Adventures in Reading: Three from Slightly Foxed

Do boys read differently than girls? There is lots of controversy and research on the subject, which I will not go into here. However, with my own boy-child I have found that even though I was determined that in our reading together he would not be limited to stereotypical “boy books,” and he has in fact enjoyed some of my childhood favorites including Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, and The Little White Horse, what he really loves are books about boys having exciting adventures and fighting bad guys. In spite of zero encouragement at home, an attraction to military tactics, weaponry, and large, powerful vehicles appears to be innate, so the best I can hope for is to guide this interest into as positive a direction as possible.

Fortunately, Slightly Foxed has come to the rescue, with some books that are absolutely perfect for his reading interests, and on a more elevated literary plane than Asterix and Obelix. (Girls may certainly like them too, but finding books for girls is not currently my problem.) As often happens, I started by reading to him but then he took them away from me because he couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. As long as his hunger for reading is stimulated, I don’t mind giving him a jump start.

The Little Grey Men by B.B. was a big success a few years ago. A group of gnomes leave their home on the banks of the Thames to go in search of their missing brother, giving rise to excellent opportunities for adventure. Stories about small beings braving the dangers of a hostile environment, with cleverness and persistence out-doing brute strength, are very appealing to children, and the little men amply satisfy that need.

Though a story about gnomes may sound fanciful, it is firmly grounded in the world we know; the book provides a vivid depiction of the natural setting and an unsentimental attitude toward the harsh realities of life, along with the humor and magic that children also adore. The Slightly Foxed Cubs edition, published along with two companion books, includes the indispensable illustrations by the author himself, which bring this enchanting world to life in exquisite detail. The set would be a marvelous addition to any family library.

Right now, having crossed the Rubicon into teenagehood, we are reading The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff, a brilliant writer who may be unfairly ignored by snooty adults who look down on “children’s books.” It’s my firm opinion that any truly great children’s writer is worth reading at any age, and Sutcliff is a case in point. Her subjects are fascinating, her evocation of the historical past incredibly convincing, her characters alive and vibrant, and her writing beautifully crafted. All that, and an exciting adventure story, in this case about two young Legionaries confronted by treachery and conspiracy in the fading days of Roman Britain — I could not ask for a better way to shape my young reader’s literary taste and experience.

Sutcliff writes of how human beings in all ages have wrestled with the great moral quandary, the question of how to live — where to direct our loyalty and our enthusiasm, how to use our inner forces in the right way. She does not give easy, pat answers, but points a way through the gift of narrative, the ongoing story in which we all share. It’s wonderful that this and the other three “Roman novels” are being reprinted as Slightly Foxed Cubs — the first two are now available, with two more coming in September. With the usual quality binding and design, and incorporating the splendid original illustrations by C. Walter Hodges and Charles Keeping, it’s a set to cherish for all lovers of good literature, young and old.

From the Slightly Foxed Editions series of memoirs came Going Solo by Roald Dahl, which lasted only a couple of chapters for us as a read-aloud before my son seized it and stayed up late to finish. I knew it would be a success, with Dahl’s trademark dry humor joined to a real-life tale of adventure from his own youth, first going to work in Africa for an oil company and then as a pilot in the RAF, but I didn’t know he would devour it quite so quickly.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Stories of lions and snakes, air battles and plane crashes hold irresistible appeal for my adventurous boy, and though Dahl may not stick entirely to the humdrum facts, when he writes in such a witty and engaging style, who wants to complain? Anyone who relishes a good story well-told will be charmed by Dahl’s memoir, and by its companion volume, Boy — both now available in the lovely uniform binding of Slightly Foxed Editions.

So if, like me, you are always searching for good books to read for a boy in your life, there are a few ideas for you — and if you just want something good to read for yourself, or for another adventurous reader, they will be splendid for that too. Thanks again, Slightly Foxed, for always delivering the very best reading adventures.


Folio Society Sale books – a video!

Here’s my second-ever video! Although I’m usually quite camera-shy, I wanted to share some of the books I recently bought from The Folio Society, especially those I picked up in the current Half-Price Sale (which runs through August 11). If you haven’t already, I highly encourage you to take advantage of this excellent opportunity to pick up some of the most beautifully designed and illustrated books around. Go to for more info.

This video is hosted on Facebook because I wasn’t able to post it directly (and I’m not yet up for starting my own BookTube channel). I’ve never done this before, so please let me know if you have any problems viewing it.

