A new collaboration from Philip and Erin Stead – the husband-wife team behind last year’s Caldecott winner, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, and this year’s Bear Has a Story to Tell – would be noteworthy on its own. But the as-yet-untitled picture book, scheduled for fall 2014, is just one of three recent Stead acquisitions by Neal Porter. Due in winter 2015 is Special Delivery, which Philip will write and Matthew Cordell (Trouble Gum, Feiwel & Friends) will illustrate. Sebastian and the Balloon, which Philip will illustrate as well as write, follows in spring 2015.
Under his eponymous Roaring Brook imprint, Porter has published all of the couple’s work, together and separately, since Philip’s 2009 debut, Creamed Tuna Fish and Peas on Toast. The literary hat trick of signing three books at once, atypical as it is, indicates the depth of Porter’s commitment to these authors. “Frankly, I can’t conceive of a project that Phil and Erin showed me that I would not want to publish,” he says. “We’re always in close contact, but they’re also very staunch believers in not wanting to show a book until they’re comfortable with it, and it’s ready for prime time, as Phil sometimes puts it. These are books that I knew about to varying degrees, but I hadn’t really seen much on any of them, and then they all kind of coalesced around the same time.”
Negotiating on the Steads’ behalf was Emily van Beek of Folio Literary Management; Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio represented Cordell. Prior to signing with Folio in mid-2010, the Steads did not have an agent, van Beek says. “I was a huge fan of Philip’s debut, and then I spotted Amos as soon as it came out. I saw a thumbnail of the cover online, and that stopped me dead in my tracks. I sent them a fan letter two weeks later.”
When van Beek signed the couple, they already had several books in the pipeline with Porter; the first release that came through Folio was Bear Has a Story to Tell (Sept. 2012). The Steads toured for the book this fall and, van Beek says, “When they had quiet moments, it was a relief for them to get back to their studio. They had these ideas brewing – some were brewing for a while and others, like the picture book that Philip wrote for Matthew, came about more quickly. Neal approached us with the idea of lining up these next projects. Because it was three very different ones rather than three more Philip and Erin collaborations, it made sense to go forward, for scheduling, to make sure everything was lining up.”
Among the books is Philip’s first collaboration with an artist other than Erin – Matthew Cordell. “When I first heard about it,” Porter says, “my ears immediately perked up because I’m a huge fan of Matt’s.” Cordell and Philip had admired each other’s work and, van Beek says, “had seen each other in passing at conferences and just really hit it off. Not too long ago, they got to chatting and Matthew asked if Philip would consider creating a piece of music for Matthew’s book trailer for his new picture book, Hello! Hello! [Disney-Hyperion].” Philip, a triple threat, performs his own original music on trailer soundtracks for books written or illustrated by himself or Erin.
Philip agreed to do the trailer music for Hello! Hello!, whose art, says van Beek, reminded him of childhood favorites like Quentin Blake. “So he was inspired to go a step further and write a story for Matthew,” she says. “And that’s how Special Delivery came about.”
Special Delivery follows the journey of a girl named Sadie who is determined to deliver an elephant to her great-aunt Josephine. Before that book’s winter 2015 publication comes the Steads’ as-yet-untitled collaboration, in fall 2014; it will be followed by Sebastian and the Balloon, written and illustrated by Philip, in spring 2015. The three books are in various stages of completion; Porter says he expects to see a dummy of the Steads’ untitled project in January. As far as the second and third books, for which he’s seen some preliminary art and text, “we’re all sort of noodling and thinking and going back and forth.” Spring 2015 may feel like a long way away, but, Porter says, “It’s the nature of the business: you’re working on books at different stages, even though they might be scheduled for different seasons.”
Van Beek calls Porter “a dedicated and indefatigable editor,” and – especially when it comes to the Steads – he wouldn’t have it any other way. Signing on for three books at once, he says, “wasn’t that much of a leap. When you believe in people and you love working with them, you want to ensure that you’re going to continue working with them.” And it looks like the next several seasons, just for starters, are a lock.