Even the best books can go out of print, but Crocodile Books is giving new life to a shelf’s worth of picture books by author-illustrator Ruth Sanderson. Over the last three years, Crocodile has acquired and re-released 12 of Sanderson’s retellings of myths and fairy tales, which were published by Little, Brown over the last quarter century. This September, the publisher will add Sanderson’s The Snow Princess to that catalog, followed by Goldilocks in October.
It’s all part of a quiet experiment spearheaded by Michel Moushabeck, who founded Crocodile Books in 1987 as the children’s imprint of Northampton, Mass.-based Interlink, a publishing house that specializes in international politics, cookbooks, travel books, and fiction. Crocodile publishes a small stream of about 10 titles annually, always with the mission to “bring the world to children in America by introducing young readers to writers and illustrators from around the world,” according to Moushabeck.
With Sanderson’s books, however, Moushabeck said that mission has expanded to include “bringing American stories to children around the world.” Rather than look for new titles, he decided to start with ones that had gone out of print.
Crocodile acquired the rights from Sanderson, who had regained them from Little, Brown after the books went OOP. Along with his love for Sanderson’s work, Moushabeck said he believed that acquiring her work was simply good business. Librarians had expressed interest in seeing them reprinted, and while the books may not have sold enough to satisfy the needs of a larger house, Moushabeck said “the combination of selling 3–5,000 copies domestically and licensing the international rights has made this a financial success” for a small house like Crocodile.
Two of Sanderson’s titles—The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Cinderella—have already sold through their initial first printings for Crocodile, and are in their second printings of 5,000 copies each, according to Moushabeck. He also attended last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, where publishers from four countries, including Bulgaria and Kazakhstan, acquired foreign rights to the books. Moushabeck said that the interest from Eastern Europe and Central Asia was surprising. “Some of the titles were acquired aggressively,” he said, “and most of the places [that acquired them] were places I did not expect.”
Given the response to Sanderson’s books, Moushabeck has now set his sights on a second author. Veteran children’s author Jane Yolen, who lives near the press, has signed on to re-release her out-of-print picture book Eeny, Meeny, Miney Mole, illustrated by Katherine Brown (Harcourt, 1992), with Crocodile next spring. Moushabeck previously published Yolen’s Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook, co-authored with her daughter, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, in 2013. Yolen will follow the re-publication of Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mole with a new sequel to the book. Crocodile will then begin re-releasing two to three of Yolen’s out-of-print titles each year.
The prospect of giving new life to the books excited Yolen so much that she furnished Crocodile with a list of dozens of nearby authors with out-of-print books whom she would help bring on board. The thought of reviving works by authors in his own community is thrilling to Moushabeck: “We live in an area that is rich with children’s authors and some of them are national treasures.”
Despite his excitement, however, Moushabeck said he is being careful to resist the temptation to grow too quickly. “We are testing the waters and treading softly at the moment,” he said, sounding a note of caution. “We don’t want to overdo things. If titles sell well, we’ll reissue them at a faster pace.”