Doubleday Books for Young Readers has acquired a never-before-published Mark Twain children’s story, The Purloining Of Prince Oleomargarine, it was announced today. The story, a fairy tale left unfinished by Twain, will be brought to life by author Philip Stead and illustrator Erin Stead, the creators of the Caldecott Medal–winning A Sick Day for Amos McGee.
The Purloining Of Prince Oleomargarine is an eleven-chapter, 152-page illustrated storybook for all ages, will be published on September 26, , with a first printing of 250,000 copies.
The basis of this new work is sixteen pages of Twain’s handwritten notes after telling his young daughters a fairy tale one night in 1879 while the family was staying in Paris, an event he documented in his journal. In 2011, a visiting scholar at the Mark Twain Papers & Project at the University of California at Berkeley spotted the notes in the archives while conducting his own research and recognized their significance. Although Twain told his young daughters countless bedtime stories, made up on the spot as they requested them, these notes are believed to be the only ones he ever jotted down from those sessions.
“Dr. John Bird, noted Twain scholar and author of Mark Twain and Metaphor, brought the text to our attention,” explained Cindy Lovell, executive director at the Mark Twain House & Museum. “He’d been researching another project when he came across this partial story written by Twain for his daughters. We are thrilled to have the Steads joining us to further bring this treasure to life
The Purloining Of Prince Oleomargarine follows a young boy who eats the flower sprouted by a magical seed and gains the ability to talk to animals. From there, the boy and his new animal friends go off on a wild adventure to rescue a kidnapped prince. Though the story was left in fragments and never completed by Twain, it bears many of the hallmarks of his beloved style, in the humor and playfulness and in the quest of a young boy off on his own navigating the adult world.
Philip and Erin Stead, two of today’s most notable names in children’s literature, have completed the text and illustrated the book, framing the narrative as a story “told to me by my friend, Mr. Mark Twain,” and even including occasional interruptions by an imagined meeting over tea between Philip and Twain.
Said Erin of taking on the project, “As an illustrator, not a writer, I can often use the excuse that I can’t find the right words to describe how I am feeling (stunned and honored being the closest and most generic). Luckily I can now turn to Twain, who is quite quotable, to provide a little context and inspiration: ‘I’m not the declining sort. I would take charge of the constellations if I were asked to do it. All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence: then success is sure.’”
Added Philip: “Of course any person in their right mind would be terrified of this project. But having the support of the Twain house allayed some fears…and then I had a good long walk-and-talk with my dog about it, and she assured me I had her full support, and that I was the right man for the job—provided it did not cut into our twice-daily ambles through the neighborhood, mealtimes, or the hours set aside each day for lying on our backs with our bellies in the air.”
Exploring themes of charity, kindness, and bravery in the face of tyranny, with sharply drawn satire and tear-inducing pathos, this extraordinary combination of talent both classic and contemporary reaches its full potential as an old-fashioned—yet thoroughly modern—fully illustrated storybook that readers of every age will treasure. A monumental event not only in the world of children’s literature, but for literature overall, the publication of The Purloining Of Prince Oleomargarine will take place during the 150th anniversary of Mark Twain’s very first book, a collection of twenty-seven previously published stories titled The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches.