When Did You First Meet Griffin & Sabine? Stories from Our Staff

This year, 2016, is the 25th anniversary of Griffin & Sabinea seminal title in Chronicle Books’ history. The Griffin & Sabine saga spent more than 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, redefining storytelling with its interactive and tactile format.

To celebrate, we’re releasing a new book in the series, The Pharos Gate: Griffin & Sabine’s Lost Correspondence. It’s book 3.5 in the series, and it finally shares what happened to the lovers. We went and interviewed some of the key players who worked on the original book; read on for some of our favorite stories from Chronicle Books staffers and the Griffin & Sabine community!

When and where did you first meet Griffin & Sabine? Do you have a story about how the series impacted your life? Share in the comments—we’ll pick one person to win a copy of the 25th anniversary Griffin & Sabine and The Pharos Gate.

The Pharos Gate and Griffin and Sabine: 25th Anniversary Limited Edition

Nion McEvoy, Chairman and CEO

McEvoy remembered that Victoria Rock, Chronicle Books Founding Publisher, was pursuing author Nick Bantock because she was looking for a pop-up children’s book. She spotted something in Bantock’s bag and asked about it, to which he said that he didn’t think it was publishable and that it wasn’t a children’s book. To that, Victoria told him he was right, that it wasn’t a children’s book, and asked to borrow it and disappeared. Shortly after, Annie Barrows—McEvoy’s assistant at the time—showed him the book with a quick “You don’t mind if I take this to the board, do you?” tossed in. Barrows, who went on to author the Ivy and Bean series, became the editor on the books.

“It seemed like everything a Chronicle Book should be,” says McEvoy, “which is beautifully designed and made, and not overly expensive.” He credits a “keep the price down and invite more people to the party” strategy, as well as over-delivering “in terms of wonderment.”

Victoria Rock, Founding Children’s Publisher

“When we first met Nick Bantock, he was working for a children’s pop-up book packager and came to our offices to show some ideas he had been working on. He had a bag full of dummies with him. As we sat together by the windows in the design space at our old offices on 5th St, he pulled out projects one by one. I don’t remember the details of those projects. I know we spent a lot of time talking, and I am sure we were playing with the mechanics of the interactive books. Finally, he sat back in his chair—finished—but for some reason, maybe a bit hesitant on his part. I asked him what else he had in the bag. He answered something along the lines of “Oh, something not publishable.” And then he pulled out a last dummy: Griffin & Sabine

It was unlike anything I had seen before, and instantly enticing. We looked at it together and I asked if could hold onto the dummy to show to others. I started showing the dummy around the office, and others were as intrigued as I was—there was a definite passion for it. When we discussed it at our board meeting, those who loved it really loved it, and those who didn’t were a little perplexed by it. We weren’t even sure we could figure out how to produce it, but it was clear we were going to try to publish it.”

Annie Barrows, Author and Griffin & Sabine Editor

“One of the most radical things a person can say is ‘Why not?’. These are the magic words of innovation, of invention, of art, and the extremely cool thing about Chronicle Books. Way back in 1990, when I brought Griffin & Sabine to an acquisition meeting, ‘Why not?’ was the response I got. An illustrated novel for adults? ‘Why not?’ Told in letters and postcards? ‘Why not?’ Entirely new format for a novel? ‘Why not?’ Tip [paste] in real envelopes? ‘Why not?’

Griffin & Sabine was beautiful and strange and almost impossible to produce, and what Chronicle Books said was, ‘Sure. Let’s do it.’ Even all these years later, that’s something to be proud of.”

Griffin & Sabine Bookclub

Jack Jensen, President

Jensen recalled bringing Griffin & Sabine to ABA (a trade show now known as BEA), where people were immediately hooked. The book had to be guarded, and by the end of the fair people were lining up every day to come see it. The overwhelmingly positive response and palpable excitement gave the team the confidence to come home and triple the print run.

“Reading other people’s mail is fun. There is no doubt about that. But on a really real level, it delivered mystery, intrigue, curiosity, and in the best sense of the word, romance.”