New England Publisher Spotlight: Candlewick Press

Photo by Jamie Tan, courtesy of Candlewick Press
Photo by Jamie Tan, courtesy of Candlewick Press

Within the clean-lined, warmly-hued facade of a one-story building located near the bustle of Somerville’s Davis Square shines one of the brightest lights in independent publishing today. Founded by the British Walker Books Group in 1990, Candlewick Press opened its doors with only six employees. Today, that number is nearly one hundred, all working hard to produce some of the most exciting, acclaimed, beautiful, and creative work to be seen in books for children and young adults — around 3000 of them so far.

The Candlewick list started with and remains strong in the picture book field, but is now equally stellar in titles for older readers, including many award winners. A relative newcomer to the Boston publishing scene, a one-time cultural powerhouse that has been increasingly overshadowed by the New York conglomerates, Candlewick has managed to make its outsider status a strength and its independence a definite virtue. No cookie-cutter, trend-following volumes here; as Cathryn Mercier, director of the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College says in a Boston Globe article,  “Everything they do is about what serves the artistic vision of a particular book. . . . They care about the book as an object.” And Candlewick author M.T. Anderson praises their editors’ commitment to supporting projects that may seem eccentric or unusual, but that they are passionate about.

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Photo by Jamie Tan, courtesy of Candlewick Press

That passion and artistic integrity really shines through in all the Candlewick books I’ve had the pleasure of reading lately. When I contacted Candlewick about my Reading New England challenge, they were kind enough to send me several of their New-England-based titles. Last week I wrote about Anderson’s The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, which I found a fantastic counterpoint to some of the more familiar (and one-sided) stories about the American Revolution. Both in its literary style and its visual flair, it recalls its eighteenth-century inspirations — a daring and brilliant venture into territory not usually explored by young-adult (or adult!) publishers today.

For next month’s focus on Rhode Island, I’ll be looking at Swim That Rock. This coming-of-age novel first strikes the eye with its beautiful cover and endpapers by one of the co-authors, John Rocco, who is also an acclaimed illustrator and picture book author. He joined forces with his childhood friend, first-time author Jay Primiano, and the pair delved into their experiences growing up working-class in a fishermen’s town to create an exciting and atmospheric adventure for today’s readers. I’m so pleased to see this addition to the rather limited body of Rhode Island books, written with such authenticity and heart.

SwimRockAnd if anybody’s looking for a book for the final state in the challenge, Connecticut, Worlds Afire by Paul Janeczko is an interesting option. It describes the horrific unfolding of the 1944 Hartford circus fire, in the unlikely form of a series of first-person narrative poems. The short lines and stark images of Janeczko’s terse, poignant verses throw the tragedy into sharp and personal focus, creating a memorable picture of the event and its emotional impact.

Candlewick books are not pretty packages that are empty inside. They’re lovingly crafted in word, image, and design, bringing us remarkable voices that deserve to be heard, and perfectly suiting the form to the contents. Long may this New England star shine, a beacon of hope for all of us who care about the future of books and reading.

A Slightly Foxed Summer

Issue-50-Print-App-ImageIn a world that seems to be growing ruder, stupider, and more contentious every day, what a pleasure it is to come home to find a parcel from Slightly Foxed in the post. Publishers of what is surely one of the most civilized periodicals on earth, their eponymous journal subtitled “The Real Reader’s Quarterly,” they exist to unite readers in a joyous celebration of the pleasures of the written word. As I enter upon the creamy pages of the summer issue, I can breathe a sigh of relief and slip into a world where humility, thoughtfulness, and good humor are actually honored qualities.

This issue begins with a taste of a delicious-sounding cookbook-slash-travelogue, Around the World in Eighty Dishes, and ends with a description of a delightfully eccentric British institution, the Royal Society of Literature. In between there’s a reassessment of Gulliver’s Travels, a moving personal essay about the impact E. Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain had upon a troubled friendship, a vivid appreciation of The Siege of Krishnapur, and much more. With each piece I get a glimpse not just of the books under discussion, but at the very individual tastes and personalities of the writers, as they share where, when, and how they met these books that they love, and why they matter so much to them. Books that had just been names to me spring to life, titles I had never heard of become must-find-now objects of desire.

