Philomel was created in the early 1980s as part of World Publishing Books for Young People, by editor and publisher Ann Beneduce. The imprint was named after the nightingale, using a term that literally means “lover of song,” which implied that these books would be lyrical, beautiful in concept and form, and fine enough to be celebrated as gifts. The early lists included such future classics as Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry CaterpillarVirginia Hamilton’s Newbery Honor–winning Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush; and Ed Young’s Caldecott Honor–winning The Emperor and the Kite.

In 1985 Patricia Lee Gauch took over as editor-in-chief of Philomel. Under her leadership, Philomel published Caldecott winners Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John SchoenherrLon Po Po by Ed Young, and So You Want to Be President? by Judith St. George and David Small, as well as the soon-to-be iconic animal fantasy series Redwall