Autumn is the traditional season for reaping what one sows, but for Ken Robbins, author/illustrator of more than 25 children's books, this was an unusual year.

A picture-book project Robbins thought was firmly planted at one publishing house ended up being harvested by another house altogether. Pumpkins, published in August by Roaring Brook Press/Neal Porter Books, originally was scheduled for publication by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

According to Robbins, as Pumpkins was about to go to into production in 2004, S&S requested that he remove an image in the book that depicted a child dressed as a witch for Halloween. At first, Robbins's editor, whom he declined to identify, suggested that in-house design and marketing people felt that a different image—one of pumpkin pie—would be better for the book. Robbins disagreed and stood his ground. "I told her that the Halloween images were my favorites and that it only makes sense to have Halloween images in a book about pumpkins," he said. "I also told her that I would not replace them with pumpkin pie."

As discussions between author and editor continued, Robbins wondered if fears of a backlash might be behind S&S's change of heart. Though the editor denied this was the case, Robbins eventually discussed the matter with S&S BFYR president Rick Richter, who confirmed that the house would not publish the book in light of potential objections in the marketplace, namely from the religious right.

"Rick was very respectful and straightforward," Robbins recalled. "He told me that if I decided not to make the image change I could keep my full advance and try to sell the book elsewhere, and that he would promptly revert the rights back to me. That's what I decided to do."

Richter declined to comment for this piece, but an S&S staffer claimed the issue was "creative differences."

Robbins's agent, Susan Cohen of Writers House, commented that this situation may be indicative of a prevailing mood in publishing. "Publishers are feeling pressure from the marketplace and from parent corporations about what they publish," she said. "In many ways it is understandable, but still kind of sad. These days there is a feeling that if a book contains material or images that someone finds objectionable, the negative effects go beyond a bad review—those who feel offended might go so far as to start an Internet campaign to boycott the book or its publisher."

In July 2005, after Robbins decided to take the project back from S&S, he contacted Neal Porter at Roaring Brook Press. Porter was a longtime fan of Robbins's work, and had recently expressed interest in publishing him. "I let Ken know immediately," Porter said, "that I would be happy to take the book on."

With a few small editorial corrections and design changes, plus a new jacket, Pumpkins went into production later that summer, scheduled for August 2006. To date, the book has sold 20,000 copies, according to Roaring Brook, with two trips back to press, and another 7,500 arriving soon. Pumpkins was featured in Barnes & Noble's fall promotions and was picked up by craft-store chain Michael's. In addition, Roaring Brook has at least two more books scheduled with Robbins.

Porter declared Pumpkins a success. "Thus far we've received no negative feedback or concerns voiced about the book's content," he said.

Indeed, fears of a backlash have not been realized. Carol Moyer, manager of the children's book department of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C., told PW, "I'm in an area where the religious right is vocal. Pumpkins could have been an issue here, but it wasn't. Not one single parent or teacher commented to me about the book, and it sold very nicely for us."

From the library perspective, Kate McClelland of Perrot Memorial Library in Old Greenwich, Conn., commented, "I think it's appropriate for the editor to point out to an author that an image might cause ripples of concern. But if the author still believes in the artistic validity of his photograph, then it's his choice."

Robbins characterizes the experience as "a classic case of self-censorship, of a company taking precautions to protect itself. We need to be vigilant about not caving into that."