One of the tragic things about loving children's books is seeing your favorites go out of print.
Fortunately, some never will. Where the Wild Things Are, the Little House books and The Very Hungry Caterpillar all come to mind. Oftentimes, these survivors are treated to iteration after iteration in anniversary or other special editions.
Get ready this year for A Wrinkle in Time (50th), The Little House (70th) and And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (75th). Whitman has breathed new life into Maj Lindman’s books about Flicka, Ricka and Dicka, reissuing Flicka, Ricka and Dicka and Their New Skates and Flicka, Ricka and Dicka Go to Market in shiny new editions with paper dolls included.
But what about others? Too often, they are left in the book graveyard to molder. But every once in a while, some enterprising, or nostalgic, publisher makes an effort to resurrect them.
Seven Impossible Things talked about Houghton Mifflin's resuscitation of Paul Galdone's picture-book folktales last year. Two more will be coming out in April: Little Red Riding Hood and The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. New York Review Books continues its heroic unearthing of out-of-print children's favorites this coming April with Palmer Brown's The Silver Nutmeg (read its reprint of predecessor Beyond the Pawpaw Trees to get ready).
And Universe Publishing, an imprint of Rizzoli, has been quietly reissuing M. Sasek’s eye-catching mid-20th-century travel picture books, the This Is… series. The newest to come out is This Is Munich, which releases on Feb. 14. They are good-sized books, clocking in at 64 pages and with an impressive, oversized trim, but they are not off-putting. Lots of white space with airy watercolors glossed by just a few lines per sight ensures that the pages keep turning.
"So here we are in the capital of Bavaria," Sasek begins. His chatty, idiosyncratic narration gives children snapshots of a butcher shop with all kinds of sausages displayed in the window and smiling Bavarians in lederhosen and dirndls as well as such tourist standards as the Nymphenburg Palace and the Alte Pinakotatek. He takes readers past city monuments and talks a little bit about what it's like to live in Munich.
"The only guest unwelcome in Munich is the Föhn." With a little assist from the encyclopedia, he explains that it is "a hot dry wind [that] causes physical discomfort and… has a depressing effect on the nervous system." On the opposite page, a green-skinned woman clutches her temples: "Here is Frau Huber with a splitting headache."
This humor is characteristic of his illustrations, which transport readers through time as well as space. Art students in black turtlenecks and Vandyke beards share the city with fedora-clad gentlemen; busy municipal workers push antique-looking wheelbarrows, and the "conductress" stamps tram tickets.
Universe has made a conscious decision not to update the text, though archaic references are flagged discreetly with asterisks, which lead readers to a final page: "This Is Munich… Today!" Here readers learn that they won't be using Deutschmarks when they visit, van Gogh's Sunflowers moved across town 30 years ago and horse-drawn wagons don't deliver ice. And the 5 million pints of beer people drank in the ’50s at Oktoberfest? In 2010, that went up to 14 million.
Even at their publication, the This Is… books were art books more than they were geography texts or travel guides. But what beautiful books they were, and thanks to Universe, they are again.
Vicky Smith is the children's and teen editor at Kirkus.