Sunday, January 27, 2008

Collecting Children's Classic Books

What is the allure for a children's book collector? For some it's the superb illustrations, for others, the well-written stories. Adults may continue to reflect with sentiment, affection, and even awe on the books they read as children. When they were read to us, we would ask Mom or Grandpa to "please read it again".

A best bet for the collector is the classic stories - the one's we have all heard of, and hopefully have already read. Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, illustrated by John Tenniel, was first published in 1865. Shortly after it was printed it was withdrawn by the author because he was disappointed with the quality of the printing. Only a few copies kept by Carroll escaped the fate of the rest, which were destroyed. The copies still remaining today are considered extremely rare.

Another story well-known to children is Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit (1893). The author created all the drawings, which continue to enchant today. Many children learned to read with the stories of Peter Rabbit and developed a kinship with Mopsy, Flopsy, and Cotton-Tail.

Kate Greenaway was a shy and often ill child with a talent for drawing. She started her career designing Christmas cards and Valentines. Her self-illustrated stories evoked fragments of childhood memories - rural England, pretty gardens, and frolicking children in idyllic settings. The Victorians loved her works, as we do today. Her first picture book, Under the Window (1878), was an immediate success not only in England, but in the rest of Europe as well.

Few stories are more popular than A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928). These books were illustrated by Ernest Shepard, whose black and white drawings helped make the stories a success. Shepard also illustrated Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows, created in 1908 as bedtime stories for Grahame's son. This masterpiece introduced us to conceited Toad, sympathetic Water Rat, shy Badger, and other small animals residing along a riverbank.

Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1911), Kidnapped (1913), and Robinson Crusoe (1920) were all first illustrated by N. C. Wyeth. The illustrations in these books created a demand that delighted Scribner's, the publisher. Wyeth also illustrated The Boy's King Arthur (1917) and Robin Hood (1917) with colorful, life-like paintings. All of these titles are eagerly sought after today.

Children's illustrated books is such a rewarding field of collecting, so rich in scope - it could be daunting for a beginner. My suggestion would be, start with a book you knew and loved as a child and build from there. And don't just lock your newly found treasures away. Read them to your children, or your grandchildren. Hopefully, they'll be asking you to "please read it again".

~ Evelyn