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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Re-Illustrate That Sucker!

The other day I was talking about some favorite books that were getting re-published when in the comments Annette wrote about another book she would like to see in print again:

“The Wedding Procession of the Rag Doll and the Broom Handle and Who Was in It, by Carl Sandburg (pictures by Harriet Pincus but some wonderful new artist could do fantastic things). A book I don’t mind reading aloud over and over and over.”

It got me to thinking.  Any time a publisher chooses to rerelease picture book or children’s novel with brand new illustrations that is not a general classic (which is to say, doesn’t show up on the Top 100 Picture Books Poll or Top 100 Children’s Novel Poll results) it is a cause for curiosity and interest.  Some recent examples of this might include:

The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban.

Old Cover:

New Cover:

The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth

Old Cover:

New Cover:

The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill.

Old Cover:

New Cover:

Many Moons by James Thurber

Old Cover:

New Cover:

The list goes on and on.

So what books are out there that are deserving of a new illustrator’s touch but haven’t gotten one yet?  I’m not saying that these are books that have bad illustrations to begin with, but rather are books that might be able to earn an entirely new audience and appreciation if they just acquired a new look.  Here are some of my thoughts.  Feel free to join in.

The Winged Girl of Knossos by Erick Berry – Originally illustrated by Erick Berry

I know I’m just beating a dead horse with this one, but I like the book so so sooooo much! And look at that archaic cover. Could it be screaming 1933 constructivist school of design any louder?  Get a scene of her doing a handstand off of a angry bull’s head instead.  That’ll get kids’ attention!

A Stranger Came Ashore by Mollie Hunter

I almost went with Mermaid Summer for Ms. Hunter, but since that book got this cover at one point in its life (albeit in Britain) I’m not going to insist it get another all that soon.  A Stranger Came Ashore, however, is another matter entirely.  In spite of this teen-looking remnant of the early 90s (Nicholas Cage called, dude, and he wants his hair back) this was a middle grade title all the way down the line.  Sort of the anti-Twilight.  A mysterious man has only eyes for a girl, and it’s up to her little brother to save her.  Give it a good new jacket and you’ll have something to hand those nine-year-olds that insist that they’re old enough for Twilight but their mom won’t let them read it.

Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Daddies by Pija Lindenbaum

The thing about Lindenbaum is that while many Americans just love her stories (this and Mini Mia and Her Darling Uncle are particular favorites) a lot of Yanks don’t much care for her art.  Else-Marie was also a particularly brown book.  Brown pictures, brown weather, brown brown brown.  Kind of a downer.  Slap a different but equally strange illustrator in there (say, Scott Magoon) and you could have a book that is wonderfully strange instead of just peculiar and odd to the eye.
The Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace

Now we all remember the bloodshed that went down when Harper Collins tried to give the Little House books different covers. And the cries of sheer pain that erupted when the Ramona books got a new look still reverberates to this day.  But what if someone like Marla Frazee got her hands on the Lovelace brand?  I envision a whole new set of pictures and scores of readers.  You could entice the kids too old for Pennypacker’s Clementine to enjoy a whole new (old) series.  What say you?

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

And that’s the good cover.  You should see the bad ones.  Even when it first came out they didn’t know how to sell it.  I remember reading a paperback that showed Sorry, the romantic interest, as a ghost.  Which makes absolutely no sense since Sorry’s a witch.  Oy.  Mahy’s supernatural romance is still fondly remembered to this day, by the way.  Said bookshelves of doom: “Highly recommended for fans of dark romantic fantasy and supernatural stories in realistic settings and urban fantasy/horror.”  Someone take pity on this book and give it a new cover.  Please.

Ultra-Violet Catastrophe, or, The Unexpected Walk With Great-Uncle Magnus Pringle by Margaret Mahy

Another Mahy, but this one’s in a different vein. Now this is a case where the original illustrations were wonderful (by Brian Froud), but I think a new illustrator could do wonders with such a title as this. The story involves a little girl who would much rather climb trees and be a pirate (a tree pirate) than wear scratchy dresses and stay clean. When she meets her Great-Uncle Magnus Pringle she finds a soulmate, and the two spend the afternoon going on a ramble and having small adventures that allow them to get absolutely filthy.  Consider a newbie illustrator for this one. Someone like Erin Stead.