This latest issue is number 50, and it’s no small achievement to have reached that “middle-aged” milestone. In celebration, Slightly Foxed is offering US subscribers the same rate as other overseas customers, and all subscribers receive online access to the digital edition, including the archive of 50 back issues. It’s a characteristically generous gesture, a way to spread the love. Though economic necessity obviously must be acknowledged, books and periodicals printed and paid for, there’s never a doubt that sharing our mutual enthusiasm (not to say obsession) is at the core of the Slightly Foxed mission.

SFE-brensham-village-494x741Along with SF50, my parcel included the latest classic reprint in the series of Slightly Foxed Editions: Brensham Village by John Moore. It’s a sequel (to Portrait of Elmbury) but I didn’t find that not having read the first volume hampered my enjoyment of this memoir about life in an English village between the wars. I haven’t finished it yet, but already I’ve been introduced to a wonderful array of characters, including a “mad lord” whose madness seems mainly to consist of not minding being poor, a schoolmaster who inspires his boys with an equal passion for Latin and butterfly hunting, and a nature-loving vicar who blithely ignores complaints about nesting boxes in the church porch and live bait in the font. It’s a lovely place to inhabit, though bittersweet, for one knows — as did the author — that this world has vanished, never to return. At least through Moore’s finely crafted prose we can revisit it for a time.

So thank you, Slightly Foxed, for helping to remind me of what really matters: Interest in other people and their ways of life. Striving for discernment and clarity in our judgments and attitudes. An undiminished capacity for wonder. Here’s to another fifty issues, and to all the further reading — and learning and laughter and thinking — they will inspire.

For more about Slightly Foxed Quarterly and Slightly Foxed Editions, visit the website.

A copy was received for review consideration from the publisher. No other compensation was received, and all opinions expressed are my own.





New England Publisher Spotlight: Green Writers Press

Dede Cummings – Photo by Jeff Woodward

Today, I’m delighted to present an interview with Dede Cummings, publisher of Green Writers Press, a small publishing company based in Brattleboro, Vermont. Dede founded Green Writers Press in 2014, dedicated to spreading environmental awareness by publishing authors who proliferate messages of hope and renewal through place-based writing and environmental activism. In the past three years, Green Writers Press has expanded significantly, publishing such authors as Julia Alvarez, Neil Shepard, Syd Lea, John Elder, and Clarence Major.

So far, I have been highly impressed by the poetry collection Galvanized by Leland Kinsey, and the novel Hidden View by Brett Ann Stanciu (review to come). I appreciate Dede taking the time out of her very busy schedule to answer my questions, and hope that readers will look into all that this wonderful company has to offer.

ECBR: You’ve been involved in publishing for a long time as a writer, designer and literary agent. What made you want to start yet another publishing company in today’s challenging publishing climate? How did your background inform your decisions, and where did you want to create change?

DC: The term ‘localvore’ applies to our mission, which is to publish books, eBooks, and audio books that will spread a message of hope and renewal. We strive to build awareness to stop the global climate catastrophe. (Here is a link to an article about our inception in Publishers Weekly.)

One editor, a friend of mine, who works for a big 4 publisher in NYC asked me why I wanted to “jump from the frying pan into the fire” by starting a small press. Rather than sit back and continue to be a book designer, I decided to follow my passion and start my own company after working for other publishers for almost 30 years! I took out a home equity loan for $20,000 and an interest-free printer loan directly from our favorite Vermont printer for another 20k. The printer loan is totally paid back in less than two years and we are on the way to paying back the home equity loan with monthly payments. Our press is breaking even with net sales in two years of around 155,000. I have yet to draw a salary, but in our second year, I withdrew 3,000 for living expenses to supplement my design/consulting business. It is challenging, but I feel this is the best job because it is so rewarding!

My background as a book designer/book packager made it much easier for me to launch a publishing company. I knew so much already about the business and the learning curve was lessoned by that; however, I had to face the reality of book returns (the books that the stores don’t sell can be sent back free of charge), which is the hardest part of the business because it cuts right into sales and is a bit unpredictable.

The Order of the Trees – 2016 Green Earth Awards Honor Book

What was the response to the launch of your first titles?

Our first list had an overwhelmingly positive response! I was able to find a distributor pretty quickly, due to the fact they already knew me as the packager for a bestselling book called Dr. A’s Habits of Health (which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies). It was our “local launch” that caught the attention of the Vermont and regional media, with TV, radio, and print interviews coming out; even the industry weekly, Publishers Weekly, did a feature on us! Our website exploded with views and submissions and emails praising us and our mission and our list of books started coming in. We have so many submissions, in fact, that we had to close for a few months (reopening August 1, 2016) to catch up.

