Half a century ago, Viking passed on publishing the picture book Earl the Squirrel by Corduroy creator Don Freeman. At the time, his editor at Viking, Annis Duff, told him that Viking already had a squirrel title on its list for that season, so his book wasn't right for them at that time. Freeman then submitted his book to Scribner, but it was rejected: Freeman was considered a Viking author and Scribner didn't want to step on any toes. Freeman then filed away his squirrel story.

Fast forward some 50 years, and Earl is now hitting bookstores, via Viking, after a lengthy process that began when Freeman's son, Roy, found the Earl manuscript among his father's materials (Freeman died in 1978). Roy was making an inventory of his father's work for the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, which currently holds a good number of Freeman's papers and illustrations, when he came across several versions of an Earl manuscript and a great deal of artwork. He showed the text and art to Don's agent, George Nicholson at Sterling Lord, who brought the package to last year's Bologna Book Fair and presented it to Regina Hayes, president and publisher of Viking Children's Books. Hayes acquired the book when she returned to New York, where senior editor Joy Peskin worked on it. "It was challenging to put it all together because we had more art and text than the story really needed, but Roy was wonderful to work with, so it was a fun sort of challenge," said Peskin.

The story follows Earl as he learns to gather acorns after his mother decides it's time he get them for himself. The illustrations are black-and-white scratchboard, with a splash of red on the pages, in the form of Earl's scarf. "I think people are appreciating black and white again," Hayes said. "There was enough art for three books in the bundle Roy gave me, and we matched up the pictures with the text as best we could for this book. We're gratified that all these years after his death, Don's books continue to resonate."

Even though the artist has been dead for 27 years, more of his books are likely to be published. Hayes said, "Don was always working on many things at one time. He had drawers full of works in progress." One book that may be issued soon is a companion to Earl, in which the squirrel heads to Washington.