Please Bring Back These Books!

Elizabeth Bluemle -- February 28th, 2011

On the heels of my enthusiastic post about the Ellen Raskin reissues, I want to put in a bid for two semi-lost gems that I—as a bookseller, not just as a reader—would like to see back in print. I say semi-lost, because they aren’t actually out of print; they’re simply unavailable in my favorite editions.

One is the 1943 Katherine Woods translation of The Little Prince, the one that mesmerized me as a child. I know the 2000 Richard Howard translation is considered to be more accurate, and I’m perfectly happy for that edition to co-exist with the one I grew up and fell in love with; I just want to be able to offer the earlier translation to customers, too. Its poetry and rhythms are lovely. I knew lines and even pages by heart, and I read the passage about the taming of the fox at my mom’s memorial service. I used to make my college boyfriends read it. It’s a little like the difference between the King James version of the Bible and the newer editions. I like the old-fashioned quality of Woods’s language; it flavors the story and suits the quaint formality of the little prince himself.

I had a customer in the store this week who bought and returned the newer version because she “hated” this translation. As unfair as these complaints are to lob at a translator merely trying to provide a more direct translation of the original, I think there’s something to be said for allowing readers to choose their own preferred translation by offering both. It’s not rational, our attachment to the words that shape us; it’s visceral. The nostalgia factor cannot be overestimated when it comes to selling children’s books. People want the editions that were touchstones for them—and they usually want those editions in hardcover.

My other request is a fervent appeal to reissue the Nancy Eckholm Burkert version of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. The story is still available illustrated by Quentin Blake (whose art in general I adore, and whose Edward Eager cover redesigns dramatically revitalized sales of those books, at least at our store), but I think something was lost when the Burkert version went out of print. Quentin Blake is a master of whimsy; Burkert’s art combined whimsy with gravity, like the story itself. Her softly glowing, magical, striking illustrations haunted my imagination as a child, resonating at a very deep level.

What I wish for is not to replace the Blake edition (and I see that a new graphic novel with art by Jordan Crane is coming in March) but to reinstate the Burkert hardcover as well — matte dust jacket and all.  We can keep the Blake for the paperback, fine by me. Just give us the choice of hardcovers, and let us introduce a new generation of kids to the strange and wonderful peach-y art in that original edition.

If there’s anything a children’s bookseller knows, it’s that people are passionate and proprietary about specific editions of their favorite books. I’d say that in our field, nostalgia drives 25%-30% of picture book and middle grade sales. (Imagine, for a moment, trying to sell Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel—a book that softens the expression of even the grumpiest grandpa—if it had different illustrations. Sales would screech to a halt.) So, publishers, how about it? Bring back these delicious editions we love and can handsell like nobody’s business to the parents and grandparents who come in looking for them.

Readers, are there any older editions of in-print books you’d like to see again?

14 thoughts on “Please Bring Back These Books!

  1. Ellen B

    Funny, just within the past few days someone said to me that James and the Giant Peach illustrated by Nancy E Burkert was his favorite children’s book. Yes, bring it back.

  2. Simon Blake

    The original Hipgnosis covers of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. My own copies of these are now “battered and spaceworn”, and I have at least three other editions, but it is those originals that hold memories. Especially the adverts in the back of the latter for a vinyl record of the series, available only by mail order.

    And I wish the Guiness book of Records was more like it used to be in the seventies. It was conceived as a serious work of reference to be used as a way of ending pub arguments, and for decades it was properly serious. Now it has succumbed to the urge to be jazzy and bright and to appeal to a generation raised on flashy video games and zero attention span. Far too many meaningless, pointless ephemeral records, and not enough of the really wow-inducing stuff like biggest truck, longest snake, oldest man etc.

  3. Pingback: Librarian Preview: Penguin Young Readers Group (Summer 2011) « A Fuse #8 Production

  4. ELLEN SCOTT

    It’s not REALLY old but it was truly destined to be a classic before it was allowed to go out of print. Farmer Will by Jane Cowen-Fletcher is such a wonderful and imaginative story about a little boy and his animal toys– it was a wonderful baby present for a boy and people still ask for it!!

