Politi’s Picture Book Gems: Back in Print from Getty
The works of Leo Politi (1908-1996), the much-acclaimed author and illustrator of numerous award-winning picture books, have long been appreciated for their gently descriptive narratives and warm-hued artwork. Written more than a half century ago, many of Politi’s titles are set in ethnic communities, conveying delightful details of day-to-day life in various neighborhoods and celebrating cultural diversity. Getty Publications reintroduces this author to 21st-century readers with attractive new reissues of four of his most popular, long-out-of-print offerings.
Two of the books, both Caldecott Honor winners, are set on Olvera Street, historic site of Los Angeles’s original Latino settlement and an area that today remains a thriving center of Mexican culture. Pedro: The Angel of Olvera Street (1946) introduces the wonders of the neighborhood as a boy with a voice like an angel leads off La Posada, an annual Christmas procession that commemorates the Holy Family’s journey. In Juanita (1948), the cherished daughter of the owners of a local puesto (a small shop) receives a dove for her fourth birthday, and she and her new pet participate in the Blessing of the Animals, a ceremony that takes place yearly on Easter weekend. The Caldecott Medal-winning Song of the Swallows (1948) tells the story of the return of these birds to California’s Mission San Juan Capistrano each spring from the viewpoint of Juan, a boy who lives nearby. In Emmet (1971), another tale set in Los Angeles, a stray dog taken in by old Mr. Winkel annoys the entire neighborhood with his mischievous behavior, but opinions quickly change when the pooch spots a prowler and sounds the alert.
How did Getty Publications, which produces books that complement the work of the L.A.-based J. Paul Getty Museum and its related institutes, come to reissue these titles? Melissa Crowley, Marketing Coordinator at Getty, explains: “We were interested in publishing the books because of their strong ties to the history of Los Angeles. Pedro, Juanita, and Emmet are set in Olvera Street and Angeleno Heights, two historic neighborhoods in downtown Los Angeles. Song of the Swallows is set at the Mission San Juan Capistrano, which fit nicely with the Getty Conservation Institute’s book, The California Missions: History, Art, and Preservation (also released in October). Leo Politi is a much-celebrated figure in California. Schools, libraries, and a park have been named for him, and many events took place around Los Angeles to celebrate the centenary of his birth in 2008.”
The volumes look spectacular, with inviting full-bleed covers, vividly reproduced colors, and clean white backdrops. According to Crowley: “The artwork was scanned from previous editions of the book. Our production department looked at using the original artwork, but the original publisher had made changes when they published the books. We decided we should publish what readers were familiar with instead of going back to the originals.”
Crowley believes that the titles will “…appeal as much to parents who remember them from childhood as to today’s children. I think these books are timeless, because the stories center around subjects that children’s books still focus on. In Pedro, a boy hopes for a particular toy at Christmas. In Emmet, a rascally dog saves the day and becomes a hero.” She also comments on the role the books will play in libraries: “They will make important additions to library collections because of the historical and multicultural aspects. Politi was one of the first children’s book writers to feature children from different ethnic backgrounds—Latino, in these titles. He sprinkles Spanish words in the text and captures traditions still practiced on Olvera Street. With the growing Latino population all over the U.S., it has become more important than ever to publish books featuring Latino characters and the Spanish language.”
In addition to their enduring charm and reader appeal, Politi’s books also have a prominent place in the history of children’s literature and are featured on many reading lists. Consider purchasing these handsome reissues to replace old and worn copies, or to extend the depth of your picture-book collection.
POLITI, Leo. Pedro: The Angel of Olvera Street. illus. by author. Tr $14.95. ISBN 978-0-89236-990-4.
_____. Juanita. illus. by author. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-89236-991-1.
_____. Song of the Swallows. illus. by author. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-89236-989-8.
_____. Emmet. illus. by author. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-89236-992-8.
ea vol: J. Paul Getty Museum/Getty Publications.