Re-Illustrate That Sucker!
The other day I was talking about some favorite books that were getting re-published when in the comments Annette wrote about another book she would like to see in print again:
“The Wedding Procession of the Rag Doll and the Broom Handle and Who Was in It, by Carl Sandburg (pictures by Harriet Pincus but some wonderful new artist could do fantastic things). A book I don’t mind reading aloud over and over and over.”
It got me to thinking. Any time a publisher chooses to rerelease picture book or children’s novel with brand new illustrations that is not a general classic (which is to say, doesn’t show up on the Top 100 Picture Books Poll or Top 100 Children’s Novel Poll results) it is a cause for curiosity and interest. Some recent examples of this might include:
The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban.
The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth
The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill.
Many Moons by James Thurber
The list goes on and on.
So what books are out there that are deserving of a new illustrator’s touch but haven’t gotten one yet? I’m not saying that these are books that have bad illustrations to begin with, but rather are books that might be able to earn an entirely new audience and appreciation if they just acquired a new look. Here are some of my thoughts. Feel free to join in.
The Winged Girl of Knossos by Erick Berry – Originally illustrated by Erick Berry
I know I’m just beating a dead horse with this one, but I like the book so so sooooo much! And look at that archaic cover. Could it be screaming 1933 constructivist school of design any louder? Get a scene of her doing a handstand off of a angry bull’s head instead. That’ll get kids’ attention!
A Stranger Came Ashore by Mollie Hunter
I almost went with Mermaid Summer for Ms. Hunter, but since that book got this cover at one point in its life (albeit in Britain) I’m not going to insist it get another all that soon. A Stranger Came Ashore, however, is another matter entirely. In spite of this teen-looking remnant of the early 90s (Nicholas Cage called, dude, and he wants his hair back) this was a middle grade title all the way down the line. Sort of the anti-Twilight. A mysterious man has only eyes for a girl, and it’s up to her little brother to save her. Give it a good new jacket and you’ll have something to hand those nine-year-olds that insist that they’re old enough for Twilight but their mom won’t let them read it.
Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Daddies by Pija Lindenbaum
The thing about Lindenbaum is that while many Americans just love her stories (this and Mini Mia and Her Darling Uncle are particular favorites) a lot of Yanks don’t much care for her art. Else-Marie was also a particularly brown book. Brown pictures, brown weather, brown brown brown. Kind of a downer. Slap a different but equally strange illustrator in there (say, Scott Magoon) and you could have a book that is wonderfully strange instead of just peculiar and odd to the eye.
The Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace
Now we all remember the bloodshed that went down when Harper Collins tried to give the Little House books different covers. And the cries of sheer pain that erupted when the Ramona books got a new look still reverberates to this day. But what if someone like Marla Frazee got her hands on the Lovelace brand? I envision a whole new set of pictures and scores of readers. You could entice the kids too old for Pennypacker’s Clementine to enjoy a whole new (old) series. What say you?
The Changeover by Margaret Mahy
And that’s the good cover. You should see the bad ones. Even when it first came out they didn’t know how to sell it. I remember reading a paperback that showed Sorry, the romantic interest, as a ghost. Which makes absolutely no sense since Sorry’s a witch. Oy. Mahy’s supernatural romance is still fondly remembered to this day, by the way. Said bookshelves of doom: “Highly recommended for fans of dark romantic fantasy and supernatural stories in realistic settings and urban fantasy/horror.” Someone take pity on this book and give it a new cover. Please.
Ultra-Violet Catastrophe, or, The Unexpected Walk With Great-Uncle Magnus Pringle by Margaret Mahy
Another Mahy, but this one’s in a different vein. Now this is a case where the original illustrations were wonderful (by Brian Froud), but I think a new illustrator could do wonders with such a title as this. The story involves a little girl who would much rather climb trees and be a pirate (a tree pirate) than wear scratchy dresses and stay clean. When she meets her Great-Uncle Magnus Pringle she finds a soulmate, and the two spend the afternoon going on a ramble and having small adventures that allow them to get absolutely filthy. Consider a newbie illustrator for this one. Someone like Erin Stead.
The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip
Last supernatural romance, I swear. Now I read this book when I was a kid and I thought it was great, though I hated the cover. It wasn’t the one shown here. Something a little more boring, I think (not that this one is any great shakes either). This is sort of the opposite of A Stranger Came Ashore. Instead of the boy from the sea being evil, he’s good but a changeling who doesn’t belong on land at all. Very evocative with a good heroine who must solve a mystery and help two boys find their true homes. Worth another cover.
The Wedding Procession of the Rag Doll and the Broom Handle Who Was In It by Carl Sandburg – Originally illustrated by Harriet Pincus
This was the book Annette alluded to. It really is a great little story, but I’m always thrown a bit by how similar the ragdoll looks to Sideshow Bob.
In any case, a newly illustrated edition is just what the doctor ordered. The text is still fun and fabulous (it is Sandburg, after all). Just slap some new pics in there and call it a day.
William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow – Originally illustrated by William Pene du Bois
This would get my vote as the Book Most Deserving of a Re-Illustration. I’ll make my case. First off, the text is still timely. Boys are as teased today about having dolls as they did back in 1972 when this book first came out. Maybe more. Second, kids are assigned this book for summer reading all the time. I keep buying paperbacks for my branch because we can’t keep it in stock. If it has images that were a little less 70s, we might reach more kids, though. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a product of your times. Have you noticed how Sesame Street has been changing the colors of Bert & Ernie’s stripes so that they look less 70s? See, that I don’t much care for, but William’s Doll is another case entirely. For one thing, William walks around with a neckerchief. A neckerchief, for crying out loud! He’s like the Little Lord Fauntleroy of the disco era. Please, someone just slap some sneakers with wheels in the heels and make him a contemporary boy. It’ll sell copies. I promise. Read James Preller’s post about the title for more insights regarding the book.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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