Anita Lobel, who has illustrated or written and illustrated dozens of picture books, has found a new home at Simon & Schuster’s Paula Wiseman Books. On January 19, the imprint will publish Ducks on the Road, Lobel’s first original title since 2015, a counting tale starring a family of spirited ducks. Additional original books from the author will appear on future Wiseman lists. Last fall, the imprint launched a program to reissue some of Lobel’s acclaimed backlist titles, beginning with Caldecott Honor book On Market Street, written by the illustrator’s former husband, Arnold Lobel (1933–1987), and The Night Before Christmas. A third reissue, Taking Care of Mama Rabbit, is due out later this month.
The creation of Ducks on the Road, and its path to publication, involved creative gumption on Lobel’s part—and a serendipitous suggestion from Tomie dePaola, a longtime friend. “I had decided at some point not to do any more books—I felt like I was passé,” Lobel explained. “But I joined a writers’ group and polished up a few things I had in the works, and I took a writing class with John Reed at the New School. I discovered that half the class knew the name “Lobel”’ from Frog and Toad [the series created by Arnold Lobel]. I realized that I was tired of being associated with nothing but Frog and Toad!”
And then came a gentle nudge from dePaola, a fellow artist and onetime classmate at Pratt Institute. “Tomie and I became very close after meeting at Pratt in 1954, but in recent years we were not much in contact,” Lobel said. “Several years ago, Tomie invited me to a function in New York, and I told him that I didn’t want to make books anymore, and that I felt as though my books weren’t selling well. And he told me that he also felt that way sometimes, and I was really surprised to hear that from Tomie! He said he had a new agent, Doug Whiteman, and suggested I contact him about perhaps bringing back some of my books. I was hesitant—I’m just not that great at promoting myself—but my husband Billy Giles, who was also very fond of Tomie, said, ‘If Tomie said to call Doug, why wouldn’t you?’ And so I did.”
A Propitious Rendezvous
That decision precipitated what Lobel called “one of the happiest things that has happened in my old age.” Soon after she signed on with Whiteman, he scheduled a meeting with Jon Anderson, president and publisher of S&S’s children’s division. Anderson introduced Lobel to Wiseman, art director Laurent Linn, and editor Sarah Jane Abbott (who has since left S&S). The introduction led to a contract for three new books and seven reissues under Wiseman’s imprint—and a new chapter in the author’s career. “We all hit it off from the start,” Lobel said of the S&S team. “We met for breakfast and it was incredible—I remember feeling absolutely giddy. It was as though I’d received a new lease on life!”
Wiseman recalled thinking she was “the luckiest editor in the world” to have the opportunity to work with Lobel. “It has been so wonderful making books and sharing stories with Anita,” she said. “I knew from the very beginning I was working with a master. Her work is so much about what’s happening on the page—but also about what’s happening off the page—and how the child receives it. Anita knows just the right word and just the right art to use—it’s intuitive.”
Ushering in the Lasting and the Latest
Laurent Linn welcomed the challenge of art directing Lobel’s original books as well as the reissues. “It is such a joy to work on these books,” said the art director. “With the reissues, I see if I can get the original art to scan, though cover design and art design styles are so different now. Many readers may not know the original book, so we approach each book as if it’s new.” The new editions of The Night Before Christmas and Taking Care of Mama Rabbit, for example, have a larger trim size, redesigned type, and other elements, Linn said, to make them more contemporary but keep them classic. “And we made the reissue of Taking Care of Mama Rabbit a bit longer, since we found some art pieces that weren’t used in the original, and Anita was thrilled to rediscover them.”
Linn noted that he and Wiseman witnessed Lobel create some of the art for Ducks on the Road, and he described her process as “not at all studied or plotted—it comes naturally to her and she puts everything into it. Anita’s art feels like it’s handcrafted, and that is how children themselves create art. She can put herself in the mind of a child to understand clarity and logic in terms of how things should flow. And she brings her own experiences to her art so that it has a distinct personality and accessibility. I have learned a lot from her.”
In 2022, Wiseman’s imprint will publish Lobel’s second new title, Good Morning, Good Night, a story about contrasting images seen on a family’s walk in the city, inspired by a childhood drawing by Lobel’s son Adam. “To make Anita’s original and earlier books available to a new generation is a thrill,” Wiseman said. “Her books are pure and essential and speak to children in that way—directly and right to the heart. They transcend time.”
Linn noted that working on Lobel’s picture books has brought him a renewed appreciation of “why we create children’s books. Each book is an adventure of its own—and you don’t know where it will go. I talked to Anita about how making books is a bit like sculpting in that it never ends up the way you plan it in the beginning. Anita has a willingness to experiment. She is such a pro.”
Ducks on the Road by Anita Lobel. S&S/Wiseman, $17.99 Jan. 19 ISBN 978-1-534-46592-3.
Taking Care of Mama Rabbit by Anita Lobel. S&S/Wiseman, $17.99 Jan. 19 ISBN 978-1-534-47064-4.