The Missouri Writers Guild extends congratulations to the children’s book author-and-illustrator team of Philip and Erin Stead on the recent publication of The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine. The book is a fleshing out and reimagining of a previously unpublished bedtime story conceived by Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, 140 years ago.
Although Missouri native Twain did not write books for very young children, he regularly told fanciful bedtime stories to his young daughters. One of the tales, about a poor boy named Johnny who eats a magic flower that gives him the ability to talk to animals, must have struck the author as having special appeal, because he jotted down sixteen pages of handwritten notes about it and titled it "Oleomargarine." In 2011, scholar John Bird came across the manuscript at the Twain archives at the University of California, Berkeley, and he brought it to the attention of the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut. The museum, in turn, sold the story to Doubleday Books for Young Readers.
The Steads turned the thin manuscript of "Oleomargarine" into a 152-page story entitled The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine. Published in late September, the book features talking animals, giants, dragons, and other fairy tale creatures. In the expanded version of the tale, Johnny, after eating the magic flower and discovering his unusual ability to talk to animals, sets out with his new friends to rescue Prince Oleomargarine, who has been kidnapped by giants and taken to a cave guarded by dragons. The Steads say they were very aware of the creative risk involved in working with a story by such a distinguished literary figure as Mark Twain and that they tried to be as respectful and true to the original text as possible.
Mark Twain was born near Florida, Missouri, and grew up in Hannibal, where his boyhood home is now preserved as the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum. Many years ago, Twain was posthumously inducted into the Missouri Writers’ Guild as an honorary lifetime member, and the state guild is proud to welcome the Hannibal Writers’ Guild as its newest affiliate.