Jensen credits the book for broadening the reputation of the company with a wider audience and an array of readers. “I like to think of it as our first book with words, the perfect Chronicle Book with words,” he says. “It looked and felt as good as it read. The object itself was equally important to the content.”

Griffin and Sabine Interior

Nick Bantock, Author

“When Chronicle Books agreed to publish Griffin & Sabine back in 1991, it would have been virtually impossible to guess that the book would one day be described as having changed the way publishing saw itself.

Griffin & Sabine was a chameleon, different things to different people: a marriage of words and images, a love story, a mystery, an art book, an alchemical journey, voyeur’s delight and a three dimensionally interactive epistolary novel. Much of the book’s immediate and enormous success came thanks to the independent bookstores who championed it with incredible enthusiasm, and I consider myself enormously lucky that those good people insisted their customers take the book into their hands and open it up.

Things have changed since those days, including the way word travels, but The Pharos Gate, like its siblings, remains an animal of touch. It’s a sensual creature that I always wanted the reader-viewer to engage with whilst they lost themselves in the story.”

Griffin and Sabine Interior 2

Lindsay Sablosky, Senior Director, Production

“I worked on the production of the first book (yes, I was 12 years old…). Nothing was digital then. If I’m remembering correctly, we worked with both original artwork and slides of Nick’s artwork. There was dummy after dummy after dummy to get the format right. It was like nothing we (or the printer) had produced before, and there was so much to get right.

I loved the book, and the editor, and Nick, and the production, and when it was all said and done, I got a tattoo that is a replica of a piece of artwork from the book: the sun/moon from a stamp (pictured below) . Then there was the story someone told about being in a bookstore and hearing a guy tell his friend he was buying the book for his wife because they had honeymooned in the Sicmon Islands. Ha!”

Pharos Gate-Sun Moon

John Mesjak, Sales Rep/Partner at Abraham Associates

“My first bookstore job was Anderson’s Bookshop in suburban Chicago. When Griffin & Sabine was first published, it turned into this monster hit for us. For the entire holiday season in 1991, we kept a stack of of the books at the front counter, and hand-sold it to any customer who needed a gift but couldn’t decide what to give. Like many booksellers outside of the Bay Area, Griffin & Sabine was my first introduction to Chronicle Books.

Is it giving too much credit to Nick Bantock that, one day, my wife and I moved to San Francisco and I ended up working for Chronicle Books? Is it too much like a Griffin & Sabine story if I think of it as my destiny?”

Griffin and Sabine Interior

Kelli Chipponeri, Editorial Director, Children’s

“I have purchased numerous copies of Griffin & Sabine over the years. Always all three together, and always as gifts to give to book lovers who would appreciate the storytelling being told through the novelty of opening and reading someone else’s correspondence. The set I currently have, I bought in Philadelphia more than 6 years ago at a 2-day Spring Festival in Fitler Square. There was a used book stand where I found all three copies and paid $5 each for them. I love buying used books from someone else, knowing that someone else had turned the pages before me. The cases of the books have all been cut in the same place, as if someone accidentally caught them with a box cutter when opening a box. And one of the books is from the first printing!”

Lara Starr, Senior Publicist

“My mom has had Griffin & Sabine on her nightstand since it first published, and has added to the stack with each subsequent volume. She even has the parody book, Sheldon and Mrs. Levine: An Excruciating Correspondence. She still picks them up from time to time and re-reads the letters and postcards and is so excited to finally have the final chapter of the story!”

Griffin and Sabine Reader

Amy Treadwell, Senior Editor

“I’ve worked at many bookstores over the years (independents, Barnes & Noble, Bookstar, Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and Doubleday Bookshops), and my fellow booksellers and I knew we were looking at something special when Griffin & Sabine hit the bookshelves. We consumed it (and all its sequels) in the backroom during our lunch breaks and recommended it to all our customers (I probably hand-sold hundreds myself).

Years later, I landed in San Francisco, a little weary of the retail scene, and turned my head toward publishing. Nothing was more thrilling than landing a job at Chronicle Books, the home of Griffin & Sabine, and a place where creativity and ingenuity is part of its DNA. It’s ruined me for any other publisher.”

