Ten years ago, an editor’s chance discovery in a public library motivated the University of Minnesota Press to begin reissuing picture books by a husband-and-wife team originally published during the mid-20th century Golden Age of picture books. Five books by Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire reissued to date by the Univ. of Minn. Press have become a major component in the press’s children’s publishing program in the last decade.

The d’Aulaires —Ingri was from Norway and Edgar was from Switzerland—immigrated to the U.S. from Europe around 1925 and created books inspired by such subjects as Scandinavian life and culture, Greek and Norwegian mythology, and American history. The couple, who learned their craft at European art schools, were renowned for using wood block engravings and stone lithography to create their vibrant and colorful illustrations. They created 27 children’s books in all, most of them picture books. They received the Caldecott Medal in 1940 for Abraham Lincoln, their picture book biography of the 16th U.S. President. D’Aulaire’s Trolls was a 1972 National Book Award finalist.

Kristian Tvedten, the editor at the Univ. of Minn. Press responsible for the acquisition of select books by the d’Aulaires, said it all came about “a little bit by accident.” In 2011, interested in reprint opportunities, Tvedten “was looking around” in the stacks at the Minneapolis Central Library, a few blocks from the press’s offices. There, he came across a copy of Ola, a picture book originally published in 1932 by Doubleday about a Norwegian boy who goes skiing one day, having adventures and making friends all along the way.

“I then called Karin Nelson Hoyle, the curator of the Kerlan Collection [of children’s literature at the University of Minnesota Libraries] and asked her what she knew of the book and about the d’Aulaires,” he said, noting that most of the papers, manuscripts, illustrations, correspondence, and lithograph stones belonging to the d’Aulaires were given to Yale University’s rare book and manuscript library after the couple’s deaths (Ingri died in 1980 and Edgar in 1986). Hoyle suggested that Tvedten contact their sons, Nils and Per Ola d’Aulaire.

“They responded quickly and we started a partnership,” he said, and Children of the Northlights, a picture book about two Sami sisters, Lise and Lasse, who live in northern Scandinavia, was published in 2012; it originally was published in 1935 by Viking. It was followed by Ola (2013); Leif the Lucky (2014); d’Aulaires’ Book of Norwegian Folktales (2016); and, most recently, Nils, which was released last month.

Sales of the books have ranged from 5,000 copies to 20,000 copies, with Leif the Lucky and Children of the Northlights the two top sellers. While the press has no definite plans to reissue another d’Aulaire picture book, Tvedten disclosed that he does “have some projects in mind that I’m continuing to look at.”

With each book, the Univ. of Minn. Press scanned “the most pristine copy we could find and cleaned it up,” Tvedten said, noting that the use of lithograph stones to create the original illustrations was “a labor-intensive method and virtually impossible to do” today. “The sons told us about how 300 pounds of limestone were lugged up the back stairs of their Brooklyn apartment,” he added.

The Scandinavian themes of the five books reissued by the Univ. of Minn. Press was strategic rather than coincidental, as according to the most recent American Community Survey, 45% of Minnesota’s population claim Scandinavian heritage.

“The Nordic heritage market has always been a big part of our list,” Tvedten said. “There’s a large interest in Scandinavia in the Upper Midwest, so it was a no-brainer to pick these books. It’s a lovely tribute to the d’Aulaires that their books are being read so many years later; there are people who grew up with these books who are now giving them to their grandchildren. They’re timeless.”