  5. Eija

    Earlier editions of “Timothy goes to School” by Rosemary Wells. I believe it is currently in print, but the illustrations have been changed and odd borders have been added. I prefer the older edition for its smaller size in which the illustrations flowed together so nicely to tell one of my favorite stories. I don’t have a copy of this book for my collection yet because I refuse to buy the newer edition.

  6. Susan

    I can think of two off the top of my head that I’d love to see back in print in ANY edition: Court of the Stone Children by Eleanor Cameron (National Book Award Winner) and The Changeover by Margaret Mahy (Carnegie Award Winner).

    How is it even possible that these two are out of print in the US?!!

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle

      Susan, we were able to carry Court of the Stone Children until fairly recently. I just sold our last copy in the fall, and was so sad to find it is no longer available. With the resurgence of kids wanting to read mysteries, seems like a lost opportunity.

  7. dkchristi

    I have tried to find new copies of the original translation of The Little Prince also, much to my chagrin. I do not like the new translation that eliminated the poetry and the quotes which made those of us in love with the book our own special “club.” In my dating years, The Little Prince was my testing kit for the sensitivity of a new love interest. If they loved the story and every poetic word as much as me, they had great possibilities. If they said, “what a silly children’s book; I can’t understand why you like it so much,” the relationship was short-lived.

    Back in the dating world again, I want my original translation for gifts. The recent closing of Borders sent me to the children’s section where I saw a delightful and expensive pop up book in the original translation, and I had to hold myself back; in Florida, pop up books just soak in the humidity and are short-lived. I may go back to Borders yet – maybe right now.

    1. Elizabeth Bluemle

      dkchristi, I could have written your first paragraph, because that was my experience, too! The Little Prince was my boyfriend test throughout college. “If you really want to understand me,” I’d say with uncharacteristic earnestness, “you’ll read this.” Makes me laugh now, but I sure did mean it.

  8. Joanne Fritz

    JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH with Nancy Ekholm Burkert’s luminous illustrations was my childhood favorite. And I still have it!! I’ll treasure it always.

    I may be the only one who remembers the original cover art for OVER SEA, UNDER STONE by Susan Cooper, but I loved it. Way more kidlike.

    Yes, yes, yes! I heartily agree. Publishers SHOULD revive these gems. But do you really think they would consider reissued hardcovers a good use of their money in an age when e-books are poised to take over?

  9. Jonathan Auxier

    A first-edition JAMES is one of the crown-jewels of my collection (second only to the pristine first-ed of CHARLIE that I found at a flea market for $2!). I often get frustrated with great editions of books that go out of print. All this week, I’m writing about PETER PAN on my blog (www.TheScop.com). My first post led to several hours of furious internet-scouring for a copy of Gwynedd M. Hudson’s version — which for my money is the one to beat.

  10. Linda Cohen

    Oh boy do I understand about particular editions. I bought my sister a copy of Harriet the Spy used(and cheap) off the Powell’s website but the cover art was not available. When it arrived OMG the cover was so awful I had to cover it with a piece of construction paper and a note apologizing. I wanted my sister to know that underneath that truly embarrassing cover was one of my all time favorite great books!! I made her promise not to take off the contruction paper in public. lol

  11. Christina Wilsdon

    Thanks for a wonderful post. Makes me glad I picked up an old copy of “The Little Prince” in a used bookshop once!

    I couldn’t agree more about how important older editions can be. Since I saved most of my childhood favorites, an older title is not leaping to mind right now, but it does not even take a long time span for this issue to grow roots: I bought “The Various” by Steve Augarde to share with my elementary-school daughter back in 2004; cover art was by the author. We bought the second book in the trilogy, “Celandine,” a few years later when it came out.

    When we went to buy the third, “Winter Wood,” we were appalled to find the American version had a different trim size and some Lord-of-the-Rings-ish girl and fairy stuff on the cover and not the twining vines and silhouettes originally done by the author. Not only did it look terrible on our shelf next to our other two books, but it also messed with our vision of the characters etc. We returned the hardcover and instead managed to buy via eBay a used British edition of the third book from a charity shop in England.

    Even my child was vexed by the new cover and trim size–her heart already lay with the original look and feel, a fidelity formed in just a few years time. Nostalgic while still in childhood!

  12. Danyelle

    The early edition of Bedtime for Frances. I love the illustrations done in soft green hues, I think they lost something when they added the bright colors.

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