The early 20th Century saw the first of what can be considered the modern children’s picture book. The books were short, the words relatively few, and the illustrations advanced the story instead of merely illustrating the text. Whether it was Peter Rabbit squeezing himself under Mr. McGregor’s fence or poor Pooh being thumped on the stairs by Christopher Robin, the best of these books also reflected a change of viewpoint: the change from the vantage point of an adult to more of a child’s eye view of the world.
While it’s fairly easy to identify and value the children’s classics like Peter Rabbit or Winnie the Pooh and the ALA website is a good resource for Caldecott Award and Caldecott Honor Books, there are a large number of modern children’s illustrated books which are widely sought that can’t be quantified in terms of edition or merits of the art and text. These books are not usually being sought by traditional book collectors, they are being sought by non collectors looking to revisit, and usually pass on, a specific childhood moment. The one thing that is almost impossible to predict with children’s books is which books will resonate enough in a persons childhood to make it sought, sometimes frantically, when that person becomes and adult.
These books are in such demand, that even after 15 years as a children’s bookseller, I rarely, if ever, have handled any copies. The advent of the internet has made tracking down these books somewhat easier but that fact is usually offset by the large number of non traditional collectors looking for these titles. Two examples of books that I’ve had multiple requests for over that years, and that I’ve never had a copy of are: The Boy Who Ate Flowers by Nancy Sherman and illustrated by Nancy Carroll, and The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher written by Robert Krauss and Illustrated by VIP.
And the conversation which is most dreaded by all out of print children’s booksellers everywhere usually starts with; “I’m looking for this book I had when I was little, I don’t remember the title or the author…..”
I wrote the following on my rants and rambles blog after an especially difficult day of hunting for unnamed books, (and probably after one too many glasses of wine).
“I remember a book I had when I was 4 or 5 or maybe 6
It was blue or green or maybe yellow
And had a picture of a duck or frog or puppy dog
The duck was lost but found his way home
The frog was bad but her family loved her anyway
And the puppy was hardly ever afraid of the dark or being alone
It’s gone now, lost when we moved
or in the basement flood of ’78
or the garage sale the year I left for college…
That’s the book I want to buy, do you have it?”
Posted By Dana Richardson of Windy Hill Books