Getty Brings Politi Classics Back to Life

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By Wendy Werris -- Publishers Weekly, 9/17/2009 1:10:00 PM

Four works of Leo Politi (1908–1996), who wrote and illustrated dozens of children’s books primarily set in the Latino communities of Southern California, are being made available again in October from Getty Publications.

Children were often featured in Politi’s gentle watercolor paintings. Song of the Swallows won the Caldecott Medal in 1950. Pedro: The Angel of Olvera Street (1946) and Juanita (1948) both received Caldecott Honors. The fourth title to be reissued is Emmet, which was published in 1971. John Harris, Getty’s children’s book editor, was approached by Politi’s heirs at last year’s Bologna Book Fair about republishing the books, long out of print.

Although the four titles represent a slight departure for the Getty, which typically publishes books that are tied to the museum’s collection, the Los Angeles and California themes found in Politi’s books made for a strong creative alignment. According to Leslie Rollins, rights manager at the Getty, the Politi estate was eager to get the books back in print, so no contentious rights issues were involved in the negotiations with attorney Martin Burton.

“As part of our commitment to the Los Angeles community, we are proud to bring back these beloved classics under [our] imprint,” Getty Publications president Gregory Britton told PW. “Leo Politi’s award-winning books will now find a new generation of readers and his art a new generation of admirers.”

The Getty published its first book, a guide to the museum collection, in 1958, following up with 900 titles in the fields of art and photography, art history and children’s literature over the next 50 years. They began publishing children’s books in 1995; the children’s list currently includes 28 titles. Their strongest sellers include If... by Sarah Perry; Marguerite Makes a Book by Bruce Robertson and Kathryn Hewitt; and P Is for Peanut by Lisa Gelber and Jody Rogers.

Politi, born to Italian immigrants in Fresno, Calif., spent part of his career in Italy and London before settling in Los Angeles in 1930. Drawn to Olvera Street, the historic Latino neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles, Politi often sketched there, and sold drawings and paintings to the many tourists who frequented the area. It was there that he met Scribner editor Alice Dalgliesh, who was vacationing in Los Angeles in 1946. Charmed by Politi’s work, she signed him up for Pedro, the first of many books by the artist that Scribner would go on to publish.

In his Caldecott Medal acceptance speech in 1950, Politi described the creative process behind Song of the Swallows: “I compose a book very much as if I were making a piece of sculpture. When I feel the bulk has body and the right proportions, I begin to work on the detail. I work with the pictures and the text at the same time and make one supplement the other.”