A few hours ago Lisbeth Zwerger walked into the The Carle and I told her the fairy tale story of why she is responsible for me being here, running The Carle’s bookshop. She was surprised, because we had never met before!
Twenty-five years ago, in May of 1985, my partner Christine Bluhm and I visited Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) in Madison, Wisconsin—directed by Ginny Moore Kruse—to research independent presses specializing in children’s books. Our new business—The Children’s Bookstore—was due to open that September; we wanted to carry books that customers wouldn’t see at other stores.
The CCBC small press collection was marvelous. One company in particular caught our eye: Alphabet Press, based in Northampton, Massachusetts. This new house was doing English-language editions of European picture books developed by the adventurous publisher Michael Neugebauer. The Alphabet Press/Neugebauer book-production values were remarkable. Their lead author was a young illustrator named Lisbeth Zwerger whose fairy tale picture books had an evanescent, luminous quality that won our hearts.
One month later we attended the American Booksellers Association convention in San Francisco to place the initial orders for our new bookstore. We sought out the Alphabet Press booth and told the two young people there—Motoko Inoue and Rick Richter—of our warm feelings for their new company. In fact, we got so enthusiastic that we did them the favor of buying all the books on their trade-show racks, after the convention was over, for shipment back to our store in Chicago. On opening day, September 7, 1985, a large Alphabet Press display graced our shelves.
Over the years, in several successive bookstores, we sold many Lisbeth Zwerger books. Meanwhile, the publishing industry changed around us. Alphabet Press became Picture Book Studio, and in 1994 was acquired by Simon & Schuster. Some of Lisbeth Zwerger’s titles are still published by Simon & Schuster, while some are with minedition (Michael Neugebauer’s current company), and others are with NorthSouth Books.
Rick Richter was hired to lead the launch of the brilliant children’s book publisher Candlewick Press in 1991, then in 1994 became top dog in charge of children’s books at Simon & Schuster; Rick supervised the arrival there of the books first published by his alma mater, Picture Book Studio.
In April 2002 I learned about the upcoming November opening of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. I decided to seek the opportunity to develop the museum’s bookshop. I knew that Eric Carle had, back in the 80s, joined Lisbeth Zwerger on the Picture Book Studio author roster, and that in 1994 Eric Carle’s Picture Book Studio titles had moved to Simon & Schuster. I realized that my old friend Rick Richter–with whom I hadn’t spoken in ten years–might in his role as Eric Carle’s publisher at Simon & Schuster be able to help me land the bookstore job at the new Eric Carle Museum. When I contacted Rick to ask this favor, he told me Motoko Inoue was directing Eric Carle Studio, the entity that manages Eric Carle’s business activities. I reached out to Motoko.
My back-channel lobbying bore fruit. My family and I moved from Chicago to Western Massachusetts in August 2002. And so it is that eight years later, with the opening of our exhibition, An Exquisite Vision: The Art of Lisbeth Zwerger, I am able to thank Lisbeth Zwerger for creating the fairy tale books that led to my fairy tale life: as bookshop manager at The Carle. (Click here to buy Lisbeth’s books!)
Tags: Andy Laties, book recommendations, Bookselling, Eric Carle Museum, Eric Carle Museum Bookstore, illustrations, Lisbeth Zwerger, Michael Neugebauer, Motoko Inoue, Picture Book Studio, picture books, Rick Richter