The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip

Last supernatural romance, I swear. Now I read this book when I was a kid and I thought it was great, though I hated the cover. It wasn’t the one shown here. Something a little more boring, I think (not that this one is any great shakes either). This is sort of the opposite of A Stranger Came Ashore. Instead of the boy from the sea being evil, he’s good but a changeling who doesn’t belong on land at all. Very evocative with a good heroine who must solve a mystery and help two boys find their true homes. Worth another cover.

The Wedding Procession of the Rag Doll and the Broom Handle Who Was In It by Carl Sandburg – Originally illustrated by Harriet Pincus

This was the book Annette alluded to. It really is a great little story, but I’m always thrown a bit by how similar the ragdoll looks to Sideshow Bob.


In any case, a newly illustrated edition is just what the doctor ordered. The text is still fun and fabulous (it is Sandburg, after all).  Just slap some new pics in there and call it a day.

William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow – Originally illustrated by William Pene du Bois

This would get my vote as the Book Most Deserving of a Re-Illustration. I’ll make my case. First off, the text is still timely. Boys are as teased today about having dolls as they did back in 1972 when this book first came out. Maybe more.  Second, kids are assigned this book for summer reading all the time. I keep buying paperbacks for my branch because we can’t keep it in stock. If it has images that were a little less 70s, we might reach more kids, though.  Not that there’s anything wrong with being a product of your times.  Have you noticed how Sesame Street has been changing the colors of Bert & Ernie’s stripes so that they look less 70s?  See, that I don’t much care for, but William’s Doll is another case entirely.  For one thing, William walks around with a neckerchief.  A neckerchief, for crying out loud!  He’s like the Little Lord Fauntleroy of the disco era.  Please, someone just slap some sneakers with wheels in the heels and make him a contemporary boy.  It’ll sell copies.  I promise.  Read James Preller’s post about the title for more insights regarding the book.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Wow, someone else has read A Stranger Came Ashore!!! The edition I read had an even older and uglier cover, but admittedlly less of a cheap-paperback vibe.

  2. Stephanie Whelan says

    Oh, I agree completely about William’s Doll! I was actually just thinking that recently when I came across the book again. I want to read it to my son when he’s old enough, but the illustrations really are out of step for the story to have as much relevance. Also agree on The Changeover–a book which I read to pieces despite the corny cover. I’d love to see the Haunting back in print as well!
    There are some books I’d love to see revitalized with new illustrations. McKinely’s Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown are just two of them.

    One book I was not happy with the change of illustration on was The Gunniwolf. The new artwork just doesn’t fit IMO. But maybe that’s just because I’m attached to the old pics.

  3. The new Gunniwolf art didn’t do a thing for me! The Gunniwolf looks like the neighbor’s “I love everybody” dog. The Gunniwolf in the old art is sly and supernatural looking, monstrous without being horrific.

    And The Changeover is better than about 98% of the new crop of paranormal romances. They should re-market the heck out of that. Except–I tremble to think of seeing it with yet another stock photo of a girl surrounded by blue and black eeevil.

    The Changeling Sea is another good pick!

  4. I’m so glad that you mentioned The Changeover! That’s an old favorite of mine, and I recently pulled it off the shelf while reading some of the recent books in which a magical gift or ability develops around puberty–which reminded me of it.

    There are other great books by Mahy that could be revived…

  5. I Loved the Enormous Egg as a kid! Glad to see it got a new cover. I have to pass this article oto my illustration students – nice to see the old versions next to the new ones and it’s got great ideas for working on new art to build ones portfolio.

  6. JMyersbook says

    Oh my — now that you mention it, I do remember that other, ‘ghostly’ (or at least luminescent) cover of THE CHANGEOVER all too well. Fabulous, fabulous book, able to survive any number of bad covers…but wouldn’t it be nice it if didn’t have to?

  7. Genevieve says

    Thanks for the link to James Preller’s blog. I very much like what he has to say about “boy’s books” sometimes being used stereotypically, as if all boys liked those topics and only those topics. I’m going to have to read his book, “Along Came Spider.”

  8. Hi Betsy,

    Check out Collecting Children’s Books for my choice of the Patricia McKillip Novel Most in Need of New Artwork.


  9. Oof. Remove a Pincus from the playing field? Sorry. I can’t go for that. But in general, it’s interesting to see that there are some books where the illustrations could easily be changed… while some picture books ya just can’t imagine it. Covers somehow seem very different to me….

