From January 1986 Neugebauer, in an effort to establish themselves more firmly in the UK market, are getting to grips with their image-identity problem by re-naming themselves Picture Book Studio. All Neugebauer books – hardback and the new paperback editions – will carry the new name. (Those in the know who have learned how to say – and spell! – Neugebauer, please note.) They will also be promoted and distributed by a separate organisation – Ragged Bears.
So who is Picture Book Studio? It’s an Austrian children’s publishing company, based in Salzburg and owned and run by an extraordinarily energetic, globe-trotting young man, Michael Neugebauer. In 1964, when Michael was fourteen, his art-school teacher father set up a one-man-band publishing company; he was eventually joined by Michael who was training to be a graphic designer. In 1974 Neugebauer senior finally sold his little company to a huge German educational publisher. Michael stayed with it but found himself out of tune with large-scale bureaucracy and in 1979 broke away to reform Neugebauer as a new company with a new list, new titles. Within two years they had become very successful in Germany and Switzerland and by the early 1980s were beginning to penetrate and succeed in the all-important US market under the name of Picture Book Studio. Today with some 20 titles being produced each year they are amongst the biggest picture book publishers in Germany and a growing force in the US.
What is the source, in publishing terms, of this success? The basis of it all is probably superb book design and quality production. They are quite simply very beautiful books. But from his father and his experience of the German publishing juggernaut, Michael Neugebauer also learned of the paramount importance of good text. Good book design, he says, comes to nought if the words don’t match.
Also central to the Neugebauer philosophy is the crucial role of picture books as a `unique link between the visual, sensory world of the pre-reading child and the more structured world of words and symbols, of beginnings, middles and ends’. The role they play in language development, of story experience, of imagination, and the intimate sharing that they enable between adult and child.
`Values’, `standards’, `merit’, `taste’, `best’, `inferior’, `beautiful’, `mediocre’, are words which occur often when Michael Neugebauer talks about books – more often than international co-editions and the 20,000 print runs for the 20 or so new titles each year which will sell in Europe, Australia, Japan, South Africa and the United States. Sales in some cases seem to be as much to adults as to children. That’s fine; `Good picture books should be enjoyed by all kinds of people, of all ages.’ But it’s the children and their intellectual, emotional and aesthetic development who are of central concern: `Their minds are clear and clean and true. We never under-estimate them. They deserve the very best design, the very best writing. I am certain that good taste can be taught – it is not inherited. The sooner our children see and enjoy good art, good writing, the more they will benefit, now and later, from the satisfaction of knowing what and how to appreciate.’
At the moment the Picture Book Studio artists include Ivan Gantschev, Marta Koci, Hanne Turk (creator of the wordless Max books) and most notably Lisbeth Zwerger. First of the new paperback editions include three Zwerger-illustrated Grimm stories, and the wordless nature books In My Garden (0 88708 007 3), In the Woods (0 88708 008 1) and In the Pond (0 88708 009 X) by Ermanno Cristini and Luigi Puricelli (£2.95 each pbk). These cleverly designed and beautifully illustrated books invite a close look at different environments a new aspect is revealed at each turn of the page. Identification keys appear at the end of each book. They are well worth searching out for primary classrooms.
Encouraging the same understanding of the beauty and harmony of nature and our human place in that system in an interesting new departure for Neugebauer is The Goose Family Book (0 88708 019 7, £5.95 hbk) published this spring. By Sybille Kalas – who has studied and lived with wild geese – it is illustrated with full colour photographs and observes the whole cycle of a pair of geese rearing their young. Look out for it and the three star Picture Book Studio logo on the spine of more beautiful new books this year.
For further information, write or phone: Ragged Bears, Ragged Appleshaw, Andover, Hampshire SP11 9HX, tel. 0264 772269.