After a three-year hiatus, Swedish author Christina Björk’s Linnea in Monet’s Garden, the story of a girl who visits the artist’s Giverny home, will soon be available again to U.S. readers. The book, which is illustrated by Lena Anderson, was originally published by Rabé & Sjögren in Sweden in 1985. That publisher had it translated two years later, and the English-language edition was distributed in the U.S. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux for 22 years, until fall 2009. Thanks to a lucky encounter between Steve Geck, editorial manager of Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, and Kerstin Öberg, R&S’s rights director, Linnea will be back on American bookstore shelves in October, when Sourcebooks Jabberwocky releases an updated version of the book to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its publication in English.
“I was meeting with Kerstin Öberg from R&S for the first time at Frankfurt in 2011,” Geck recalls. “She started telling me a little about her company, and I said, ‘I know who you are – you’re the original publisher of Linnea in Monet’s Garden.’ And she said yes, but sadly the book was no longer being distributed in the U.S. Farrar, Straus & Giroux had a distribution deal with R&S for their books in the U.S., but they didn’t officially license R&S titles, and the distribution deal had ended two years earlier. And then a light bulb went off in my head, and I realized that 2012 is the 25th anniversary of the English-language edition. So I asked Kerstin, ‘Would you like the book to be available again in the U.S.?’ ”
Öberg was interested, but needed to speak with the author and illustrator. Geck then sent her some Sourcebooks Jabberwocky titles, he explains, “so they would see the quality of our publishing program. And after reviewing the sample books, they agreed to license Linnea to us.” Geck then acquired North American English-language rights to the book.
Blast from the Past
Geck had good reason to remember that Linnea’s 25th anniversary in the U.S. market was coming up. In 1987, he was working as a bookseller at Eeyore’s Books for Children on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. That summer, the store moved to a new location several blocks away, and was temporarily closed for construction. While the renovations dragged on, shipments of fall books continued to arrive from publishers, and Eeyore’s staffers took customers’ orders over the phone.
“We had lots of calls about a new book, Linnea in Monet’s Garden,” says Geck. “As I recall, the New Yorker had done a story about it and there was a lot of interest. I found the carton of Linnea books that we’d ordered, and told people who wanted to buy a copy to come to the construction site with the exact cash – I believe it was $16.18 with tax – and I’d meet them outside the store. I felt like a black marketer! I remember that we sold all of our copies before the store reopened.”
The new edition of Linnea features the original 1987 translation by Joan Sandin, a slightly larger trim size than the initial book, and updated information about Paris museums. Sourcebooks sales reps are getting positive feedback from accounts, Geck reports. “People are telling us they are very glad to see the book back in print. From what I understand, the R&S edition sold some half million copies in the U.S., largely because it became a staple of museum stores. But it also sold well in other venues, and we expect strong sales in the school and library market as well as the trade.”
Rona Brinlee, owner of the Bookmark in Neptune Beach, Fla., is one bookseller who is thrilled to see Linnea’s return. “The idea of this book coming back has lots of hearts aflutter,” she says. “I’ve been a bookseller for 17 years, and in my time it has consistently been requested by customers who remember it so fondly. I expect that parents, teachers, and anyone interested in art and in France will be eager to buy it. This will be a good old-fashioned, word-of-mouth book. It was a great moment seeing my staff’s eyes light up when Steve came into our store to present the book.”
The author and illustrator told PW that they too are pleased that the book will again be available in English. In a joint statement from Sweden, Björk and Anderson said, “Linnea is very happy to be published again in the U.S. And so are we. People often ask us how to get ahold of the book in English, and we have had no answers to give until now. We hope Linnea will flourish like before, for all the new children.”
Linnea in Monet’s Garden. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99 Oct. ISBN 978-1-4022-7729-0