Sunday, January 13, 2008


The picture on top shows the first edition of THE FAR SIDE OF EVIL, which was written by Sylvia Louise Engdahl and published by Atheneum in 1971. The illustration below is a later edition of the same novel, published by Walker in 2003. One of my favorite books, this penetrating and thought-provoking novel experienced more than just cosmetic dustjacket changes in the three decades between editions. On her website, Ms. Engdahl discusses the 2003 Walker publication: "This edition has been revised to update its statements about the Critical Stage, the stage of evolution at which a species is ready to begin expanding into space. It is much more timely and convincing than the original 1971 edition, although the action of the story hasn't been changed--so old copies should be discarded."

Discard old copies? Not on your life, Ms. Engdahl!

Most book collectors will want to have both copies in their library in order to document the changes that occured between editions. We want to see how the author's thinking has developed over the years, and will examine it page by page and word by word to see if these alterations have had a positive or negative affect on the novel.

In an earlier blog entry, I wrote about Maia Wojciechowska's anger that her editor added the word "companionable" on the last page of her Newbery winner SHADOW OF A BULL. In fact, Wojciechowska was known for erasing or crossing the word out every time she happened upon a copy of her novel. Finally, after many years and many complaints, as well as the threat of a lawsuit, the publisher removed that word from later editions of the book.

Unless an author labels a book "updated," as Engdahl does, or publicly complains about the situation a lot, as Wojciechowska did, it's unlikely that most of us would be aware of the many minor and major changes that can occur between printings of a book. I have stumbled on a handful myself over the years.

In E.L. Konisburg's wonderful first book, JENNIFER, HECATE, MACBETH, WILLIAM MCKINLEY, AND ME, ELIZABETH, the protagonist appears in a school production and recognizes her friend's mom in the audience because "she was the only Negro mother there." That's what the book said upon publication in 1967. A few years later I came across a later printing and the wording had beeen changed to "she was the only black mother there." I haven't seen a recent copy, but I wonder if it's now been changed from "black" to "African American." (Incidentally, other than the illustrations, which clearly show Jennifer to black, the book's altered line is the only instance in the book where Jennifer's race is mentioned.)

Published in 1969, Konigsburg's humorous baseball-team novel, ABOUT THE B'NAI BAGELS, features an adolescent boy who has an interest in Playgirl Magazine. Clearly, Konigsburg is parodying Hugh Hefner's famous "Entertainment for Men" publication, though she gives it a different name. However, a few years later a magazine called Playgirl did come into being and this one called itself "Entertainment for Women." Obviously this would change the intentions of Konigsburg's protagonist, so in later editions of ABOUT THE B'NAI BAGELS, the name of the magazine was changed to Playboy.

In 1996, Cheryl Ware published an amusing epistolary novel called SEA MONKEY SUMMER. When her book FLEA CIRCUS SUMMER was released the following year, I assumed it was a sequel..but it turned out to be the same book under a new title. I later heard that all the copies published under the original title were withdrawn from the market, and can only assume that perhaps the term "sea monkeys" is trademarked or copyrighted and can't be used by just anyone.

Over the years, many well-known children's books have undergone alterations because they are no longer deemed politically correct. In Hugh Lofting's Dr. Dolittle books, Polynesia, the talking parrot who probably seemed quite charming in the 1920s is now recognized as a dirty bird who freely uses racial epithets -- and Lofting's ilustrations of black characters are grotesque caricatures. These components have been changed in later editions of the books. I have also heard (though I cannot document this one personally) that some of the original illustrations in Maud and Miska Petersham's Caldecott winning picture book, THE ROOSTER CROWS, have been called racially insensitive and were replaced in later editions. Changing a book's text or illustrations to reflect modern sensibilities is a double-edged sword. If emendations are made to represent modern values, the book may stray too far from the author's original intent and vision. Yet if these changes are not made, the book might not be allowed in libraries or sold in bookstores.

Of course there are also times that a book is changed not because it's wrong-headed, but just because it's simply WRONG. Genevieve Foster was one of the twentieth century's premiere writers of children's histories. She garnered four Newbery Honors throughout her career, starting with GEORGE WASHINGTON'S WORLD:

However, just a few pages into that mammoth volume, she made a rather significant error on this page. Click on the image below to get a better view:

Did you figure it out? This page was immediately corrected and the mistake did not occur in later editions.

What changes have you noticed or heard about in children's books over the years? Feel free to share them here!


sdn said...

i'm fascinated by this stuff too. i'm told that are you there god? it's me, margaret was updated to reflect new, er, menstrual technology.

Peter D. Sieruta said...

I am glad I don't need to research that particular topic for this blog. Can you imagine being a middle-aged male standing in a library or bookstore and taking notes from ARE YOU THERE, GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET? ("Marge, call security!!!!")

Michael Clark said...

Isn't the thickness of the cable in Gerstein's "Man Who Walked Between the Towers" corrected after the firt printing?

Alison said...

I read, recently, that select numbers of the Babysitter's Club book series are being re-released, with "updates" like cassette tapes to i-pod, etc.