What do Theodore Geisel, Alan Milne, and Laura Wilder have in common? All are successful authors with a devoted following in the children’s market that now spans all age groups. All have withstood the test of time and continue to steadily increase in popularity.
All are dead, but their alter egos Dr. Seuss, Winnie the Pooh, and Laura Ingalls remain forever young and are in no danger of going out of print. The sum total of print these three disparate authors have generated is staggering.
It all began so simply. Long ago, each of these authors wrote a story. Editors recognized something good and published their works in book form. The public bought in droves.
Pleased with their success, each author followed up with more books in the same vein. The sequels were also well received. That was the extent of it for the authors. Their publishers, however, were just getting warmed up.
Genie Out of the Bottle
After the original editions came the repackaging: Larger formats for younger children. Boxed sets for gift-giving. Anniversary editions. Anthologies, with multiple titles bound and sold as one book. Board book versions for infants. Abridgements for parents not patient enough to read their children the originals.
The printing didn’t stop there. These commodities became so hot that more product was needed than the original authors could (or were willing to) churn out.
Random House formed Beginner Books, with dozens of authors cranking out Seuss-like levity of varying quality. Even Dr. Seuss himself, who wrote much faster than he drew, was published extensively under the pseudonym Theo LeSieg, used whenever his text was teamed with someone else’s illustration.
A.A. Milne soon tired of Pooh, calling it quits after four volumes. A more aggressive fellow named Walt Disney acquired the rights and now Pooh graces thousands of titles. Most are insipid drivel and a disgrace to the original books, but they sell like hotcakes and haven’t diminished sales of the originals one bit.
Mrs. Wilder’s childhood memories of Little Houses numbered eight volumes. Her incomplete ninth manuscript was published posthumously and a writer was hired to create a tenth volume. What next? An entirely new batch of books with Wilder’s daughter as the heroine. It didn’t match the sales or quality of the original series, but die-hard fans bought enough to make the effort a success.
A third series of books now chronicles the childhood of Wilder’s mother, “Ma” in the original series. This formula could be continued back to the Stone Age. How about “Little Cave by the Primordial Seashore”?
Print is Never Obsolete
Most Johnson’s World readers have young folks on their holiday gift lists. Let someone else buy ‘em the trendy stuff that will be broken or forgotten by New Years. Buy a sure thing. Give something you loved as a child.
Think the gift of print is just too old fashioned? The VHS tapes today’s teenagers received for Christmas 1995 are obsolete. Their parents’ beta format tapes from Christmas 1975 are unplayable. Ah, but the first edition of “When We Were Very Young” that delighted great-grandpa Christmas morning 1925 is every bit as readable today as it was then. Skip the e-books and give the timeless gift of print.
Offer thanks for all the knock-offs that have generated so much ink on paper, but for gifts choose the originals that started it all. Taken aback by the high reading level of the original stories? Fear not, kids today are up to it. If they can handle Harry Potter, they’ll be fine with Eeyore and the Lorax.
Most importantly, give of yourself. Read your gift aloud. My grandchildren don’t know or care about my involvement with the last Linotypes or first iGens, but they will forever associate me with lovable Edward Bear and the Sneetches.