In addition to Van Allsburg, several other children's authors have attracted the interest of the hyper-modern collectors. Two are, of course, Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) - Pullman and Rowling's books are consistently in Pamela Palmer's Top Ten on eBay lists - and a third is Lemony Snicket, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events. This series currently stands at 12 titles and does well marketed in lots. Another twist - if you can find them, British editions of J.R. Rowling and Philip Pullman do very well. I recently sold a British paperback set of the first three Harry Potter books for $38. Not bad for a $1.50 investment!
Every state has a state book award too. In Texas it's the Bluebonnet Award. Usually, twenty or so books are nominated for the annual award, children read a specified number of them and vote on their favorites. Once the award has been presented, the "losers" tend to show up in the thrifts. Again, with few exceptions, they are common as The Bridges of Madison County and just about as valuable. It's worth taking a look at your state award list - it can be found on line by accessing your State Library Association - so you'll know to leave those books where you find them.
In addition to award books, you'll also likely come across multiple editions of the "classics" - for example, Little Women, Black Beauty, Treasure Island, The Secret Garden, Peter Rabbit, etc. These are now in the public domain, which means anyone can print them - and does. Like award books, they are often given as gifts, and just as often they land unread in the thrift shops. They aren't worth the paper they are printed on - unless Easton Press is the publisher. Tasha Tudor did illustrate an edition of The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, but both are still in print - in fact these are two of the few Tasha Tudor books that don't have much value.
There are plenty of children's book club editions too. The oldest and the biggest is The Weekly Reader Book Club (WRBC). It has been around since the 1950s - I was a member as a child. The books are easy to spot: The bindings are shoddy and the paper is cheap, resembling newsprint, and consequently, older WRBCs are often tanned and brittle. Since WRBC titles are still being published, the books abound. And there are several WRBC clubs now, each targeted to different age levels, so you will encounter WRBC picture books and chapter books. You will also see examples of the Dr. Seuss Book Club - the shiny covered "I Can Read Books." Common as dirt and not worth picking up.
Another set of books with shoddy bindings and cheap paper are Whitmans. Shiny pictorial hardcovers, often with a TV tie-in, published in the 1950s and 1960s. Annette, Spin & Marty, The Lone Ranger, and so on. Thrift stores often consider these "special" because they are old, price them accordingly and proudly display them in a glass case. Craig discussed them in a previous issue of the BookThinker, and some are collectible. Most are not.
Paperback children's books are everywhere, and many are worth putting up in lots if the cost of acquiring them is right. Magic Treehouse, Hank the Cowdog, Junie B. Jones, A-Z Mysteries, Goosebumps, Animorphs, Bailey School Kids - all have eBay potential. These are the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys of the new millennium. Once kids settle on a series they like, they want to read them all. Also, Scholastic paperbacks, which date back to the 1960s, often have nostalgia appeal for the baby boomers. Once again, lot them by topic or author.
Another example: Board books, if in good condition (no teeth marks!), are also worth listing in lots. Try to group books by author or topic. And some things to avoid: Disney books, current TV & movie tie-ins, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Arthur the Badger books. Pop-Up books are another pass - usually the pop-ups are damaged - but if you find one by Robert Sabuda, do give it a second glance. I found a mint first edition of one of his Christmas pop up books at a thrift store.
And don't forget that there are a number of children's books that sell for $50 or more. See issue #9 of 50/50 for examples.
It helps to know where to look for children's books. I live in a large, sprawling city with lots of garage sales. I scour the ads carefully and try to read between the lines. I haven't the time or the gas to waste driving to a sale that's worthless. I don't bother with any sale that advertises cribs, strollers and or baby items of any kind. The only books I'll find there are Disney books and other worthless pulp. My idea of garage sale nirvana is a sale given by a retired teacher. Teachers spend hundreds and hundreds dollars of their own money on their classroom libraries and never throw anything out. Also, they are frequently the recipients of school library discards that date back decades. The potential to mine some gold is high indeed.
While I don't think you make a living only searching out children's books at thrifts garage sales, you can definitely supplement your income.
< to previous article
Questions or comments?