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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Back in Print Beauties: Adelaide by Tomi Ungerer

New series!  Here’s a hint on how to blog almost daily.  Come up with various series so that you don’t have to worry about what kind of content to provide at a given moment.  For example, at this point I’ve the Review of the Day series, the Video Sunday series, the Fusenews series, Press Release Fun (the easiest of all the series), and the occasional WBBT/SBBT interview.  Slap your hands together, you’re done!  Content just got easier.

Now I’d like to introduce a new series that makes use of something I’ve had no real way of publicizing until now: out-of-print books that are back in the running.  Between Phaidon, The New York Review of Books, McSweeney’s, and all the other companies out there I think it’s high time we give these people some credit!  So today, let’s look at a little somethin’ somethin’ that Phaidon has reprinted.

Adelaide: The Flying Kangaroo by Tomi Ungerer was a new one on me. Originally published in 1959 it doesn’t feel like your typical Ungerer fare.  When I think of the man I think of the delightfully disturbing The Beast of Monsieur Racine or the even stranger Zeralda’s Ogre (ten’ll get you one you’ll never see THAT little number back in print in America ever again).  Adelaide, in contrast, feels more akin to Susan Jeschke’s Perfect, the Pig with illustrations that feel distinctly James Stevenson-esque.  The story follows a little kangaroo born with a set of wings.  Curious about the world she takes off one day and has a series of small adventures.  She travels with a pilot, sees the sights of Paris, performs in a music hall, saves children from a fire, and at last falls in love with a kangaroo named Leon in a nearby zoo.  After securing his freedom the two are wed and she has time to reflect back on her adventures and life.

By 1959 Tomi Ungerer was still early in his career.  He’d come to New York City from Strasbourg in 1956 and his first picture book (The Mellops Go Flying) came out in 1957.  Adelaide would have come out not long thereafter, though it never received the same attention for books like The Three Robbers or even Moon Man.  Back in 2008 the New York Times printed the article Return of the Renegade Children’s Author, partially as a way to draw attention to the fact that Phaidon had managed to acquire the rights to almost all his books.  In that piece they called him “the most famous children’s book author you have never heard of.”

I’ve read at least one interesting complaint about the new publication of this book from someone who much preferred the wording in the original.  The words in this book are not the same as you will find in the 1959 English language version, and this is probably because this publication may be a translation of the 1980 German version Adelaide, das fleigende Kanguruh.  Curious, no?  This led me to wonder if the original English language version was also a translation.  Had I half a brain in my head I would have traipsed down to my library’s closed stacks yesterday morning to swipe a copy of the original for comparison, but alas that trip will have to wait.  In any case, Phaidon was originally an Austrian company but has long since been located in England so I’m really not sure why they may have translated the book this time around.  Could it be a rights issue?  A case where Phaidon had the right to publish the images in the book but needed an original text and so they simply translated the same book from the German?  That’s just me wildly speculating, but if that’s what it takes to bring books back in print these days, I say go for it.  The text reads smoothly, regardless of where it’s from.

The timing of this publication ain’t half bad either.  Over at the Eric Carle Museum they’re prepping for the upcoming exhibition Tomi Ungerer, Chronicler of the Absurd.  That program will run from June 21st to October 9th, whereupon it will be replaced by a Jules Feiffer exhibit.  Two great tastes that taste great together.  In the meantime I’m pleased to have discovered Adelaide.  Now to find the original for a good old-fashioned compare and contrast fest.

For more thoughts on the original Adelaide, be sure to check out the Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves post on the subject.

Final Word of Advice: By the way, if you’re looking for examples of Mr. Ungerer’s art I would strongly suggest you not search for him on Google Image while at work.  Great guy.  Not exactly work friendly, in spite of his children’s book history.  Wowzer.

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. No kidding on that Google alert. Got me to wondering, though, whether someone of this stature in the kids’ book field today could make work for audiences that divergent and not get into serious trouble about it.

    Back then, work stayed put, tidily sequestered, in a way it doesn’t anymore. Could Shel Silverstein still work for Playboy (and write stuff as profanely entertaining as “Hamlet As Told on the Street”) without Google-driven blowback from the Banning Industrial Complex?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      There’s the question. We’ve folks who do particularly adult things in their spare time (Gris Grimley’s art or Cynthia von Buhler’s) but when you hit household name status are you hemmed in?