Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Back to the Beginning: OOP

As all you book lovers know, OOP means Out-Of-Print and for people who are trying to create history curriculum using living books and great literature, it's the bane of our existence. As you can read in Part I and Part II of our history, Rea Berg had begun putting together study guides to help fellow homeschooling parents teach history using literature. Her first study guides were for Early American history and California state history and she used books by Scott O'Dell, Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire, Jean Fritz, Alice Dalgliesh, Marguerite Henry, and Genevieve Foster. Parents began teaching using these wonderful books and their children began loving history. It was wonderful to hear stories of families reading together for the first time and learning about the Pilgrims and Jamestown and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But one problem kept cropping up. Many of these books had been in print for 30, 40, or 50 years. They had been the best-sellers and award-winners of their day but that time had passed. Families were not reading together as much and schools had switched over to textbooks. The big publishers began dropping these titles as sales dried up. It was heartbreaking to find that the d'Aulaire titles were being dropped one by one. As a child I can remember frantic searches and phone calls to remainder warehouses, hours spent tracking down the last copies so that people could use the study guides Rea had work on. When all the remaining copies of a dropped title had been found, we had to find other books that could work. These searches did allow us to find some jewels but it was distressing to see that these books we so loved were slowing being lost and future generations would miss out on being exposed to them.

So it was out of a sort of desperation that Russ and Rea began looking in to publishing the books themselves. One book they both loved was Leif the Lucky by Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire. It was the best biography on Leif Erickson they had ever read and the pictures were stunning. It told the story of Leif's father Eric the Red and his sailing to Greenland and Iceland. Its readers were introduced to the charismatic King Olaf and Norse mythology and the early conversion of the Norwegians to Christianity.

Young minds were captured by the gorgeous lithographed illustrations. It felt like reading an adventure story backed up by impeccable research. The d'Aulaires were a husband and wife team, fluent in many languages, devoted to historical research and story telling, and accomplished artists. They had won the Caldecott Award for their biography of Abraham Lincoln and millions of US children had grown up reading their other biographies of American heroes. In the late 1980s and early 1990s children's literature was changing. There was a growing divide between books that were designed to be instructional and those that were just for fun. Instructional books, biographies, historical texts were becoming more technical. Beautiful biographies were not selling as well as they used to and were therefore less and less profitable. Leif the Lucky had been out of print for years at this point and more and more of the books used in the study guides were being dropped.

Rea was heartbroken to see these titles disappearing and decided that she needed to do something. She researched printing contracts and copyright law, tracked down the sons of Ingri and Edgar and arranged a meeting. It was providential that these distinguished gentlemen even agreed to a meeting. They did not know Russ and Rea from Adam and they had no qualifications, no experience, no credentials to assure these men that they would take care of the life's work of their parents. The one thing Russ and Rea had going for them was their deep love for the d'Aulaires and their genuine enthusiasm in wanting to bring Leif the Lucky back into print. And they were blessed with a contract! And then came the scary part. Beautiful Feet Books to this point had been a small side business but the Bergs knew that if they were going to start printing they needed to invest their time and resources into the company. Russ resigned from his job, they moved their four children from California to Massachusetts and put everything into making a go of publishing full-time. There were a couple of scary years when neither Russ nor Rea was sure it was going to work! God was very faithful during that time. He walked them through their first printing experience with all its complicated blue-lines, PMS color checks, paper weight decisions and other small but important details. It was a wonderful day that first copy was delivered - to know that it was available again and people could enjoy it with their children, grandparents could share a book they remembered from their childhood with their grandchildren. Seventeen years later, BFB now publishes over forty books! And we are always looking for new titles to add, searching used book stores for forgotten treasures, tracking down author's decedents and copyright holders. It's been a fun adventure, there have been moments of stress and frustration, but an overall joy! We've worked with some amazing people, some talented printers and copyrighters, and have met wonderful fellow bibliophiles - including some of you!

If you have not had a chance to read one of the d'Aulaire biographies, there is a great opportunity to get your hands on one for free at the DenSchool blog! Check out Victoria's detailed review and enter for a chance to win a copy of Abraham Lincoln

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to write a history of the amazing BFB! My 5-year old loves art, and sometimes we pull out a D'Aulaire book just to look at those gorgeous illustrations. It's encouraging to hear about a family of trailblazers in the homeschool movement!