Mark Kaufman, Owner, Paz & Associates

“I had been living in the SF Bay Area in the midst of a career transition when I reconnected with Carol Orsborne, an author acquaintance who had recently moved from Mill Valley to Nashville, TN. . .Carol organized a workshop retreat that I decided to attend, and that’s where I met Donna Paz, who had been the General Manager of Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville, and one of the first people Carol met.

Over the course of the weekend, Donna and I found that we had much in common and enjoyed one another’s company. When I returned to the Bay Area, we began corresponding by letter (this was in 1992, so we weren’t quite up to speed with email just yet). As a token of my affection, I had sent her a small gift for her cat (since I was really a dog-lover at heart). In return, she sent me a copy of Griffin & Sabine, which I cherish to this day.

As a result, our exchange of letters became more frequent and more intimate, which led to another visit to Nashville. But that time, I never left! Donna and I have been together ever since (though it took a good six years for us both to put marital histories behind and decide to re-marry). We are now partners in life as well as partners in the Bookstore Training and Consulting Group of Paz & Associates.”

– – –

Be sure to share with us your Griffin & Sabine story in the comments. 

Photos by Irene Kim Shepherd

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  • Brooke Cashion March 23, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    My first Griffin and Sabine book was given to me Easter of my sophomore year in college by my roommate and best friend. Each year she gave me one more until complete at graduation. I first saw them on her mom’s coffee table when we visited her parents in Asheville one weekend. I couldn’t put them down!
    Even as an avid reader I had never quite experienced this method of delivery. A cross between a well-loved children’s book and finding a box of love letters in an abandoned home. I certainly didn’t know them but I wanted to live vicariously through their mystery, adventure and connected love. 21 years later these books are on my coffee table and have made over 10 moves with me. So when my (still) best friend posted this showing a new book, I knew that I had to share my experience. I cannot wait to read the next installment and how appropriate that the news would come almost 21 years to the day that I received my first Griffin and Sabine experience!


  • Darcey March 23, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    This series of books inspired me to become a designer and illustrator. I discovered them the summer before my senior year in High School at the book shop on our Army base in Baumholder, Germany. They were gorgeous, interactive, intriguing and unforgettable. I knew I wanted to create and draw and design from that day forward. I have collected every one of Nick Bantock’s books and I was even so lucky to meet him at a book signing in San Francisco when I was a college student studying graphic design and am so excited to add another one to my treasured collection.


  • Amy Walker March 25, 2016 at 6:37 pm

    I don’t remember when I first read Griffin and Sabine books. But I’ve kept them all unlike most of my other books.


  • Jill Campbell March 26, 2016 at 7:44 am

    I had not heard from my first love since he had disappeared after our honeymoon-like sojourn in France in 1969. He had decided that he could not marry me as he knew that I wanted children and he didn’t think he would make a good father. Our last phone call ended in tears on both sides.
    During a high school reunion one of my former classmates asked what had happened to “Tim”.
    I said I didn’t know but gave my classmate my address in case they ever ran into “Tim” again as he knew “Tim’s” brother well.
    “Tim” is a writer, Professor of French… I am an artist/writer…our connection was ethereal. Losing touch pre-internet was tragic. I felt I had lost an integral part of myself.

    Griffin and Sabine arrived in my mailbox 6 months later. It gives me shivers just realizing how important this small brown paper-wrapped parcel was.
    “Tim” was still alive! And in contact!
    Needless to say I was enthralled by the way he had thought to reconnect…he was Griffin, I, Sabine.
    The next book arrived as quickly as possible after I answered his letter with a photograph of a pair of sentinel trees atop a hill: each individual, each alone, yet somehow linked.
    The packet of letters that we shared culminated in his writing a play dedicated to me.

    the last book arrived.
    His letters stopped.
    I tried to reconnect but he had moved.

    Enigmatically, as mysterious as Griffin and Sabine–he has now resurfaced and told me the compelling reasons why he could no longer correspond, the danger that our connection represented in his life.

    And now a book that reveals the relationship of Griffin and Sabine? 25 years later?
    Will it also reveal the haunting reasons behind “Tim’s” disappearance for so many years???


