by Guusje Moore

#58, 26 December 2005

Witches, Mice and Cats - Oh My!

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When it comes to children's books, it's not "Lions, Tigers and Bears - Oh My!" Instead it's "Witches, Mice and Cats - Oh Yes!" There is something about these three subjects - whether in a picture book or a chapter book - that usually guarantees a sale. (A "chapter book," for those who do not hang around school libraries, is a child's fiction book - as opposed to a picture book.)

These subjects appeal to collectors of children's literature, baby boomers bent on nostalgia, and people who collect anything related to witches, cats and mice. Any such picture or chapter book in decent shape with a copyright date before 1963 is worth picking up.

When it comes to witches, the wee ones rule. Little Witch, a chapter book by Anna Elizabeth Bennett, will easily net you $50 on eBay. However, pass on Deborah Hautzig's I Can Read book with the same title. The Littlest Witch by Jeanne Massey is another book you'd love to see fly into your bag. Weeny Witch by Ida DeLage is also a winner. DeLage wrote a series of picture books about an old witch that only sometimes do well. Then there is Little Left Over Witch by Florence Laughlin. This one is copyright 1978: all bookselling rules of thumb have their exceptions.

Patricia Coombs wrote several picture books about a little witch named Dorrie; snatch any that come your way. Prices vary widely, but a copy of Dorrie's Magic, the first in the series, just sold for $295 on eBay. It didn't seem to matter that it was ex-library, had been rebound and was quite shabby.

Witch of the Glens by Sally Watson is another title that easily sells for more than $100. There is a paperback reprint, but her die-hard fans want the hardback. She wrote historical fiction; keep an eye out for her books.

Witch on a Motorcycle by Marian Frances and Blue Nosed Witch by Margaret Embry do not command terribly high prices but are tried-and-true sellers.

Of course, old and ugly witches also abound. The Old Black Witch series by Wende and Harry Devlin is the top seller. The Develins also wrote a series of holiday picture books: Cranberry Thanksgiving, Cranberry Halloween, Cranberry Christmas, etc. Be on the lookout for these titles. Keep in mind that since librarians tend to weed by letter of the alphabet, you'll often several books by the same author piled together at an FOL sale.

The queen of the mice books is the Mousekin series by Edna Miller. The Holy Grail is Mousekin's Golden House, in which Mousekin goes to live in a Halloween pumpkin. It will definitely top $50; a really clean copy will fetch three figures. There are assorted other Mousekins, most with a holiday theme. Never pass up this little royal mouse.

Rumer Godden, a prolific author of adult and children's books, has written two mouse books: Mouse House and Mouse Wife. Graham Oakley wrote the Churchmice series in the 1980s. He is currently out of print, and many of his books sell for $20 or more. Oakley's books are very common at library sales. His books are now 20 to 25 years old - right smack in the weeding rotation.

Jill Barklem is the author of the Brambly Hedge series. Set in England, these books feature little mice in seasonal adventures. Some aren't worth much individually but do well in lots. However, The Complete Brambly Hedge and Baby Mice in Brambly Hedge may sell for $20 or more. Barklem spilled over into bric-a-brac, so when you are trolling the thrifts and estate sales, keep an eye out for mugs and other assorted china pieces. Her style is somewhat similar to Beatrix Potter, author of the Peter Rabbit books. Beatrix Potter books, by the way, are now in the public domain and not worth bothering with unless you stumble across a first edition - something that is unlikely to occur at an FOL sale.

The Basil of Baker Street series are regaining their popularity. Written by Eve Titus in the late 1950s and early 1960s, they are about a mouse-sized Sherlock Holmes. These books have double appeal since Sherlock Holmes collectors also want them.

Of course, I have omitted the most famous mouse of all, Mickey. He falls under Disneyana, not mice, so I will leave him for a Disney expert.

When it comes to cats, even folks who never bother with kiddie lit know that a first edition of The Cat in the Hat will put food on the table for many, many months. However, the points on a Dr. Seuss book are extremely complicated and beyond my expertise. If you are lucky enough to find a first of this classic, contact Craig. Quickly.

[EDITOR'S NOTE FOR SERIOUS SEUSS SPECIALISTS: First Editions of Dr. Seuss Books: A Guide to Identification by Helen Younger, Marc Younger and Dan Hirsch (ISBN: 1892168081) is the definitive, albeit pricey, reference for issue points. Expect to pay over $100.]

For the rest of us there is Esther Averill and her Jenny and the Cat Club series. Every title is collectible except Jenny and the Fire Cat, which was featured by the Weekly Reader book club and is common as dirt. Prices have fallen a bit now that some of her titles are back in print, but she is still a strong seller. Weekly Reader book club titles are the BOMC books of kiddie lit. Pass on them.

Carbonel, King of the Cats by Barbara Sleigh has also been reprinted (reprints are the bane of my existence), but there is a still a market for the original edition. The sequel, Carbonel and Calibor, is blessedly still out of print. Her other books are also collectible - she wrote a couple about witches and magic, too.

Artist Peggy Bacon wrote children's books to pay the rent, and The Ghost of Opalina, written in 1967, would easily pay part of yours. I once found a copy in a thrift shop, bought it just because it had a cat on the cover, and sold it on eBay for $150. She is also the author of The Good American Witch, which will pay for a good meal in a nice restaurant. Look for Peggy Bacon among the art books too - she has quite following among print collectors.

Have you discerned the pattern that many folks who write witch books also write cat books and sometimes combine the two in one story? Ruth Chew did that. She wrote The Would Be Witch, Witch's Buttons, Wednesday Witch, The Witch's Cat, etc. She is not as sought-after as she once was, but her books do well in lots, even in paperback.

For any book, a jacketed first that is not ex-library will naturally net you the highest price. But for children's books, bear in mind that ex-library copies are often the only copies available.

Do wander by the children's book section at the next Friends of the Library book sale. Remember your mantra: "Witches, Mice and Cats - Oh Yes!"

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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