Raggedy Ann has endeared herself to young readers for a century – both as a rag doll toy with button eyes and red yarn hair and as the character of a bounty of stories by the late Johnny Gruelle (1880–1938). Next month Simon & Schuster is commemorating the milestone with a varied lineup of releases starring Raggedy Ann and her similarly spunky brother, Raggedy Andy.
These include facsimile 100th-anniversary editions of Gruelle’s original picture-book anthologies, Raggedy Ann Stories and Raggedy Andy Stories, and The Raggedy Ann 100th Anniversary Treasury, a large-format picture book that compiles five of Gruelle’s original tales and new illustrations by Jan Palmer, all from Little Simon. Also due out are new editions of six Ready-to-Read books from Simon Spotlight. First published in the early 2000s, these reissues feature refreshed interior art and new covers reflecting the updated look of the early-reader line.
Raggedy Ann had her beginnings in a heartwarming, if bittersweet, chapter of Gruelle’s life. According to family lore, his young daughter, Marcella, stumbled upon a well-worn, faceless rag doll while exploring her grandparents’ attic sometime before 1914. Gruelle and his wife, Myrtle, spruced up the doll for Marcella, giving her facial features and inscribing the message, “I love you,” within the doll’s newly drawn heart.
Gruelle began writing and illustrating stories starring Marcella and her beloved doll, and continued to add to that canon after his daughter died at 13 after an illness. Raggedy Ann’s popularity soared when the P.F. Volland Co. published Raggedy Ann Stories in 1918. The author patented a doll version of Raggedy Ann; a doll based on Raggedy Andy, who made his first book appearance in 1920, eventually followed.
Passing the Creative Baton
Gruelle created more than 40 books about Raggedy Ann and Andy, and his creativity inspired that of family members after his death. In the 1940s, his younger brother, Justin C. Gruelle, illustrated at least four stories that the late author had penned (the exact number is uncertain, since Justin at times signed his work “J. Gruelle” instead of using his full name). Johnny’s son, Worth Gruelle, illustrated four of his father’s books in the 1960s, which his daughter, Joni Gruelle Wannamaker (named after her grandfather) watercolored. Continuing the tradition of family participation, Kim Gruelle, Worth’s son and Joni’s brother, has written an afterword to the new facsimile 100th-anniversary story collections.
Though Johnny Gruelle died before Wannamaker was born, she had a close relationship with her grandmother, Myrtle. She recalled both of her parents reading Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy stories aloud to her and Kim, and has fond memories of how her father drew her into the family creative tradition.
“We spent summers in Connecticut, where my grandfather lived for many years, and my father rented a little storefront where he did his illustrations, and he also spent time there teaching me,” she said. Wannamaker further embraced the family’s Raggedy Ann legacy by establishing the Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum, with her husband Tom Wannamaker, in Johnny Gruelle’s hometown of Arcola, Ill., in 1999, which operated until 2009.
“Tom and I know, from talking to thousands of visitors to the museum over the years, just how close Raggedy Ann and Andy are to the hearts of people of all ages,” Wannamaker told PW. “These characters really do have timeless appeal, and signify love, caring, and gentleness. And the dolls, with their ‘I love you’ hearts, are fittingly lovable and huggable.”
Raggedy Ann and Andy’s appeal is not only timeless, but also universal. Over the past 100 years, more than 60 million books, dolls, and other branded products have been sold worldwide. And the books alone have sold two million copies across the globe in the past 15 years.
A New Century Begins
Valerie Garfield, v-p and publisher of novelty and licensed publishing for Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, oversaw the publication of the anniversary editions as well as the reissues of the Ready-to-Read books. “Raggedy Ann and Andy have such a loyal fan base and impart such a sense of nostalgia, that we realized that this was the perfect time to dust off the original story collections, to celebrate the 100th anniversary and to give a nod to Raggedy Ann and Andy’s longevity and timelessness,” she said. “We cleaned up the art to make it vibrant and fresh for a new generation of readers.”
Garfield was impressed by the artistic precision of Palmer’s illustrations for the anniversary treasury, noting that she rose to the challenge of perpetuating Gruelle’s artistic vision while making the art accessible to today’s readers. “It’s a very fine line, and Jan did a tremendous job walking it,” she observed. “She stayed true to the original, revered look of Gruelle’s iconic art, yet gave it a fresh spin, without being too modern. We didn’t want to go too far in any direction, and Jan’s beautiful art is perfectly balanced.”
Similarly, the publisher took care to preserve the feel of Gruelle’s voice and graphics in the six re-branded Ready-to-Reads, which were created by various authors and illustrators. The titles – School Day Adventure, Leaf Dance, Hooray for Reading, Going to Grandma’s, Day at the Fair and Old Friends, New Friends – are also available in a new boxed set.
An ancillary benefit of revitalizing Raggedy Ann and Andy in the new books, Garfield added, is reinforcing the characters’ identities as imaginative and active everyday kids. “Sometimes they are regarded as staid rag dolls, propped up in a rocking chair,” she said. “I hope these new editions remind everyone that Raggedy Ann and Andy are quite adventurous souls – they’re cool and fun characters with a lot of spunk.”
Tom Wannamaker, Joni Gruelle Wannamaker’s husband, has yet another goal for Raggedy Ann and Andy as they enter a new century of life. “My mission has been to get more males interested in Raggedy Ann and Andy, since it has been perceived as a ladies’ property to some extent,” he said. “One of the biggest hooks to get guys interested is the wonderful art involved in the property – it goes far beyond the toy component.”
That said, Wannamaker, who served in Vietnam as a Marine and has been involved with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program in the past, said he was “tickled to learn” that the Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls were the first toy items distributed in the initiative’s inaugural toy drive in 1947.
“Everyone has done such a beautiful job with these books,” Joni Wannamaker Gruelle said of S&S’s work on the anniversary tie-ins, “and they’ve been wonderful about involving our family in the program, which is very important to us.”
“When his daughter Marcella died, my grandfather wanted to immortalize her,” Wannamaker added. “I am so pleased that, with these commemorative volumes, that his wish – and the kind and gentle message of his characters – endure. We’re excited at the prospect of keeping these books going for another 100 years.”
100th Anniversary Raggedy Ann Stories by Johnny Gruelle. S&S/Little Simon, $17.99 Oct. ISBN 978-1-4814-4389-0
100th Anniversary Raggedy Andy Stories by Johnny Gruelle. S&S/Little Simon, $17.99 Oct. ISBN 978-1-4814-4390-6
The Raggedy Ann 100th Anniversary Treasury by Johnny Gruelle, illus. by Jan Palmer. S&S/Little Simon, $17.99 Oct. ISBN 978-1-4814-4434-7