The idea for the HarperCollins Treasury of Picture Book Classics came to editorial director at-large Katherine Brown Tegen soon after she returned to Harper (for the third time) last year. "I'm always overwhelmed with the amazing backlist," she said, "and with how modest people here are about it. I wanted to do a treasury to celebrate its riches." Tegen assembled a panel of children's book figures to help choose the stories to include in the collection.
The committee consisted of four children's librarians and one bookseller: Caroline Ward of the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Conn.; Kate McClelland of the Perrot Library in Old Greenwich, Conn.; Jane Marino of the Scarsdale Public Library, N.Y.; Lisa Von Drasek of the Bank Street College of Education in New York City; and Valerie Lewis, co-owner of Hicklebee's Bookstore in San Jose, Calif. Lewis also contributed an introduction to the book.
Tegen came up with a list of about 40 books that she thought would likely be included, and last summer the panel met at the HarperCollins offices to narrow the list down to 10 titles. Although the group ended up with 12, according to Lewis, "There really was a pretty unanimous sense of what books should be in there, and we wanted to make it diverse in a lot of ways. We chose imaginative books that can be read over and over again." The collection, more than 400 pages long and weighing in at nearly five pounds, is arranged chronologically and spans more than 50 years, from Goodnight Moon, published in 1947, to William Steig's Pete's a Pizza, published in 1998. In between, the anthology includes books by authors and illustrators such as Crockett Johnson, Tomi Ungerer, Charlotte Zolotow, William Joyce, John Steptoe and Eric Carle.
"This is not about experts choosing 'good, quality books' for children," Lewis said. "It's about the books that children have chosen to last, and we pulled them out and collected them. We did not choose books that are 'good for kids.' "
The committee had a clear vision from the beginning, according to Lewis: "It was important to us to retain the books' original design and page configuration, so the child can still get that sense of anticipation from page to page—you turn each page as you were meant to in the original books." The books' original trim size is also maintained in the collection.
"With a book like this, the idea is that in one volume a child can access lots of books," Lewis continued, "and some should then be bought separately. When the finished copies recently came into our store, a customer standing there saw it and said, 'Pete's a Pizza? I don't know that one—I'll have to buy it for my granddaughter!' "
After the committee finished choosing the 12 books, Tegen dealt with obtaining the necessary permissions to include them in the collection. "We negotiated permissions with each of the authors/illustrators/estates, and everyone was extremely generous and accepted a flat fee," she said. Royalties will be donated to the First Book National Book Bank, an organization that makes new books available to nonprofit groups serving children. The treasury, which will be released in October, had a 350,000-copy first printing, and a 10-copy floor display is available.
"There is an incredible sense of warmth in this collection," Lewis observed. "I associate fond memories with these books, and so do lots of other people."