It’s a rhyme that very easily gets stuck in one’s head: “The mama called the doctor. The doctor said, ‘No more monkeys jumping on the bed!’ ” And, brought to life in Eileen Christelow’s 1989 picture book, Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, it is a refrain that has been delighting young readers for a full 20 years. To commemorate this anniversary, Clarion is publishing Five Little Monkeys Storybook Treasury (Aug.), which collects the original story plus four sequels: Five Little Monkeys Sitting in a Tree, Five Little Monkeys with Nothing to Do (originally published as Don’t Wake Up Mama!), Five Little Monkeys Bake a Birthday Cake and Five Little Monkeys Wash the Car.
Due out with a 100,000-copy first printing, this paper-over-board volume includes a four-page lesson on how to draw a monkey, musical notation and 100 stickers featuring the mischievous monkeys. Also scheduled for August release is Five Little Monkeys Super Sticker Activity Book, a Houghton Mifflin Harcourt paperback.
The inaugural Five Little Monkeys book had a long gestation period, Christelow explains. Her now grown daughter, Heather, came home from preschool chanting the classic monkeys jumping-on-the-bed rhyme at a time when the author, who has a background in photography, was first dabbling at creating picture books. “It occurred to me that this rhyme might make a good picture book,” she says. “I did an illustration of the monkeys sitting in a tree as a portfolio piece, but I put the Five Little Monkeys picture book idea aside for some time.”
Focusing her creative energy elsewhere, she published her first children’s book, Henry and the Red Stripes, with Clarion in 1982. Several other picture books followed, and right around the time Heather entered high school, the Five Little Monkeys again reared their heads, and Christelow called her friend Grace Greene of the Vermont Department of Libraries. “She is a great resource on what topics have or haven’t been covered in children’s books,” Christelow says. “And she told me that the Five Little Monkeys rhymes were in the public domain and that she didn’t know of any children’s books based on them.”
Christelow “played with” the jumping-on-the-bed refrain and created a dummy for a picture book, which she showed to James Cross Giblin, her editor at Clarion. Giblin (now a children’s book author and contributing editor at Clarion, who continues to edit books by Christelow and some of his other longtime authors, including Mary Downing Hahn and Eve Bunting), recalls that Christelow was at his office delivering the art for another picture book when she mentioned she was on her way to show her new dummy to an editor at another house.
“Eileen said she didn’t think I’d be interested in this book, since it was for a younger reader than the books she’d done with me,” he says. “But I asked to see it—and bought it on the spot.” What appealed to Giblin was the book’s simplicity. “Everything seemed of a piece.”
Well before Jumping on the Bed was released, Christelow had an inkling that the book would tickle kids’ funnybones. She brought a dummy of the book with her on school visits, and the reaction from kindergarteners, she recalls, “was just amazing. They already knew the rhyme and loved the idea of seeing it in pictures. I would open my mouth to read the text to them and they’d jump in and take over from me. And they loved the ending, when the mama begins jumping on the bed after the monkeys fall asleep.”
But is she surprised at how successful her monkey tales have been? “Absolutely,” Christelow replies. Sales of English-language editions of the five books included in the treasury, plus two later volumes (Five Little Monkeys Play Hide-and-Seek and Five Little Monkeys Go Shopping), have topped four million copies in hardcover, paperback and board-book formats, and the books have been translated into several languages.
Monica Perez, senior editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Books, who edited the new treasury, attributes the series’ popularity to the “charm and personalities of these monkeys and Eileen’s fun art.” Oh, and she muses that the characters’ species might give the books a boost: “As Curious George’s publisher, we know that monkeys are very appealing to kids.”
According to Perez, Clarion plans to expand the Five Little Monkeys franchise (which also includes licensed merchandise) by publishing books in additional formats. Due in spring 2010 is Five Little Monkeys Travel Activity Kit, containing a paperback book with the first two monkey stories, a coloring activity book, crayons, stickers and a CD with recordings of three stories. Also scheduled for release next spring is a paperback edition of Five Little Monkeys Play Hide-and-Seek and a board book edition of Five Little Monkeys Wash the Car.
Giblin, who says he didn’t initially view Jumping on the Bed as the first in a series but was very pleased when Christelow came up with more story ideas in that vein. He describes the success story for the Five Little Monkeys as “a real blend of the old and the new in publishing: you publish a book because you love the book and then it sprouts all these different arms and extensions. So many people have contributed to the success of this series, including the marketing people, who saw the potential for the board book editions.”
Christelow is currently working on Desperate Dog Writes Again, a follow-up to Letters from a Desperate Dog, as well as Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed. And will there be additional monkey stories down the road? “I don’t really try to come up with monkey stories,” she responds. “If one comes along, that’s great, but I’m not trying to feed the monster, if you will, or make this a huge thing. They have to be good stories. That’s what’s important to me.”
Five Little Monkeys Storybook Treasury by Eileen Christelow. Clarion, $10.99 ISBN 978-0-547-23873-9