Treasure: Relive best memories with children’s books

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

A list of new books seemed like a good way to welcome a new year. A few less-than-exciting price guides into my research, I decided to forgo the expected and devote the entire column to one wonderful discovery that should be on the bookshelf of every reader and collector.

Like the married authors Noah Fleisher and Lauren Zittle of “Collecting Children’s Books: Art, Memories, Values” (Krause Publications, $26.99), I read my way through my childhood (and my children’s), enchanted with the worlds the books brought to life. This 224-page hardcover celebrates that relationship and the industry, which (like so many) has been affected by the rise of the Internet. “There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those spent with a favorite book,” wrote French author Marcel Proust.

The authors identify their favorites from every era, and break down the industry through its “Idyllic Beginnings” about 1900 to the current “Shifting Landscape.” In between are “Between Wars,” which tracks the taste for innocence and nostalgia and the rise of both marketing and powerhouses such as Walt Disney and Winnie the Pooh, an “Abundance of Riches” which traces the era which the authors consider “the richest in the history of the form,” including titles such as “Goodnight Moon,” “Charlotte’s Web,” as well as the Eloise and Narnia books. In the 1960s through the late 1970s, a “Turning Point,” in the world and children’s books, say the authors, books such as “Where the Wild Things Are,” chronicled the changing world, giving rise to our current “Shifting Landscape,” covering 1980s to the present and reflecting the influence of the internet.

While small in size, the book’s pages bring many old-time friends to life. Here we find Charlotte, Pooh, Madeline, Peter Pan, Peter Rabbit and can relive happy days ensconced with Babar, Ping, Ferdinand, Mike Mulligan (and his steam engine), Mr. Popper’s Penguins and the Velveteen Rabbit. Descriptions of books – some familiar, others less so – include fascinating histories of many, along with (in many cases) surprising values. A 1902 first edition of Beatrix Potter’s “Tailor of Gloucester,” one of just 500 printed, brings $4,200; a rare 1928 first edition of the little- known “Millions of Cats,” by Wanda Ga’g, which won the Newberry Honor Award in 1929 and is America’s oldest picture book still in circulation, commands a hefty $7,200. Even the ubiquitous “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” brings $600 if you can find the 1939 first edition. Lucky enough to have a first 1997 edition of the British “Harry Potter? It could make you $43,000 richer.

Special chapters include backgrounds of Peter Pan, Peter Rabbit, Disney, Maurice Sendak and, of course, the good Dr. Seuss. An appendix also lists Newberry and Caldecott winners, always a good indicator of quality. Other features include tips on what to look for when buying (cover condition, dust jacket and edition), a list of book dealers and websites, and more. And while the book will give you plenty of information useful for searching out books in thrift stores, antique malls and flea markets, it’s sure to also rekindle a love of the form, much as the authors hoped and he wrote in his introduction dedicating the book to his daughter. “May it inspire you to reconnect with those books that take you back to the early days of your own child’s life but also to the early days of your own, to bedtimes and downtimes spent curled on the couch or snuggled under the covers, adventuring throughout the world with your favorite characters.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to trashortreas@aol.com. If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Photos cannot be returned.