  • Wendy March 26, 2016 at 11:42 am

    When I was 15, for some reason my summer camp counselor decided to read this aloud to us. I remember how mesmerized eight teenage girls were and how excited we were, when we returned to civilization, to find out a second book had come out. The next summer we were the ones reading both books out loud to each other.


  • Charlene Nelson March 26, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    I first read about Griffin & Sabine not too long after it hit the book stores. I loved the unique concept and fell in love with the story. The drawings just jumped off the pages and once I began the story I couldn’t put it down until finished. I have read all four stories in this set but now it seems there is another one and I’m anxious to read it. So much of there story and the distance they are separated reminds me of the courtship that my husband and I had. Looking forward to a chance to revisit these two people. They helped my deal with the aftermath of the first Gulf War.


  • Anna Maria March 26, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    Once a dear American friend presented me this book.

    It arrived in a package in time for being read during the Christmas Time.

    I immediately fell in love for this book.

    For its structure, the visionaries postcards.

    Griffin&Sabine appeared so different and hypnotic, in comparison to the rest of all the other books I had previously read.

    Plus the idea of adding real envelopes with real letters between the two correspondents a winning and sophisticated idea.

    This one has been the most precious gift I have ever received in my life.

    There is not another more intriguing love-story than this one.

    The two protagonists always in my heart.


  • Catherine March 28, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    These three books have been with me through many moves to countless cities across the country. I try to carry a light load, constantly downsizing, but these books always make it to each new place. I’ve had them for over twenty years and I don’t specifically remember the order in which I acquired them. In1993 an aunt of mine gifted me Sabine’s Notebook for my high school graduation. It’s possible I already had Griffin & Sabine, but if I didn’t I’m pretty sure I immediately went out and purchased it along with The Golden Mean.

    The books were always such a source of inspiration in my own letter writing. Having several pen pals back then, I always wanted my letters to be equally beautiful, thoughtful and interesting; to always be something to look forward to receiving. There’s just something about a handwritten note that is very precious and historical to me; the stamps, the stationery, the honesty, the unedited flow of words.

    I’m waiting on pins and needles to read The Pharos Gate!


  • Nicole March 30, 2016 at 8:07 am

    A dear fellow book-loving friend introduced me to Griffin & Sabine during college. I was feeling awkward and like an outsider — a particularly awkward extension of adolescence. These books were such a delight and an escape. As the treasures and delights of each book were revealed, they made me feel a part of a secret world filled with mystery and joy.


  • NaomiRuth March 31, 2016 at 8:29 am

    I picked the first Griffin & Sabine book up at a library for a quarter.

    I went home and began reading and fell in love. The art mesmerized me. The magic of the story felt like home. There was an ache to the backdrop of the story – the magic/not-magic surreal feel that I understood.

    Slowly, piece by piece, I’ve been gathering the rest of the series. Nick Bantock has been an inspiration to my writing and art life. It gave me hope when I was in need of it.


  • Kelly Sala April 12, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    I worked as a page in a public library as a college freshman. The first Griffin & Sabine book was on my To Be Shelved cart, and I stashed it at the bottom of the cart and grabbed Sabine’s Notebook and The Golden Mean. Since then, I have bought every title, every stationary set, anything I could get my hands on from Nick Bantock! His artwork inspires me and reading someone else’s mail to unravel the full story fascinates me!


  • Tanya August 16, 2016 at 10:51 am

    Many moons ago I was finishing up high school (or the summer just after) and debating on making films, making wine, writing or being a designer. I was at a small East Bay book shop with a copy of the Ahlberg’s Jolly Postman in my hand. The shop owner spotted it and we got into talking about writing and design. He mentioned Nick Bantock and an incredible book tucked away in the corner that would probably interest me. I remember flipping through the pages and seeing the texture, thinking that it was like a movie film on paper with little treasures tucked inside. Sometime later, I happened to be stocking up on supplies at Amsterdam Art. A Chronicle Books editor and I happened to be eyeballing similar types of paper. She mentioned where she worked and I brought up Griffin and Sabine in awe-like excitement. Word has it I may have gotten to peak at a layout sample she had in her satchel of what would be part of Golden Mean. If the editor still works for you, I ended up using the gold-leaf papyrus on a wood box I made. ; )


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