Primarily Basic Readers

Vera Stone (later Norman), one of the most prolific reader illustrators of all. From "Bob and Judy Reader", 1936. Illustrated by Vera Stone Norman.
Vera Stone (later Norman), one of the most prolific reader illustrators of all.
From “Bob and Judy Reader”, 1936. Illustrated by Vera Stone Norman.

By Kathie McMillan

I did not set out to collect primers. It began quite by accident when I found Friends from the Children’s Own Readers series, which was illustrated by Marguerite Davis,an illustrator I had never heard of. I was rummaging around in an unlikely flea market here in my own small rural town with the vague notion of finding material suitable to post on I had stumbled upon a community of people who posted vintage images from the early twentieth century, a period that I had always been interested in. I was very smitten by several contributors. When I had collected a few images for use in crafting, I decided that the least I could do was give back by posting a few images of my own. After all, I had spent hours back in those very early days of the World Wide Web searching for fairy images from the early twentieth century; and here they were all grouped together, like a giant picture book on my coffee table! It did not seem right to take and not to give back.

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Forgotten Children’s Classics


Having explored all the children’s classics I haven’t read, I thought I’d delve into those old kids books long ago buried, most for very good reason. The ‘classics’ of my post title, is tongue in cheek, although there must be some books I have hanging around because of  illustrations that are familiar to readers. Raise your hands if you’ve ever heard of : The Cuckoo Clock, The Enchanted Castle, The Cruise of the Little Dipper and other Fairy Tales, Granny’s Wonderful Chair, Princess Goldenhair and the Wonderful Flower, The Sleepy Song Book, Rag Doll Jane, Jackanapes, or  the book I give the prize for the most bizarre illustrations

Gnomes from Milo Winter's hand for Princess Goldenhair
Gnomes from Milo Winter’s hand for Princess Goldenhair

and odd story, Come Unto These Yellow Sands. A few of the titles I began with high hopes, the stories looked intriguing, the illustrations thrilling, the chapters short. I fell asleep reading most–although The Sleepy Song Book can’t really count, obviously. What makes these books so classless? They ramble. Around. A lot. Granny’s Wonderful Chair essentially retells typical fairy tales and Mother Goose, but in a dull, only line drawings, way. I endured Princess Goldenhair through many chapters–something about having to travel great distances for something blah blah and gnomes are involved–so is a witch that hangs weird stuff on her wall. There’s a King Otto (I knew him!), a selfish prince trying to kill a little fawn, and the princess of the golden type hair. Milo Winter illustrated the book so my thoughts were it had to be half decent–why else would he do it?

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Unread Children’s Classics

gullivervictorianFor reasons that escape me, I’ve at least 3 editions of Gulliver’s Travels. I haven’t read it, have no plans to read it. Just like I have no plans to read Treasure Island, Little Women, or Men, Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, Kidnapped, anything by Kipling, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Is the last even a children’s title? These are considered classics. My question–who determines such things? Who  designates one book over another as a classic? How did The Swiss Family Robinson turn into a venerable read? Or Heidi? Sales? I doubt it. It had to be some dry critic of eons past who bestowed upon Heidi the crown of  ‘classic.’  I’ve tried numerous times to read the book, but Shirley Temple keeps intruding her voice echoing, “Grandfather, Grandfather” over and over. That reminds me of two others I can’t seem to get past the first few chapters–The Little Princess, and The Secret Garden. Shirley’s half sobbing shouts, “Father, Father, don’t you know me? You MUST know me, I’m Sara, I’m your Sara!” as Queen Victoria wheels by makes drab the narrative of the original Princess. Naturally all ends well within the movies. I heard a rumor, however, that in the book, the father is really dead and never returns to poor Sara. No way will I crack open that book to be dashed in the end.

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What’s Up With All The Filmed Fairy Tales?

A promo advertising a film about to be released called Hansel and Gretel, has me shaking my head and asking why now? Why all the fairy tale inspired, interpreted, twisted, films and TV now? They’ve been around for centuries and other than Disney, pretty much ignored. Besides Snow White, Disney has a tendency to lighten up its fairy tale fare. Not today’s offerings. Some seem to try to find the grisliest way to interpret what are quite violent stories to begin with. A few years ago a film was made about the Grimm brothers, and never made a sound as it sunk into the rental pool. Since that time, two TV shows, two new Snow White films, and now a Hansel and Gretel movie. None of them stick to the original sources.

