31 Days, 31 Books: 2020 Picture Book Reprints
On the podcast I host with my sister, we spend a bit of time considering the characteristics of those books that wish to be remembered for long periods of time. Part of the key is to make sure that the book is still in print, of course, but what happens if a book disappears from publication? Well, there’s always the off-chance that it might return. Today, we celebrate those books that staged successful comebacks in 2020. And as an extra treat, this year we’re including a couple re-illustrations as well. Just to keep things hot and spicy!
2020 Picture Book Reprints
Animal Gallery by Brian Wildsmith
Once in a while you just want to sit down with a picture book that is capable of evoking strangely beautiful feelings. Nobody has ever illustrated quite like Brian Wildsmith, a man that lived up to his last name on the page as often as possible. Collective noun picture books aren’t new (as evidenced by the fact that this book came out originally in 1967) so consider this the kind of book you hand a kid so that they can just soak up the weird, pulsating, sometimes luminous and always engrossing images inside. Little wonder that Candlewick made sure to publish it at 9.75 X 12 inches. The bigger the better. And Wildsmith is better than a lot of things out there.
The Birthday by Hans Fischer, translated by David Henry Wilson
The Swiss illustrator Hans Fischer hasn’t the same level of name recognition here in the States that he enjoys in other parts of the world. Born in Bern in 1909, he was one of those artists that manage to do a lot of things in a single lifetime. Twenty-two murals on public buildings. Set designs. Etchings. And, of course, children’s books. He died in 1958 leaving behind much beloved books like 1947’s “Der Geburtstag” a.k.a. “The Birthday”. I’m placing this book on the reprint list, though it occurs to me that it’s entirely possible that this is the first time it’s ever seen itself in English. Franz Hohler translated this book from German to Swiss German, and provides a thoroughly charming Afterword about what this book has always meant to him. And what is it about? A childless old woman named Lisette (who lives in the most adorable little red, white, and blue cottage you ever did see) tends and cares for her farm animals as well as two cats and a dog. One day, they get word that it’s her birthday and everyone is determined to throw her a surprise party. All the animals get involved and though the cake gets a bit singed (and… salted?), in the end they throw the most charming of parties. There’s a theatrical performance and a candlelight procession, and finally the biggest surprise of all . . . three little kittens, brand new and adorable. The sheer charm at work here could blow you away. You can completely understand why it’s beloved in its native Switzerland. Fischer somehow managed to turn curlicue lines into animals and homes and beds. The ease of the line coupled with the limited color palette and magnificent translation (hat tip to you, David Henry Wilson) make this a reprint worth discovering.
The Cloud Book by Tomie dePaola
For the last couple of years Holiday House has been systematically bringing old Tomie dePaola books back into print. Some, like Fight the Night, are interesting objects d’art, but you don’t really get the sense of why we should look at them again. Then there’s a book that, to this day, remains the best nonfiction book for kids on clouds produced. DePaola has never struck me as an overly serious creator, and there’s a level of whimsy at work on these pages that reminds me of nothing so much as those Maxwell Eaton III “The Book of . . .” titles. Snarky margins, that’s what I’ll call it! Like the characters in a Cricket Magazine, you’ll get a sly touch of commentary from the borders with little pictures. Maybe because I’m older I’m a lot more interested in clouds (cue the Joni Mitchell) but I love how dePaola breaks down the information here. As it is a work from the past, it doesn’t have much backmatter aside from an Index. And you know what? That’s okay with me. I’m just happy to have it back.
