Even the most classic of picture books, though never out of print, can gradually dim over time and lose impact. Sometimes it happens if story lines become dated. Or when styles of artwork don’t appeal as much to new generations of readers. But just as often the reason lies in the simple mechanics involved in publishing picture books. Simply put: the more times a book is reprinted with lithographic press plates, the more its illustrations lose their original sharpness and color.
A perfect example of this is the wonderful story of Little Toot, originally created by renowned artist Hardie Gramatky in 1939. His stories about a lovable little tugboat who must conquer his fears, plus the watercolor paintings that tell them, still ring true in today’s world. Yet the look of even new copies of these books had grown faded, blurred, and just plain tired out.
Luckily, Little Toot has just gotten a new lease on life with September’s release of a beautiful, newly restored edition. Here’s the scoop, from Monica Sotomayer of Wireless Flash News:
"August 30, 2007 — A lovable little tugboat
is dusting off his steam engine and chuggin’ full speed ahead
towards a colorful comeback. That’s the idea behind the release of the restored
edition of "Little Toot" (Putnam) — a beloved children’s
book originally published in 1939 — which hits shelves with
brighter, more vibrant watercolor illustrations this
The book has seen tremendous success — never being out
of print, and selling more than seven million copies — and
late author Hardie Gramatky’s daughter, Linda Gramatky Smith,
hopes its re-release, which marks her dad’s 100th birthday,
will attract a new generation who’ll relate to the playful
Says Gramatky Smith: "Little Toot deals with all the
emotions that a real kid does. He gets embarrassed and teased
by other boats, struggles to please his dad, and would rather
be creative and play than work all day. It’s every kid’s
childhood, but in the water!"
You can find three of the Little Toot stories in the Library’s picture book collection. And there is a great website about Hardie Gramatky’s life plus his artistic and literary oeuvre. Created by his daughter, it’s a fascinating look at an artist whose work also included years with Disney’s animation studios. Plus it includes a great selection of his original paintings. Seeing these, one can understand why Andrew Wyeth described him as one of the twenty best American watercolor artists. Take a look, see for yourself, and enjoy!