by Guusje Moore

#55, 14 November 2005

Panning for Gold
Children's Books at FOL Sales

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"Ex-library" is the kiss of death in some genres; not so with children's books. Bookstores specializing in children's literature are a recent phenomena. Though we all mourn the decline of the independent bookstore, 30 or 40 years ago it was rare to find a bookstore outside of a large urban area. Accordingly, with books published in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s, ex-library is often all there is to be found. Yes, there are copies available that aren't ex-library, but for the most part they are few and far between.

The nostalgia factor is a unique feature of selling children's books. Buyers want to open that book they remember (library binding, pictorial cover), run their fingers over the soft library paper, take a deep sniff, and revisit the library of their childhood. They also want a copy of their favorite book to read to their children or grandchildren. When two bidders with nostalgia on their minds go after a book on eBay, the results can be excellent.

Condition matters, but not nearly as much as with adult books. Children's books often have rumpled pages with small tears at the bottom or a stray crayon mark or two. Note any such flaws in your description; don't necessarily pass on the book.

Pricing is a definite advantage. At many Friends of the Library (FOL) sales, the kid's books cost half as much as adult books.

So, what to look for at the next library sale? First, here's what to ignore: almost everything published in the past 10 or 15 years. Pass on current Disney books, TV tie-ins, biographies on flash-in-the-pan pop stars and athletes, and most of the paperback series. Leave everything to the young hordes except, say, a first/first of the first Harry Potter

There are some occupational hazards of shopping in the children's books area. You may get whacked in the shins by an SUV-size stroller. You may witness way too many tired-toddler meltdowns. You may experience the good, the bad and the howling.

If you like to sell books by the lot, series books are worth picking up on bag days or other opportunities for volume buying. Look for Goosebumps, Animorphs, Babysitters' Club, Herbie Jones, Junie B. Jones, Bailey School Kids, and Arthur. Also worth buying are classic series such as Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter, and books by Philip Pullman. (In fact, a first/first Pullman may be your winning ticket in the book-sale lottery.)

Little Golden Books and the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy books are specialized categories. I rarely buy these because I don't know the field well enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. Collectors of these series are extremely fussy as to condition, and they will catch any errors you make in your description. However, Golden Books written or illustrated by Eloise Wilkin are worth picking up; she has quite a fan base. Try selling her books in lots. She specializes in adorable, chubby, rosy-cheeked children.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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