Jan. 29, 2013 -- Possibly the most successful house maid in the world, the children's book character Amelia Bedelia, turns 50 today, with a new line of books to mark the milestone.
The late author Peggy Parish wrote the first Amelia Bedelia book in 1963, eventually writing a dozen picture stories that chronicled the house maid's penchant for literal interpretation, such as sketching curtains on paper when asked to "draw the drapes."
Today Greenwillow Books, the book series' publisher, which is a division of Harper Collins, is releasing a 50th anniversary edition of Amelia Bedelia with drawings by the original illustrator Fritz Siebel and a behind-the-scenes look at how the series evolved.
What readers may not know is that Peggy Parish's nephew, Herman Parish, has continued where his aunt left off when she died in 1988. Parish, 60, has written 27 Amelia Bedelia titles in all, including the first two Amelia Bedelia chapter books coming out Tuesday.
"Amelia Bedelia Means Business" and "Amelia Bedelia Unleashed" showcase the eponymous character as a young girl.
Usually, publishers release series books one after the other. But that didn't happen with Amelia Bedelia's chapter books.
"The chapter books are two because this way kids will read No. 1 and then No. 2 right away," Parish explained.
They have 160 pages each and mark a new era for the brand, which previously captivated children with 30 or so pages of artful illustrations.
"Kids were always asking us about chapter books," Parish said. "When kids really get into chapter books, they never go back. They usually have bragging rights that they're reading chapter books."
In total, more than 35 million copies of the Amelia Bedelia books have been sold, plus 11 million more through licensing deals with children's publisher Scholastic.
Virginia Duncan, editorial director at Greenwillow, said the staff always looked forward to working on the next Amelia Bedelia book, not just for the character's memorable antics but because she "loves life."
Duncan said the appeal of Amelia Bedelia was hard to translate to other countries because of the books' unique play on English words.
Parish, who studied business at the University of Pennsylvania, left a career in advertising to write "Good Driving, Amelia Bedelia," which was published in 1995.
Parish said his aunt resembled Amelia Bedelia in the way she took some things literally. That may be why the character was nearly a member of the family, especially after his aunt died.
"For a bunch of years, there weren't any books, and kids kept writing to my aunt wondering when she would write again," Parish said. "Other authors asked us to continue the series. Before Amelia Bedelia runs out of the family, I thought I would give it a try."
Parish, who has three children, said he wasn't intimidated in carrying his aunt's torch as a story teller.
He acknowledged it was rare for a family member to continue the book series of a dead family member, but it had happened before.
After Jean de Brunhoff, who created the children's character Babar the Elephant, died in 1937, his son, Laurent de Brunhoff, continued the series.
Undertaking such a creative enterprise was not foreign to Parish, who had previously worked at the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather.
"I was a copy writer and creative director, doing commercials for Hallmark. It was nice to go from telling those stories into telling these stories," Parish said.
Parish's son was in elementary school when his father began writing the series -- about the same age Parish was when his aunt brought Amelia Bedelia to life while working as a school teacher.
Parish once handed a manuscript for one of his early Amelia Bedelia books to his son. In turn, his son, Stan, now also a writer, would mark which parts of the manuscript were funny, not funny or very funny.
Now almost 18 years later, Parish still visits schools and talks to children about the books, which is how the idea for the child-version of Amelia Bedelia developed.
He said children often asked if Amelia Bedelia "was always like that," in other words, whether she had always interpreted words so literally.
In 2009, Greenwillow published "Amelia Bedelia's First Day of School," portraying her as a young student. It became a New York Times bestseller.
Parish has written 17 books about the grown-up Amelia Bedelia and five picture books about Amelia Bedelia as a young girl. He has also written three Level 1 "I Can Read" books, also about Amelia Bedelia's younger years.
Parish is working on the third chapter book, "literally a new chapter in the Amelia Bedelia series," he said.
While Parish is a self-described "fossil" who prefers reading on paper and does not own an e-reader, he fully accepts that doing electronic versions of his books, for example, for Amazon's Kindle, are "just part of the deal."
"I like books. I like the way they feel. I like the way they interact with paper. That's how I grew up," Parish said. "I understand the electronic version. I guess I'm just old-fashioned."
When asked about the state of the children's book industry, instead of pining for the good old days of "The Cat in the Hat," Parish said, "I think children's books are just getting better and better, especially with the young adults."
"I think it comes down to whether you're a good writer or great writer or mediocre writer. I think whether it's children's literature or young adult literature, if this is a good book, then it's a good book, period," Parish said.
When asked who would carry the torch after him, Parish said he was sure someone would step forward and continue the series, even though "no one has expressed interest so far."
"I'm sure Amelia will be dusting and undusting long after I'm gone," Parish said. "I guess just undusting. That's what she does."