The Comic Adventures of Old Mother Hubbard and Her Dog by Tomie dePaola
Look, I don’t want you to think that I’m some dePaola pushover who loved everything the man produces. I’m not, trust me. Not everything he created in the past was gold. But this? This book? This is a work of genius and I’m not afraid to say it. The sheer amount of work that went into this 1981 title makes me seriously question why the Caldecott committee that year missed it. Granted the actual winners (Jumanji, A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, Outside Over There, and On Market Street) still stand up, but there was room! In any case, Tomie just outdid himself with this book. Of all the nursery rhymes out there, Old Mother Hubbard is one of the few that can support and sustain a picture book narrative. But what really ups the ante, as it were, is the fact that Mr. dePaola sets the story in a theater, then places on either side of the stage images of other nursery rhymes. I had more fun identifying the rhymes than any forty-two year old woman has any right to. Masterful.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Gerda Muller
Anyone who knows me is perfectly aware that I’ve an inordinate fondness for fairy tales and retellings. This Goldilocks is done straight, but Muller’s art is just a wonder. First off, I liked very much that Goldilocks’ parents are roadies for a circus. Never seen that one before. And the bears’ house is so meticulously laid out. In addition to the three bowls, chairs, and beds, if you look around you’ll also see three umbrellas, barrels, brooms, etc. and each one color coordinated. Goldilocks is less a hellion in this one, and doesn’t even break the baby bear’s chair. But I did appreciate that she has to grab her shoes when she leaps out of the bears’ home upon discovery. Also, I liked the bears yelling their disapproval as she ran off. Certainly, this is one of those picture books people are going to hold on to for years.
I’ll Fix Anthony by Judith Viorst, ill. Arnold Lobel
There is something so incredibly refreshing about Viorst’s unapologetic revenge fantasies of a 5-year-old little brother. First off, it’s a hoot. “Mother says deep down in his heart Anthony loves me. Anthony says deep down in his heart he thinks I stink. Mother says deep deep down in his heart, where he doesn’t even know it, Anthony loves me. Anthony says deep deep down in his heart he still thinks I stink.” As an author I pray I someday have the ability to write two sentences in a picture book half as good as these. I wonder if Lobel was seen as an odd choice to accompany the book when it was first released in 1969. Maybe not. Frog and Toad and their infinitely patient friendship wouldn’t see the light of day until the next year. Meanwhile, Viorst’s better known Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day wouldn’t be released until 1972. Lobel, as it happens, is the perfect person to accompany this text. A Tomi Ungerer, for example, would have gone too dark with the material, while Lobel highlights this kind of joyous glee of pretending you’re better than your older brother in every possible way. James Marshall, come to think of it, would have done wonders with this too. In any case, I’m so pleased Simon and Schuster thought to put it back into print. Such a joy.
If… by Sarah Perry
Now here is a reprint so lithe and fresh that even in its 25th year it feels as new as the day it was first dreamed up. Perry and the folks at Getty Publications made an interesting choice with the republication of this odd little number. They added two new “stories”, as they say, to the book. I know one and I suspect I know the other and that they involve the most wonderfully horrifying use of toes I’ve ever seen in a work for children. Really what this book truly is is a companion to The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. Both works operate as writing prompts for students. There’s also a wonderful section at the end that includes further information on some of the images. If you like a little magical realism with your picture books, this is the title to try out.
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper, ill. Dan Santat
My sister and I took a deep dive into this book on our podcast once, so I was curious to see if Santat would update the material at all. It’s not as if it wasn’t updated fairly recently by Loren Long (2006, to be precise) so what would Santat bring to the table? Well, there’s a tiny bit more diversity with the dolls. The brown haired one has darker skin tones than those in previous books. Santat’s solution to the creepy clown problem (which is to say, any clown in any picture book is going to be creepy to someone) is to make it a short clown. The text even says that it’s short, but usually artists like to make it elongated. A little squat clown is a lot less imposing. The text hasn’t, as far as I can tell, been changed a jot. Kids getting jackknives for fun? You betcha. One detail he added that I VERY much appreciated was that as the Little Engine took off with the cars, a doll waves goodbye to the visibly tired but relieved old engine that had to be replaced in the first place. That poor engine is always forgotten in these books. There’s an intro by Dolly Parton, which is sweet, but Santat clearly put his best into this one and it shows. A great update (and, bonus, it doesn’t have those weird sentence breaks you’ll find in the original!).
