attention to human behavior, and diligence to detail create a kind of purity – and that is why this body of work has lasted.”
Marguerite Henry’s Ponies of Chincoteague: Maddie’s Dream by Cathy Hapka. S&S/Aladdin, $16.99 Jul. 978-1-4814-0337-5; paper $5.99 ISBN 978-1-4814-0336-8
Marguerite Henry’s Ponies of Chincoteague: Blue Ribbon Summer by Cathy Hapka. S&S/Aladdin, $16.99 Jul. ISBN 978-1-4814-0340-5; paper, $5.99 ISBN 978-1-4814-0339-9
King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry. S&S/Aladdin, $17.99 Nov. ISBN 978-1-4814-2133-1
Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry. S&S Aladdin, $17.99 Nov. ISBN 978-1-4814-1582-8
White Stallion of Lipizza by Marguerite Henry. S&S/Aladdin, $17.99 Jul. 978-1-4814-0392-4