Lost Tales Publishing chose the charming Artie & the Princess as their first book, partly due to the sweet illustrations by author Marjorie Torrey.
Did you ever have a favorite childhood book that disappeared from print? Happy Burbeck did, and in her search to find a new copy, she ended up on an unexpected career path. Sarah Kingsbury recently spoke to Happy about her new company, Lost Tales Publishing, which she started with her sister, Isabel Burbeck, and their mother, Elsie Smith.
Sarah Kingsbury: What made you decide to get into the publishing business?
Happy Burbeck: Well, really it was this book Artie and the Princess that influenced me. I was trying to think of a Christmas present for my mother and sister, and I remembered that our copy of Artie and the Princess was completely falling to pieces. I thought that it might be nice to get a new copy for my mom and sister… SoI went on the Internet to see if there had been another edition, and there hadn’t been. The only copies that you could get were first edition copies from 1945 for a couple hundred dollars, and there was no way I could afford that. So I thought, “Well, it would be nice to bring this book back into print. I wonder what the copyright status is?”
Happy Burbeck (left) enlisted the support of her mother, Elsie Smith, and sister, Isabel Burbeck, to launch Lost Tales Publishing.
I talked to my mother and my sister and they were both interested. We decided to start a publishing company with the idea that we would bring back into print children’s books that were no longer available or had been out of print for a long time. And we were lucky with Artie & the Princess because it turned out that the copyright had expired on it, so we were able to publish it without having to track down any long-lost relatives.
After doing some research online, I found out that Marjorie Torrey, the author of the book, actually disappeared—no one knows what happened to her. She was a fairly popular author and illustrator in the 1940s, and after the 1950s she was never heard from again.
But her family knew what happened to her, right?
Well, that’s the mysterious thing. She moved to California from the East Coast, and she was married, and she illustrated her last book in 1957—I hope I’m getting this right—but when her husband passed away, she wasn’t mentioned in his obituary. She didn’t have an obituary and nobody knows when she died or if she went somewhere else, or what.
Very mysterious. Tell me a little bit about the book itself. It must be a pretty special book to inspire you to go to all this trouble.
(Laughs) To start an entire publishing company! Yeah, it is. It’s a book that my mom read when she was little. It was published in 1945, so she got it when it was newish, and then my sister and I read it when we were little. It’s a story about a dragon who runs away from home and goes to live with a princess and her family.
It’s a sweet story about how the princess and dragon make friends, because they were both lonely, and it’s also about self-empowerment because the dragons had forgotten how to fly and breathe fire, but then they remember how. And it’s sort of an anti-war fable because the princess and her family don’t want to fight their enemies, and the dragons help them.
Isabel and I read it over and over again when we were little and loved it very much and, naturally, so did my mother. She kept it and gave it to us. One of the main things about the book was that the illustrations are so beautiful.
Marjorie Torrey was a Caldecott Award-winning illustrator, wasn’t she?
Yes, she got a Caldecott Honor for illustrating a book called Sing Mother Goose in 1946. Artie & the Princess was the only book we had of hers growing up. We’re thinking of checking out some of her other out-of-print books. But we’re also looking at a lot of ideas.
What kind of ideas?
We’re interested in any kind of out-of-print children’s books that are hard to get but really good. I guess the way of finding out if the book is really good is if it is really beloved by somebody. People have been sending us ideas for books that they loved when they were little that they can’t find now.
Are you interested in publishing any new works?
If we were to publish a new book, we would be interested in publishing an illustrated children’s book with an old-fashioned feel. It’s not something that we’re sure that we’re interested in doing yet, but if somebody came to us with something really amazing, that would be great.
You yourself are an artist, are you interested in doing any illustrating for children’s books?
I have definitely had that thought. People have also come to me with the idea, “Why don’t you publish this book and you re-illustrate it?”
It sounds like books are really important to your family, that you did a lot of reading together. Are there any favorite books from your childhood that you would recommend to kids or adults who like to read to kids?
Oh, wow, my family has been reading the Hilary McKay books, which are the series about the Casson family. The first one is called Saffy’s Angel, and they’re children’s books from the UK about this wonderful family. That’s what I’ve been reading and really enjoying, and my mother and sister as well.
When Isabel and I were really little we also really liked the books Wise Child and Juniper, by Monica Furlong, and I remember my mom reading those, too.
And actually there’s a book called Quest for a Maid, which is also a historical novel for children about Scotland in medieval times, by Frances Mary Hendry. That was a book we really, really liked when we were little.
And then of course there are the books for younger children. I loved Winnie the Pooh and the Moomintroll books.
My daughter really enjoyed those.
The Moomintroll books? I loved them, and those illustrations are so beautiful. Oh my gosh!
Okay, I think you’ll make some kids happy with these recommendations.
And there are so many good children’s books; I really could go on for hours! But yeah, I’ll stop there.
For more information about Artie & the Princess or Lost Tales Publishing, or if you have a beloved book from your childhood that you would love to see back in print, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Lost Tales Publishing.
Visit the Index for more book reviews and articles about Iowa authors.