This week I am going to be focusing on David Godine Inc, a publishing house that I have a particular interest in. Godine is turning 40 years old this year, and I asked David Godine to tell us a little about the house and how it came into being. Here is his response.
"Godine began publishing children’s books in 1975 on the suggestion of Roger Straus, one of our directors, who observed that we probably wouldn’t survive very long as a “literary” publisher unless we began publishing children’s books. I reacted by saying that a) I had no children, and b) I knew nothing about it; but he countered by insisting that you didn’t need half a brain, just a good eye. “Go to Frankfurt and wander around the foreign publishers and pick out a few good titles. You can’t do any worse than what you’re doing with poetry, and with any luck a few of the books you pick out will still be in print a decade later.”
How right he was. On that first trip, I saw the Dent edition of Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales illustrated by Edward Ardizonne and also, from a German publisher, a superb version of Peter and the Wolf. Both titles were subsequently selected as among the ten best children’s books of that year by the New York Timesand we thought, “This is easy! Just pick out a few good books, etc.” It wasn’t true, of course, since publishing children’s books is not that easy, but over the years we have managed to attract some real talent and to publish their books with care and attention. The first titles by Mary Azarian, Barbara McClintock, and Kevin Hawkes were all issued by this company, and we have a strong list of important reprints that seem to have struck a real chord among readers. Most surprising among these have been the books written and illustrated by Daniel Beard (and one also by his sisters) in the late nineteenth century: the American Boy’s and American Girls Handy Book series, which have combined to sell over a million copies.
I am also proud of the classics we have rescued, most of them entirely reset and many of them newly illustrated. A short list would include William Steig’s classicRotten Island (the only example of Steig printed in Day-Glo colors), the only “complete text” edition of The Secret Garden, illustrated by Graham Rust, and, more recently, the immortal Captain Najork titles by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake, as well as Noel Langley’s The Land of Green Ginger (also illustrated by Ardizonne), and Elizabeth Goudge’s I Saw Three Ships. We have also actively bought softcover reprint rights to titles from the beloved Wendell Minor (Shaker Hearts andCat What is That?) and two New England classics by Donald Hall (Lucy’s Summer andLucy’s Christmas), which were illustrated by Michael McCurdy.
Several authors have been with us for quite a while now. We have five titles in print by the author / illustrator Glenna Lang, including her recent young adult biography of Jane Jacobs, Genius of Common Sense (in collaboration with Marjory Wunsch), and three titles by the illustrator Ilse Plume. And we continue to actively solicit and publish “first books” by unknown authors and illustrators. I would cite last year’sAbsolutely Wild, with linoleum cuts by Kim Cunningham, The Goat-Faced Girl, with gouache paintings by Jane Marinsky, and The Lonely Phone Booth, with its mid-century modern illustrations by Max Dalton, as three recent outstanding examples.
The program has never been large in terms of titles issued, but most have been kept in print and many have found their way into the homes and hearts of what is now an entire generation. Children’s titles are the one genre where creativity in design, writing, illustration, and production are apt to intersect. They are now, and will always remain, an area of vital interest to everyone working here."