  10. The problem with re-illustrating Many Moons is that the original art won the Caldecott. How many people will pick up the new one thinking they have the Caldecott winner in their hands?

  11. I desperately want new covers for the Blossom Culp books – they are hideous and the books are marvelous. I’d be able to display them if they had new and improved covers!

    While Marla Frazee might do neat covers for the Betsy-Tacy books, I would never ever ever want to see the Lois Lenski or Vera Neville inside illustrations disappear. Sometimes old fashioned illustrations match texts better – I love Lauren Child, but cringe at her Anne of Green Gables cover. Too many angles for a smooth story.

  12. Ditto on giving a new cover to The Changeover! I’ve been contemplating buying a used copy so’s I can finally read it for myself, but every time I see one of those dreadful cover images, I CRINGE, CRINGE, CRINGE.

    I, for one, would like to see Jay Williams’ Petronella with a set of spiffier illustrations. This was attempted about ten years ago, but bless their hearts, the page design was terrible.

  13. Oh no, Pija Lindenbaum’s artwork is perfection as it is. Her weirdness (both pictures and text) was a perfect match for my kooky family – and in fact as recently as 2 weeks ago (I kid you not), my 15-year-old daughter and I pored for the thousandth time over all the bizarre little details in Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Daddies. And Boodil, My Dog? Pure genius!

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      I love her too, Eva. She’s an absolute wonder. That said, I cannot get about 70% of the folks I show her books to to take a chance on her. And doggone it if it isn’t because of her art. I wouldn’t change Boodil, but Else-Marie is just so dank. You can practically smell the socks on the pages. Dunno. I’d be interested in seeing it done again.

  14. I have a first edition MANY MOONS . . . alas, without the dust jacket.

  15. Else-Britt Hellström says

    Didn´t know I was a patriot until I read this proposal of re-illustrating Pija Lindenbaums stories. She is a great story-teller both in words and pictures. You can not have one and not the other. Open your mind and let her brownish pictures tell you something about Sweden. All Lindenbaum´s illustrations beautifully give the image of an atmosphere and a time and a culture. And thus also just of human life.
    Lindenbaum is awarded over and over again for her ability to treat delicate topics with humor and heart. Enjoy her!

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      I’m loving the Lindenbaum love on display here. Shall we switch focus and insist that she be reprinted instead?

  16. One do-over I think was a real shame is the newer version of Gary Paulsen’s The Crossing. The “old” version I had showed a wary, wiry boy in a ragged shirt—a boy who closely matched his description in the book. The newer version shows a well-groomed, rather well-fed lad who doesn’t seem nearly as concerned with getting across the Rio Grande to escape his difficult life. The new cover looks insipid compared with the old, a cover that gave some idea of the boy’s wit, circumstances, and determination.

  17. I agree with Shelley about the inside illustrations in the Betsy-Tacy books. I think they should be kept, because they suit the text. I have concerns when older books – such as the new Anne of Green Gables mentioned above – get very modern covers, because kids who judge books by their covers are bound to be disappointed. I don’t love the Betsy-Tacy cover above, but at least it makes it clear that this is an older book.

  18. Even though I usually veer toward the classic over the reinterpretation, kudos to the new cover for The Enormous Egg. I’m kind of amazed that the original ever drew in readers: while it shows a boy and a rooster and a not-particularly-big egg, the new version showcases what’s actually exciting about the story: the present-day appearance of a dinosaur! I wonder what the original designers were thinking–seriously. Safeguard against spoilers? Animal husbandry is its own reward?

  19. Replace the illustrations of Newberry Award winner and Caldecott Honoree William Pène du Bois? You can’t be serious.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Nevermore! Pene du Bois was an absolute and utter genius. His Twenty-One Balloons could never be topped. That said, his historical fiction has aged far better than his contemporary illustration. Unlike most picture books, the illustrations are secondary to the text in William’s Doll, not equal to it. This needs to change if it is to continue to have any meaning.

  20. I have been searching for the Wedding Procession of the Rag Doll and the Broom Handle for a very long time. I bought one for my son years ago after he cried when we had to return it to the library. My daughter later fell in love with it and now I’d love to share it with my little cousin, but it is 97 dollars! How I’d love for them to reissue this. The illustrations are lovely, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a re-do as long as it was equally treated.