Green Writers Press has a strong environmental mission: not only to publish authors who care about the earth, but to print and distribute books in a way that is as environmentally responsible as possible. Can you describe some of these practices and why they are important?

It is our mission, at Green Writers Press, to spread a message of environmental activism through the words and images we publish. We also publish books that segue with our mission that include other subjects that speak to quality of life and the beauty of nature. Printing on demand (POD), and using only FSC-certified papers printed at our Vermont printer, Springfield Printing Corporation, at Thomson-Shore in Michigan, Bookmobile in Minneapolis, and at our Tennessee printer, Lightning Source, we will adhere to GWP’s commitment to preserving and protecting the natural resources of the earth. To that end, a percentage of our profits will be donated to environmental activist groups.

How can a publishing company help to foster and create community?

Our vision is that, collectively, our printed and eBooks will become a chorus of voices of writers and readers, artists, and photographers, who care about the fate of the earth and want to do something about it. Though we believe our books will be interesting to Vermont residents, Green Writers Press has national and international (Gazelle, etc.) distribution and we hope to have a broad reach and impact. Our voices need to be heard, which is why we refer to our press as a global press. We are all connected on this planet we love.

It may be hard to choose, but could you pick three books with New England themes that you’d especially like to highlight for my readers?

Vermont poet Leland Kinsey

Galvanized: New and Selected Poems by Vermont poet, Leland Kinsey, The Road to Walden North, a novel, by northern New England writer, Sheila Post, and Vermont Exit Ramps II with “localvore and found” poetry by Neil Shepard and photos by Anthony Rezcek. All three books explore themes of New England!

What are some of your plans and hopes for GWP for the future?

We are excited to be publishing our own authors, and we welcome your support to help us spread the word. In today’s world of social media and online transactions, here are GWP, we remember that your head and your heart need nourishment from the natural world. With that as our credo, we embark on a journey to bring the beauty of the published book as a tactile object, into the homes and hands of our readers, and we also embrace the technology of tablet and eBook publishing. It is our hope that we can create a community around our press and the books we publish, and, once each title is released, it is yours to receive and ours to share.

Taking action requires courage and risk. Our hope is that each person who reads our books will be inspired to take action in such a way that it reverberates in the community around them. Just as a book is made up of individual artists, it is each of our individual actions, coming together, that will create the change we need to stop burning fossil fuels and look to the future with sustainable energy that will create jobs and save the planet from heating up to the point where we cannot go back.

According to Publishers Weekly, our books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction achieve and bear “. . . eloquent testimony to the mystery and beauty immanent in nature, now so desperately imperiled. Like all art, [they] ask that we look up and see.”

Thank you, Dede! Your passion is infectious, and your mission is an important and valuable one. I hope that many more readers will find their way to Green Writers Press and its books.

New England Publisher Spotlight: Tilbury House

20160310_122122_resizedTo accompany the Reading New England Challenge, I’m planning posts on some of the literary locations and organizations in our region. Among these are several wonderful independent publishers, which are surviving and even thriving in today’s challenging book-publishing climate through their initiative, creativity, and dedication to quality.

Today I’m pleased to present an interview with publisher Tristram Coburn, of Tilbury House in Thomaston, Maine. Tilbury is a growing company that offers a wide range of beautifully-illustrated educational children’s books, along with carefully curated titles for adults on topics including nature and the environment, food and cooking, Maine people and places, and more. I hope you’ll look into their offerings on their website, where educators receive a special discount every day.

Welcome, Tristram!


ECBR: Tilbury House has gone through quite some transformations in its mission (and even its name) through the years. Can you say something about the history and development of the company?

“Tilbury Town” (Gardiner, ME) in the 19th century

TC: Tilbury has been in business under various names for more than 40 years now. Tilbury House took its name from the nickname given to its previous location in Gardiner, Maine, which was called Tilbury Town — a fictional town created by poet Edwin Robinson and modeled after Gardiner. Tilbury House has long been known for publishing quality books about Maine and New England.

In the 1990s, Tilbury published its first children’s book and never looked back. Interestingly, Tilbury has been publishing books about diversity for decades now — long before the current We Need Diverse Books movement. We’re proud to say that some of those titles are still in print, like Talking Walls, which has been in print since 1992. The Tilbury children’s line has never been regional, but rather has explored ideas, cultures and stories from around the world.