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Finding A Book In The Vast Tubes of the Net

Finally found.

I have an illustration that I slid off of an eBay auction about a billion years ago, when you could still do that. I loved it so much,  I tried to make jewelry, print it, do various and sundry things, but as it goes, dpi is notoriously low on eBay and most of the world of eBay, because it doesn’t take much to render a picture pretty nice looking on your screen. A few other images were purloined that long ago day, but none of them did I remember to jot down title, author, illustrator, or publisher. I only remember I couldn’t afford the book with the super fairy tale picture, and that was that. Since then I’ve been sporadically perusing bookfinder, google, eBay, etsy, trying to locate the original source of the picture. The only clue I had were the artist’s initials and last name. F. S. Cooke. Not an individual I’d heard of, but then I have found through the years that there are far more golden age illustrators than just a few well publicized ones like Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, the Robinson brothers, Jessie Wilcox Smith etc. Children’s book illustrators in the teens, twenties and thirties seem to be numerous–from pictures for school book primers, to endless renditions of Mother Goose, to magazine covers. A magazine cover of an odd thing called Etude, confirmed that a F. S. Cooke did exist, and had created an ingenious piece of artwork for a magazine devoted to high falutin’ music. A little row of houses in the shape of musical instruments in candy colors certainly catches the eye, and his Deco sensibility is exactly what I love. I realized then that I had a couple Etude magazines with front covers with his artwork. Inside the magazine there is nothing–well, nothing that I care about, I suppose music lovers would disagree, ha. So what else did this man, I assumed it was a man because it usually is, what else did he do?

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A Little Paper Ephemera Excursion

One of our fabulous finds.

After spending a nice day and night at a B&B in the Pocanos, we were perusing locations on the iphone where we could delve into more books, cooking pamphlets, postcards, etc like we’d bought for each other at antique malls as Christmas presents and we came across The Archive in Landsdale PA. We were

Necessary books, despite missing the half price sale.

lured by the promise of a huge attic sale of 1 dollar items, fill a bag for 5. Today we motored through Philly and hit the place if not running, at least walking quickly. And stopped in stride when we spotted a sign exclaiming a half price sale for all books–starting tomorrow. I cannot tell you how pissed I was over this new factor. Because we can’t be popping back and forth this distance and I wasn’t about to pay full price for something that would be drastically less expensive in 24 hours. Nonetheless I perused the children’s section, finding an Alice I didn’t own, a book about making dolls and dollhouses, and an obscure title illustrated by Maria Kirk. I did something I never do, I became pushy–I asked “could we pretend it’s tomorrow”? Naturally the answer was in the negative. I walked away.

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That Best Book Feeling

Best book feeling No. 1

There’s nothing like the excitement and anticipation when a long sought book arrives in the mail. I had two gems stuffed in the mailbox within days, and a third as a bonus. When the books are vintage children’s illustrated ones, the thrill of cutting loose the tape (usually with anything that seems remotely sharp, like pens, keys, nail files, because the scissors are too far away for my impatient fingers), ripping the tough cardboard, unwrapping the newspaper or other protectant and finally touching the front boards, is exquisite. Since I’ve ended  jewelry making and turned to selling digital downloads, I’m allowing myself purchases of illustrated books that normally would have been passed by, because the artwork within wouldn’t register small enough for a pin. Nothing extravagant, my budget ranges from 10 to 28 bucks-tops. Usually on the lower end, because it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of dough on a book if you cannot reclaim it through sales. Naturally, I convince myself the only reason I want these particular items is for the business, not for the sheer pleasure of owning them.

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The Wonder Of the Computer

As I sit staring at my screen, it occurred to me how for granted I take the advent of the computer in my life. Up until the late 90s, I didn’t own a computer. I couldn’t type, still can’t, but I fake it. I don’t understand how a computer works, could never write whatever it … Read more