Old MacDonald Had a Farm by Jane Cabrera
Gotta stick the landing when you write a picture book based on a popular song. Cabrera’s built her career on pretty much being one of the only illustrators out there to cater to the hugely popular storytime crowd. Now you could release this book in board book form all you like (and, funny story, Holiday House did release a board book edition at the same time), but a full-sized picture book reprint like this one is truly a thing of beauty to behold. You’ll be able to see this one across a crowded room, no problem. And “old” MacDonald has a baby by the end, so hopefully he’s not quite as ancient as his name suggests.
The Range Eternal by Louise Erdrich, ill. Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Is it just me or was this book insufficiently advertised, both in the year of its initial publication (2002) and this year? I literally had no IDEA that Erdrich had even written a picture book back in the day, and yet here we are. On the podcast I conduct with my sister (Fuse 8 n’ Kate) we’re constantly struggling to find older picture books by Indigenous authors. The Range Eternal fits the bill. It’s a wistful story of girl who grows up with a particular kind of stove called a Range Eternal. It keeps her warm in the winter and offers stability and comfort. When the family upgrades and does away with its old range, the girl misses so many things about it. Years and years later, she sees an old one for sale, and sets it up in her own home so that her new family can appreciate what it can provide. The story is based on Erdrich’s own mother’s love for a Range Eternal of her own youth. “I have tried to return some of the old warmth to her in this book.” Lovely.
Sunshine by Ludwig Bemelmans
Oh, what a beauty! Bemelmans was so much more than his Madeline stories and if you don’t believe me then this 1950s reprint should prove as much to you. It’s a kicky little tale about a grumpy landlord curmudgeon who accidentally rents one of his apartments to a lovely little old lady who happens to be a music teacher. The story is top notch, but it is (of course) the art that blows you away. New York City is rendered meticulously. There’s a shot of Mr. Sunshine (the landlord) sleeping on a couch at work that I would seriously consider blowing up and hanging on my wall. Well worth your time and attention. Holds up today as well as it ever did. And be sure you check out the interview I conducted with Bemelman’s daughter this year where we talked about this book.
Two Little Trains by Margaret Wise Brown, ill. Greg Pizzoli
Most people probably think of the Leo and Diane Dillon illustrated version of this classic 1949 Margaret Wise Brown story when it comes up. Here, Pizzoli has recreated the book in his own image with only custom-made rubber stamps and Adobe Photoshop to his name. The end result has a very limited palette color, old-timey, classic (dare I say it?) feel. The typography is particularly delicious, as when you compare the font of one train’s “PUFF PUFF PUFF” to the other’s “CHUG CHUG CHUG”. The central conceit of the Dillons was that you were looking at toy trains through the filter of a child’s imagination. These trains are pictured against simplified story-like backdrops. The end result is that the art is beautiful but never distracts from the text. Wouldn’t mind seeing Pizzoli take on other older picture books as well. A little Ruth Krauss, anyone?
Two Parrots: Inspired by a Tale from Rumi by Rashin Kheiriyeh
Technically I use this list to celebrate books that were once out of print and have returned in some form. That said, the new paperback edition of this Rumi tale, retold by Kheiriyeh, is something worth celebrating. An award-winning artist from Iran, Kheiriyeh’s take on the tale is probably my favorite. We’ve seen loads of different versions of this story over the years but who can resist the histrionics of the trickster parrot? It also has a far more satisfying ending than I’ve seen in other places. If you haven’t seen this book, the good news is that now you can find it cheaper than ever before. Go on! Add it to your shelves!
Want to see other lists? Check out what happened this month!
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Bilingual Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Fantasy Books
December 23 – Informational Fiction
December 24 – American History
December 25 – Science & Nature Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
Filed under: 31 Days 31 Lists
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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