Since we acquired the company three years ago, we have endeavored to maintain the high level of publishing quality Tilbury has been known for while keeping an eye toward the future by expanding both lists. Tilbury, historically, has sold its books with an internal sales force — but that has changed. By the time this piece runs, we will be using a national distribution model which will greatly improve Tilbury’s visibility and bring our books to the far reaches of this country and beyond. It’s a very exciting time.

In moving from a regional focus on Maine books to a more national audience, what have been some of the challenges and rewards along the way?

Historically, Tilbury has been viewed as a small, regional press. By using a national distribution model, we will be able to go a long way in dispelling that myth. What has been most rewarding is growing a tiny company into a small company and doing this while maintaining the quality Tilbury has always been known for. And our titles have continued to win awards — which is always gratifying.

The greatest challenge, as with most small businesses, has been cash flow. Growth takes money and time. The challenge is patience and a constant need for cash. But we’re turning a corner and our efforts are starting to pay dividends.

Your books for children embody some wonderful messages: tolerance, mindfulness, care for the earth. Do you have any stories from teachers, parents or children who have worked with these books and been touched by them?

SaysomethingIt’s actually really amazing. We get feedback all of the time from educators. This, as a parent, is very gratifying to hear. One of our children’s books, Say Something, a book about bullying, has not only been made into a play, it’s also been made into a song!

What are some of your regional/New England titles that you think readers everywhere should know about?

There are so many! Of note, E.B. White on Dogs, Eating in Maine, Homes Down East, The Hidden Coast of Maine, Life in Prison and Island Birthday.

What are your hopes and wishes for Tilbury House in the future?

We’d love to grow Tilbury into a publishing company that is built to last for another 40 years and more. We hope to get Tilbury noticed on the national stage in order to ensure that all of our wonderful books are available to readers of all ages.

Thank you, Tristram! I wish you all the best in that endeavor, and hope that readers will be inspired to check out all that Tilbury House has to offer.

WhiteDogs  EatingMaine  HomesDownEast  HiddenCoast  LifePrison  IslandBirthday

Literary Pilgrimages: Yankee Publishing

As I was planning Reading New England, a year of celebrating regional books, authors, and publishers, I immediately thought it would be marvelous to visit an iconic regional publisher that happens to be located half an hour’s drive from me: Yankee Publishing in Dublin, New Hampshire. Founded 80 years ago with the start of Yankee Magazine, and shortly thereafter taking on The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well, Yankee is something of a rarity in today’s world of giant media conglomerates: an independent, family-owned company that still operates out of its original, small-town premises, and continues to be firmly based upon its original flagship publications. I was curious to see how Yankee has grown and transformed to meet the readers of the digital age, even as it still honors the traditions and culture of the region that gave it birth.

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My tentative email inquiry was met immediately by a cordial invitation from Jamie Trowbridge, the president of the company and grandson of its founder, Robb Sagendorph, to come by for a short tour the following week. I drove to Dublin, a charming village on the shoulders of Mount Monadnock (population 1597). Here the company’s long, low barn-red building is found alongside the church, town hall, library and other buildings from an earlier century.

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The Yankee building used to house the town post office and store, though eventually the growing enterprise took over the whole space. A chalkboard outside is still reminiscent of the location’s past as the center of Dublin news and communication.

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Inside, Jamie led me up to where the company’s two main publications are produced. In this modest interior, with its low ceilings and uneven floors, is found a warren of offices for many busy employees. Reference books are stacked floor to ceiling in corners and corridors, perhaps not often consulted in these days of electronic research, but holding a treasure-trove of information about New England’s towns and inhabitants.

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I got to peek into the office of editor-in-chief Judson Hale (with Yankee since 1958), who unfortunately was not present to show me through his collection of fascinating clutter that includes a stuffed bird and Napoleon’s handkerchief. I did have a look at some old issues of the magazine, which started out letter-size, then was diminished around the time of World War II partly due to paper shortages. It kept that dimension for many years until it was recently redesigned as a full-color, standard-size magazine for today’s more visually oriented readers.

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In a conference room across the hall the mockups for the January/February issue had just been taken down, but Jamie showed me some sample spreads for a story on White Mountain tourism that had been created for another project under Yankee’s umbrella, New Hampshire magazine. The NH tourism folks were dissatisfied with the somewhat misty, atmospheric images — which I personally thought were stunning — and opted to replace them with their own posed models on bicycles under blue skies. That’s life in the media these days, it seems.

