The stories behind how books make it into editors' hands and get published are often interesting, and three books due out later this year are no exception. In fact, each of these books has quite a history
A Brief Look at New York
Back in the summer of 2001, Rizzoli editor Jane Ginsberg received a fortuitous phone call. Judith Stonehill and Barbara Cohen, owners of the now-closed New York Bound Bookshop, contacted Ginsberg to tell her about a book they'd had success selling during their years of bookselling, and suggested that it might make a good addition to the Rizzoli list. When Ginsberg saw the book, This Is New York, she jumped at the chance to work on the project.
This Is New York was first published by Macmillan in 1960 and stayed in print until the late 1980s. The book sold well in its initial run but eventually went out of print due to declining sales. Now, after more than a decade, the Universe imprint of Rizzoli will be reissuing the book in May.
Written and illustrated by Miroslav Sasek, who signed himself M. Sasek, This Is New York is just one title in a series of 18 illustrated books he produced from 1959 to 1974. Each book in the series explores a different city or area of interest, from Rome (1960) to Cape Canaveral (1963), giving readers a timeless view of the cities with his trademark vivid colors and European style.
Ginsberg said that what first drew her to the book was "the art and the story themselves. They were both so fantastic. It just happened that New York was the first book in the series that we were introduced to."
The series had come about quite by accident. Sasek had initially proposed the first title, This Is Paris, to his agent as a child's travel guide. As Ginsberg tells the story, "It was intended as just one title, but the book was so successful that it launched all the others."
The overall appearance of the book has not been changed from its original edition. Ginsberg said, "We tried to update the text very modestly, but [did] nothing to interfere with the book's original look or vision. And anywhere a fact was updated, there is an asterisk next to the text and the reader can look it up in the back of the book to find out the newly updated fact."
Along with This Is New York, This Is San Francisco, first published in 1962, will also be released in May. According to Ginsberg, early response to the books has been very positive so far; "there are a lot of Sasek fans out there," she said. Depending on the success of these two books, Rizzoli will consider reissuing the other books in the series in future years.
A Civil War Hero
Renowned Harlem Renaissance artist Romare Bearden, who passed away in 1988 at the age of 76, is recognized as one of the most creative visual artists of the 20th century, and his work has been shown in museums worldwide. So it was a banner day when someone at the Bearden Foundation found a story and illustrations for a picture book, written and illustrated by Bearden, in his personal files, which are archived at the foundation.
The story was then brought to literary agent Tanya McKinnon at Mary Evans Inc., who put the book up for auction. Simon & Schuster Children's Books won the auction, and editorial director David Gale began work on a project that he calls a labor of love.
Li'l Dan, the Drummer Boy: A Civil War Story was written in 1984, four years before Bearden's death; Bearden had illustrated only one other children's book, A Visit to the Country by Herschel Johnson, which was published in 1989. As Gale describes the story, "A slave builds his own drum, which he loves to play. He's in the fields one day when he sees the Union solders and they tell him he is free, but Li'l Dan doesn't understand what that means. The soldiers leave, Li'l Dan follows them and they eventually take him in as their mascot. When the Confederates take over, the boy plays his drum to scare them off."
The book was originally submitted to one publisher when it was first written, but it was rejected and then filed away and forgotten until the day it was found in the archives. Bearden had created numerous images for the book, none of which have ever been exhibited before. Since there were more illustrations than the book would need, Gale set to work choosing the art for the story. "I got to pick from three portfolios of artwork," he said enthusiastically. "There were 30 or 35 watercolors that told the whole story, a dozen collages that told part of the story, and then there were sketches."
The final decision on what to include came down to choosing the artwork that told the whole story but were also what Gale considered the best images. The artwork in the finished book is largely watercolors, with a few collage images; the endpapers contain some of Bearden's sketches for the story. As for the text, Gale said he made only one change; he took out a line in order to keep the story and art in agreement. The rest is the original story as Bearden wrote it.
The book also contains a foreword by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., who was a friend of Bearden and had heard the artist tell the story of Li'l Dan; and a CD of the story read by Maya Angelou. The book will be published in September, with a 40,000-copy first printing, to coincide with the opening of the Romare Bearden retrospective at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the first part of a three-year national tour for the show.
A Famous Original
Written and illustrated by Jane Gilbert half a century ago, Indescribably Arabella was submitted to many children's publishers, but due to a paper shortage during the Korean War, the picture book couldn't be published because of its 64-page length. The author then tucked the story away in a trunk. She became a greeting-card artist and had her paintings displayed in various galleries. She also directed plays and taught art in a school she and her husband started in the Canary Islands.
Then one day, 50 years later, she showed her book to a writer friend, Avon Neal. Neal then sent it on to his friend, Newbery Medal winner Avi, to see what he thought could be done with the story. Avi suggested it be submitted to his editor at Simon & Schuster, Anne Schwartz.
Schwartz, who is editorial director of her own imprint, Anne Schwartz Books, received the story, about a girl who wants nothing more than to be famous, in January 2002. Without knowing any of its history (besides knowing that the story was written 50 years ago), Schwartz was immediately drawn to it and acquired it, because she found Arabella to be "a dynamic, adorable, strong and independent girl. Also, there's something about the artwork that just has this timeless charm."
The story arrived as a fully illustrated 64-page dummy, with the text written in script. Schwartz said she cut "quite a lot" of the story to make it into a 32-page picture book, but the cuts were "easy because the book is told in episodes." She hired someone to hand-letter the remaining text.
For most of the project, Schwartz worked with the Gilbert's daughter, Reny Slay (because the author is in her 80s). When Gilbert finally saw a finished copy of her book, according to Schwartz, she started to cry out of happiness at seeing Arabella in print after so many years of waiting. The happiness seems to go both ways; "It was a really satisfying experience to do this book," Schwartz said, "and to make the author so happy."
Though Schwartz had not yet heard any direct reaction from booksellers, around the office, people are enthusiastic about the book. "People love it," she said. "Her [plump] legs are very popular, especially with the women over 40."
Promotional plans for Arabella, which will be released in June, include a mailing of a collectible poster to Book Sense stores, extra newsletter co-op allowance, and an author interview on S&S's Web site.
With such rich histories, these three picture books prove that some things are indeed worth waiting for.