“The possibility of a generous frugality”: Re-releasing M.B. Goffstein – An Interview with Susan Barba
When I first became a children’s literature blogger, I was immediately fascinated by the concept of the out-of-print book. I guess on some level I understood that it makes no sense to keep books in print in perpetuity, but at the same time it’s such a visceral thing to think of a book’s life disappearing without a blip.
Fast forward to 2021 and I have learned that two of M.B. Goffstein’s books (FISH FOR SUPPER and BROOKIE AND HER LAMB) are back in print today (how’s that for timing?) thanks to the machinations of The New York Review Children’s Collection. Editor Susan Barba was willing to answer some of my questions about the process of bringing back books from the dead, and in the course of things we talk about the challenges of reprinting Goffstein’s works, as well as a special sneak peek of what’s coming out next.
Betsy Bird: Thank you so much for joining me today! And congrats too on the re-releases of FISH FOR SUPPER and BROOKIE AND HER LAMB. I wonder if, to begin, you could just tell us a bit about M.B. Goffstein. Who was she and what is your relationship to her work?
Susan Barba: Thank you Betsy, I’m so glad to be a part of your excellent blog! M.B. (Brooke) Goffstein was an artist and writer who found her medium in picture books. I never knew her, but I have a sense of who she was from her books and from what I’ve learned about her through her good friend and literary agent Edite Kroll and her husband David Allender. I think Brooke’s work is unusual in that it’s so strongly imbued with her sensibility, which makes you feel as if you know her — not because her work is autobiographical (though Fish for Supper is) but because she found the right art form, the right structure and patterning, to distill her life experience, her sense of the world. What’s remarkable is how she managed to compress an entire philosophy into a single line — or two lines rather, the line of the drawing and the line of the text. Simplicity, humor, compassion, self-reliance but also care, curiosity and pleasure. We tend to think of frugality as a negative trait, as the opposite of generosity, but Brooke’s work demonstrates the possibility of a generous frugality, a paradoxically pleasurable parsimoniousness, a concentration of purpose and feeling whose generosity comes from its being shared with the reader. Her books provide models for a sustainable, and sustaining, life. My relationship to her work began only recently when Edite wrote to us, wanting to discuss bringing Brooke’s books back into print. My colleagues Edwin Frank and Sara Kramer shared the books with me—which somehow I’d missed, being born too late to read them as a child and having had children too recently to have encountered the books through them—and I was immediately interested.
BB: I’m fascinated by the process behind picking and choosing which books get a new lease on life and which ones don’t. Can you tell us a little bit about the process behind selecting books for reissue?
SB: The process is much like our process for the Classics series. We are fortunate to receive many recommendations from readers on a daily basis. Then there are the submissions from agents and estates. There are also the wonderful librarians who write to us directly to recommend books or whose suggestions we seek out; finally of course there are all the terrific blogs, podcasts, occasional articles, and even books about neglected children’s classics. We also publish new foreign children’s books in translation. So we think about what would fit with the list we already have, what we would like to expand on or introduce into our series. Sometimes there’s an author or illustrator whose work you would love to reissue, whose books you can’t believe are out of print, but the rights have been tied up for years, and then suddenly the rights situation changes and you find an opening. That’s a cause for celebration. It doesn’t happen nearly enough. More frequently, the rights are unavailable and the books languish, out of print, just out of reach.
BB: Ah yes. The Three Investigators come immediately to mind. But I digress. Did you have access to the whole of Goffstein’s publications or were there limitations?
SB: Yes, we did have access to all of her work, thanks to Edite’s conscientiousness and David’s support. There’s a range in her work from the playfulness of the earliest books, like Brookie and Her Lamb, to the later earnestness of An Artist or Natural History. They each have their strengths, but we were attracted to the understated humor and charm of Fish for Supper and Brookie and Her Lamb. They’re excellent representatives of Brooke’s aesthetic and appealing introductions to her work.
BB: Were you able to reprint the books from the original illustrations or was there another process that you could use?
SB: David provided us with high resolution scans of the original illustrations, but there was still work required on our end, necessary conversions for printing, etc. My colleague Will Simpson who works on many of our children’s books was instrumental in this process, as was Sara, and in addition to the illustrations, there was the new typeface to be selected and placed, the paper, the endpapers, the covers, etc. So even reprinting is a creative and involved process!
BB: Would you say that Goffstein’s art is easier to republish considering the fact that you don’t need to deal as much with colors?
SB: Yes and no. I think it’s easier once you get to the stage of reviewing proofs from the printer. You don’t need to worry about having to adjust colors then. But the quality of the line is so important in Goffstein’s art and we wanted to be sure it would be crisp and just right in terms of weight, both the lines of the drawing and the lines of the boxes around the art. These elements we did need to adjust and pay close attention to. Plus the lack of color in the book only underscored the importance of the color of the covers and endpapers. So those decisions were more deliberate and important in this case.
BB: Finally, will we be seeing more Goffstein in the future? Are there other authors you’re hoping to bring back to us?
SB: I hope so! Yes, we’re publishing a book by Alice and Martin Provensen this coming fall, The Provensen’s Book of Fairy Tales, which they edited and illustrated, and which is one of those long-awaited hopes of mine, made possible again by the tireless efforts of an agent and family member working together to get the rights reverted. We’re also publishing a book I’m happy to say you recommended years ago: Blast Off by Linda C. Cain and Susan Rosenbaum, illustrated by another extraordinary couple, Leo and Diane Dillon, first published in 1973. The book features a young Black girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut. It’s an important book in so many ways and it’s gorgeous.
BB: WHAT?! That is absolutely the best news! BLAST OFF is fantastic!! I appreciate it!
SB: Thank you so much Betsy. It’s been my pleasure!
Many thanks to Nick During for connecting me to Susan, and to Susan herself for answering my questions. FISH FOR SUPPER and BROOKIE HAD A LITTLE LAMB are both available for purchase as of today.
Filed under: Interviews
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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