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On the third floor, we looked in on the offices where digital content is created: the “Jud’s Journal” podcast, mobile-friendly versions of the magazine, and the new digital “Yankee Plus” enhanced with video content and other original features. Glimpsing a cover story on “New England’s Best Winter Towns,” Jamie joked that he thought the word “winter” had been outlawed since whenever it appeared sales seemed to go down. He noted that when New Englanders were polled on what they liked best and least about our region, the answers were “The seasons” and “Winter.” Alas, we can’t have four seasons without it.

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Coming back down, I paused to ask about a curious chart on the wall, which does not come across well in my photo, I’m afraid. Turns out this was part of Robb Sagendorph’s method for creating the weather predictions in the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which he did himself for many years. (Now it’s based on Accuweather.) He meticulously graphed sunspot activity and all kinds of other data, leaving a graphic record of how a scientific mind grappled with New England’s weather obsession. What a remarkable person this multi-faceted founder must have been.

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After my brief visit, I left with a new appreciation of the hardworking, dedicated folks who continue to uphold the standards of their founding principles, while adjusting to meet today’s readers. Many thanks to Jamie Trowbridge and to everyone at Yankee Publishing for all they do, and for letting me have a glimpse behind the scenes.

Publisher Spotlight: David R. Godine

Today, when giant mega-conglomeration is the rule in publishing (as in so much else), it’s heartening to find that some independent publishers still continue to foster the individual spirit in the face of the pressures of mass production.

One of these — perhaps one of the best — happens to be just around the corner from me: David R. Godine, Publisher, operating out of offices in Boston and Jaffrey, NH. I’ve been a fan of this house since my high school days, which is when I first began to order and pore over publishers’ catalogs. High standards of design and production have always been a Godine hallmark, and surely played a role in shaping my taste for beautiful books and my late-blooming interest in graphic design.

Godine started out in 1970 printing letterpress, limited-edition books in an old barn in Brookline, Massachusetts. Though that endeavor grew and expanded into a more conventional publishing house, it has remained idiosyncratic and individual in its vision. I can’t say it better than the Godine website:

The list is deliberately eclectic and features works that many other publishers can’t or won’t support, books that won’t necessarily become bestsellers but that still deserve publication. In a world of spin-offs and commercial ‘product,’ Godine’s list stands apart by offering original fiction and non-fiction of the highest rank, rediscovered
masterworks, translations of outstanding world literature, poetry, art, photography, and beautifully designed books for children.


The Godine books I have acquired over the years are well-loved favorites, including The Chronicles of Pantouflia, a lost classic by Andrew Lang, editor of the Rainbow Fairy Books; an exquisite illustrated edition of Anne of Green Gables; and The Alphabet Abcedarium by Richard Firmage, a fascinating history of the alphabet as well as a gorgeous gallery of typography. All of these are sadly out of print, but the current Godine list includes many new and rediscovered treasures that are well worth a look. They were kind enough to send me a couple of titles from their current children’s list, both of which which represent their dedication to publishing uncommon and one-of-a-kind works in beautiful, lasting editions.

One of these is The Adventures of Uncle Lubin, a nonsense tale from the Edwardian age, with exuberant, fantastical illustrations by W. Heath Robinson. As the oddly garbed Uncle searches for young Peter, who has been stolen away by a wicked Bag-bird, his adventures over land and sea, and even into outer space, are told with a deadpan humor that will tickle young children. Meanwhile, the ornate, detailed Art Nouveau illustrations with their masterfully sinuous lines can be pored over for hours. The playful interaction of text and images is part of the fun, and this edition painstakingly recreates the typesetting of the original.

A very different aesthetic is displayed by a thoroughly modern picture book, The Lonely Typewriter, written by Peter Ackerman and illustrated by Max Dalton. Poor Pablo has to write a paper on penguins, but the computer is broken. What will he do? His mom’s typewriter, that has been stashed in the attic for years, comes to the rescue! An alliterative text and quirky color-block pictures will capture the interest of young readers, and very possibly pique their interest in antiquated office machines.

I hope that I have piqued your interest as well, and that the next time you’re browsing in a bookstore or library you’ll look for that DRG calligraphy on the spine or title page. It’s a sure sign of quality.

Review copy source: Finished books from publisher

Back from the Past: Lost literary treasures return

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, 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!