Exactly 50 years ago, Maurice Sendak made his publishing debut, with Harper & Brothers, when he illustrated Marcel Aymé's The Wonderful Farm. Of the more than 90 books that he has since illustrated, or written and illustrated, some have become beloved staples of retailers' and young readers' bookshelves, including Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchenand Outside Over There. Other Sendak titles have slipped out of print over the years and are largely unknown to this current generation of children—and perhaps even to their parents. But not for long.

Just in time to celebrate the author's anniversary with the house, this season HarperCollins will release the first four titles in its two-year program to reissue hardcover editions of 22 Sendak books. Due out in June is Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life, written and illustrated by Sendak, as well as three for which he created the art: I'll Be You and You Be Meby Ruth Krauss, Amos Vogel's How Little Lori Visited Times Square and Isaac Bashevis Singer's Newbery Honor Book, Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories.

The next group of Sendak reissues, highlighting books written by Ruth Krauss, will be released in November and will include A Very Special House, Charlotte and The White Horse, I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blueand Open House for Butterflies. Hector Protector and As I Went Over the Water, a collection of nursery rhymes illustrated by Sendak, is also part of the November crop.

Spearheading the reissue program, which has been in the works since 1997, is Michael di Capua, who between 1992 and 1999 had his own imprint at HarperCollins, which has since moved to Hyperion. (In an unusual arrangement, he has contracted with HarperCollins to continue overseeing the program.) Though di Capua edited a number of Sendak's books during his years at HarperCollins and his earlier tenure at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, his initial encounter with Sendak took place in the early 1960s, when he signed up the artist to illustrate Randall Jarrell's The Bat-Poet, which Macmillan published in 1964 (di Capua reissued this and Jarrell's subsequent The Animal Family, also illustrated by Sendak, in 1996 under his imprint at HarperCollins). "Everyone at HarperCollins agreed the new reissue program was an excellent thing to do," di Capua recalled. "We made a list of all of Maurice's out-of-print books and then he and I went over that list and decided which to revive."

Sendak described this selection procedure candidly: "We went through all that was buried and decided what was worth unburying. A lot of the books I love, and some, quite frankly, I wrote to earn money. We decided what were the best books from any given period and discarded others. It gave me a pang to pass over some of the books, but we had to be selective and choose only those that it was worth cutting down a tree for."

A Painstaking Production Process

A priority for those involved in the reissue program, explained HarperCollins executive editor Toni Markiet, who is working with Sendak and di Capua, is ensuring that the new editions resemble the originals as closely as possible. "We wanted to bring them back exactly as they had been done initially, to create editions that were almost facsimiles," she said.

Making this goal easier to achieve was the scrupulous care Sendak has taken with his original art, some of which is held by the Rosenbach Library in Philadelphia. "In many cases, we worked with the existing film for the books," di Capua explained, "which was generally in good condition since a number of the books had not been out of print for very long. But the film for some of the older books that were first published in the 1950s no longer existed, so we borrowed the original art from the Rosenbach and made new separations."

In the case of several early books, di Capua noted that production director John Vitale made new separations "so stunning that when you put the proofs next to the originals, the originals are but pale ghosts of the new art. This is one of the unanticipated bonuses of doing these reissues: not only will be books be available again, but with modern technology they will look better than ever."

Sendak, who is meticulously following each production step, agrees. "At times we found that a typeface was no longer available, but we were able to approximate it quite easily," he remarked. "When I was young I had no knowledge of what kind of watercolor paper to use or which inks would fade. We made some mistakes back then, and this has given us a chance to remedy them."

Among the titles he is most pleased to welcome back are Higglety Pigglety Pop!and one of his collaborations with Krauss, I'll Be You and You Be Me, which he described as "Ruth at her sweetest, most optimistic and imaginative. That book was a real coming together for us."

Sendak concluded that working on the reissue program "has given me more pleasure than I'd anticipated. I think today's readers are going to be surprised to find that what was going on in America in the '50s and the '60s was definitely reflected in children's book publishing. There was truly a revolution in the industry—it was a wild, wild time. For me, returning to these books wasn't a matter of going back and singing a sad melody. In fact, going back, I found out that I was a pretty sharp kid back then." And 50 years on, he still hasn't lost his edge.