Back from the Past: Lost literary treasures return

Posted June 10, 2014 by Lory in publishers / 7 Comments

Crete Daedalus Atlantis children's

Isn’t it frustrating to hear about a book that sounds fantastic but is out of print and hard to find? Such is the case with The Winged Girl of Knossos, which Elizabeth Bird of A Fuse #8 Production just put at the top of her list of “Underrated Middle School Books.” This 1934 Newbery Honor book, which posits that the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur is based on true events, that Daedalus had a daughter who was pals with Ariadne, and that the legend of Atlantis is actually about ancient Crete, sounds like too much fun.

Alas, it also costs upward of $150 when searched for online, and is not available in my library. What to do? I can only hope that it gets picked up by one of the publishing houses and imprints that specialize in bringing back out-of-print children’s books. These seem to have been cropping up more and more these days, for whatever reason. Here are a few that have come to my attention, and please share any others that you know of.

fantasy NYRB Maria Gripe

The New York Review Children’s Collection was created in 2003 by the venerable New York Review of Books, “to reward readers who have long wished for the return of their favorite titles and to introduce those books to a new generation of readers.” Readers can submit titles for consideration on their website — guess what I suggested. One of their recent releases is Leon Garfield’s Smith, which I reviewed last week; other favorites of mine include James Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks and The Wonderful O; John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights; the D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths; Esther Averill’s Jenny and the Cat Club; E. Nesbit’s The House of Arden; and Jean Merrill’s The Pushcart War. They have many other titles I haven’t read but that sound wonderful — like their newest offering, The Glassblower’s Children. Produced as sturdy hardbacks with attractive covers and distinctive red cloth spines, these are books to keep and love for many years.

children's fantasy classic

Purple House Press is a more grassroots effort, started by Jill Morgan and Ray Saunders in 2000 specifically to bring Jill’s favorite children’s book, Mr. Pine’s Purple House, back into print. They have since published more than 35 titles and sold over 350,000 books. Some of my personal favorites are David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd, which I first encountered as a read-aloud book for my third graders when I was a student teacher at the Smith College Campus School; Time at the Top and All in Good Time, also by Ormondroyd; and Mio My Son and The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren (alas, these have gone out of print again). Many other quirky and nostalgic treasures are to be found; browse their list to see if any of your childhood favorites have made it there.

Uttley historical fantasy

Jane Nissen Books is a UK imprint that was created by a former associate editor of Penguin Books  upon her retirement (according to this Guardian article). Now, that’s how I’d like to retire! One of her launch titles was Mistress Masham’s Repose, T.H. White’s engrossing tale of Lilliputians in England; other favorite English classics she’s brought back are Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince. If you’re not in the UK it can be tricky to find the books, but some are available from The Book Depository; there’s also some overlap with the NYRB list (which includes Mistress Masham’s Repose and A Traveller in Time). With an emphasis on historical fiction, fantasy, adventure, and whimsical humor, there’s lots to covet on this list.

Slightly Foxed Memoirs Raverat
from Period Piece

Slightly Foxed Editions is not mainly a children’s list, but specializes in memoirs; these naturally often include funny, lyrical, or dramatic evocations of childhood. I’m a proud owner of SF Edition #16, Look Back with Love by Dodie Smith, author of the splendid I Capture the Castle, and as you might expect it’s a hilarious account of an eccentric upbringing. Others I have my eye on are Period Piece by Gwen Raverat, Darwin’s granddaughter and a renowned artist in her own right; and Blue Remembered Hills by Rosemary Sutcliff, the acclaimed historical novelist. Each numbered Edition is printed as a finely produced small hardback with a different solid-color cover, in a limited run of 2000 copies. When they run out some have been reprinted in paperback, but otherwise, when they’re gone, you’re out of luck. A new line of Slightly Foxed Cubs has been added, which at the moment consists of a series of historical novels that follows the same British family from the Crusades through the First World War. None of these offerings are cheap, but if it comes from Slightly Foxed you know it’s of the very highest quality.

reprint YA vintage

Lizzie Skurnick Books is the newest entry on this list, started last year by one seriously cool blogger, writer, critic and teacher who loves vintage YA books. She wrote a column for Jezebel.com, then a book, Shelf Discovery, then launched her own imprint, proving that publishing is NOT dead; can you imagine this happening prior to the 21st century? I have yet to read a single one of her selections, but they look like a fascinating and eclectic bunch. They range from the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series that chronicles the story of a Jewish immigrant family on the Lower East Side, to And This Is Laura by Ellen Conford, about an “ordinary” girl in an overachieving family who discovers she has the not-so-ordinary ability to see the future, to A Long Day in November by Ernest J. Gaines, about life on a sugarcane plantation in the 1940s through a child’s eyes. Ms. Skurnick clearly has a very slick visual sense as well, and it was interesting to read her blog post about the design decisions made in creating the imprint. I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

Do you have other lost classics or other publishers who reprint them (either for children or adults) to share? Please do tell!

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7 responses to “Back from the Past: Lost literary treasures return

  1. No lost classics that come to mind. But I know exactly what you mean about that frustrated feeling of hearing about a book that sounds so good, then not being able to find it. The worst blog for that is The Captive Reader. She always has such fantastic recommendations and 9 times out of 10 it's not at my daggone library or readily for sale. Sigh.

    • It's absolutely true, she does it to me every time. This week it was Switzerland for Beginners — I must have that book! (My husband is from Switzerland.) Sigh.

  2. I read The House of Arden a few months ago. The education library at my (now old) university had the book. It was interesting but also a bit strange. I agree that there are so many books I wish were still in print. I love vintage books.

  3. I read The House of Arden a few months ago. The education library at my (now old) university had it. I had only ever read E. Nesbit's short stories before reading this novel. The House of Arden was interesting but also a bit strange. I love vintage books. I am currently reading a 12th century history book found only on archive.org.

    • I love E. Nesbit. She also wrote another book, Harding's Luck, which tells the same story from the point of view of another character in The House of Arden. It's an interesting but not entirely successful experiment.

  4. Girls Gone By, in the UK, has added many books to my shelves that I could not otherwise have found/afforded! They mostly publish early to mid 20th century books for girls, with lots of boarding school stories.

    • What fun! Makes me think of the Goddess (Millie), in The Lives of Christopher Chant, who was always wanting Christopher to import exactly those kind of stories into her world. I've always wanted to read Henrietta's House by Elizabeth Goudge (also mentioned by Diana Wynne Jones, in Fire and Hemlock). Now I know where to find it!

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