After a hiatus of more than a decade, English-language editions of two picture books written and illustrated by the late Brooke Goffstein, published under the name M.B. Goffstein, will be back in print next year. New York Review Books will reissue Brookie and Her Lamb, a 1967 release from Farrar, Straus and Giroux; and Fish for Supper, which won a Caldecott Honor after its 1976 publication by Dial Press. The books’ return to print is due to the efforts of Edite Kroll, Goffstein’s former editor, longtime literary agent, and close friend; and David Allender, the author’s husband and current publisher of David R. Godine.
The professional relationship between Kroll and Goffstein, who wrote and illustrated more than 30 books for children and adults before her death in 2017, had deep roots. They first met in 1965, when Kroll was working as an assistant editor in the children’s department at Knopf. Editor Michael di Capua, then at Pantheon (Knopf’s Random House sister imprint), had acquired Goffstein’s debut picture book, The Gats!, which came out the following year, and Goffstein and Kroll became friends.
The two crossed paths again in the 1970s, when Goffstein began publishing with Charlotte Zolotow at HarperCollins, where Kroll was an associate editor. (In the interim, Goffstein had published many books with FSG after following di Capua there after he left Pantheon.) “Since Charlotte knew that Brooke and I got along so well, I worked on some of her books, including My Noah’s Ark and Neighbors,” Kroll recalled. “I had discovered years before, when I helped proof The Gats!, that Brooke was a perfectionist, fiercely determined to get her words and art exactly as she wanted them. While she was creating the illustrations for Neighbors, one little line she drew irritated her—the cord of a vacuum cleaner. She told me it took her an entire day to get it just right!”
When Kroll opened her eponymous literary agency in New York in 1981, Goffstein became one of her first clients and, Kroll reported, “I successfully—and persistently—sold rights to her books in other countries, including France and Germany.” (Currently, Goffstein’s work is also published in other territories, including Japan, where her books and tie-in merchandise are very popular.)
Charting a Different Course
As the 1990s dawned, Goffstein decided to stop publishing and she persuaded publishers to relinquish rights to her books even before the contracts had expired. “This was a hard decision and so unusual that few people understood her reasons,” Allender said. “Things had changed in children’s publishing in this country, including the spirit of adventure, high-mindedness, and willingness to take risks. Brooke was very sad at first, then angry, then just resigned that it wasn’t her world anymore. She was writing about art, artists, and the need to cherish the environment—she didn’t want to hear that children loved dinosaurs so write about that instead. She always believed that when you address a child, you’re addressing someone just like yourself. Anything else was dishonest.”
Allender noted that while Goffstein then devoted herself to planting trees and animal rescue and tackled an array of projects around their house “with the same seriousness she brought to her published work,” she did not abandon her craft. “Brooke kept on writing and creating art—all the way through her last days in hospice care. But she shared it all now with close friends and her students at Parsons School of Design, where she taught the art of children’s books. Her ideal were the poets of ancient China, and she could work and rework a single sentence for many months, seeking the fewest possible words to create the clearest image.”
Finding a New Port
After Goffstein’s death, Allender and Kroll together decided to pursue republishing some of her picture books, and agreed that New York Review Books, in Allender’s words, “was an absolute first choice as a publishing partner. No one is better at publishing reprints as if they were new titles.”
The NYRB editorial team quickly climbed on board, senior editor Susan Barba reported, noting that she “fell immediately in love” with Goffstein’s early picture books. “Their black-and-white art and elemental simplicity seemed especially true to Goffstein’s nature as an artist and author,” she said, “and has a unique, timeless feel that fits especially well with our list.” After considering “about a dozen and a half” titles as potential reissues, Barba said she and her colleagues selected two of Goffstein’s early books, Brookie and Her Lamb and Fish for Supper, since “there is such a sense of humor in both stories, and it comes across differently in each book.”
Allender was pleased to learn of NYRB’s choice of titles. “These two books have special meaning,” he explained. “Brookie was Brooke’s third book, but really the first where she’d found her voice in both writing and art. And Fish for Supper came from her most cherished childhood memory of being with her grandparents for the summer on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. I hope adults and children will see the beauty and meaning and humor in these books that I do. Brooke’s voice was unique and beautiful, and I’m privileged to help keep that voice in the world. In a world that seems to run on ugly anger, we need that voice now more than ever.”
And, perhaps most rewarding for Allender is his sense that Goffstein, too, would be happy with the course the reissue venture has taken. “Before Brooke died, she said, ‘take care of my work and my cat,’ ” he recalled. “Then she added a lot of other things, but decisions about her work is the most difficult. Thankfully, we were married 30 years so, of course, her voice is always in my head. When Edite told me about NYBR’s interest in republishing these books, I could hear Brooke say, ‘I’m glad, good going.’ Then she’d ask about her cat.”