by Guusje Moore

#67, 1 May 2006

Come with Me to the Days of Yesteryear ....

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In the realm of children's books, historical fiction has varied audiences - nostalgia buyers who want to re-read their childhood favorites, parents who are looking for quality children's literature, and teachers adding to their classroom libraries. Many titles are saleable in almost any condition, and early editions are often highly collectible. If you are lucky enough to find a first edition that is not ex-library you can tap into the collector's market.

Many historical fiction titles are series books, so collectors want all of them. Librarians tend to weed an entire series at a time, giving you a good chance of finding a complete or semi-complete set at a Friends of the Library sale.

1930 to 1960 was one of the Golden Ages of children's literature and it was during this time that some of the most enduring and high quality historical fiction was published. These books have remained valuable to booksellers as well.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, in 1932. The last book in the series, The First Four Years, came out posthumously in 1971. They are semi-autobiographical and based on her childhood in the American West during the 1870s and 1880s.

Helen Sewell illustrated the early editions. Any Helen Sewell edition that is not ex-library will sell for between $100 and $200. Even the ex-library editions are worth good money. The current editions (and yes, the series is still in print) were illustrated by Garth Williams, a noteworthy artist who is worth a column of his own, in the early 1950s.

The firsts are of value individually; otherwise gather them up and sell them in lots. There are eight books in the Little House series, a companion book called Farmer Boy about her husband's childhood, and a Little House Cookbook. Since the death of Wilder's daughter there have been numerous spin-offs and tie-ins, all of dubious quality. Keep an eye out for the boxed sets - they are always an easy sale. There are numerous "Little House" sites scattered throughout the Midwest, many of which have published small guides and booklets. Such ephemera also have a ready market.

Lois Lenski is best known for her regional series, but prior to penning those she wrote seven historical novels during the 1930s and 1940s. Apart from Indian Captive, they are long, long out of print and highly sought after. There have not been any recently on eBay, but they can sell for upwards of $100 to $300. Her regional books, such as Judy's Journey, Bayou Suzette, and Texas Tomboy are also out of print and collectible. The only exception is Strawberry Girl, which won her the Newbery Award in 1946 and is still in print. Lenski also illustrated the works of others, and those books too are very saleable.

Lenski's artistic style is very distinctive; it has a WPA (Works Progress Administration) mural flavor to it. Lenski was a very prolific author and illustrator, and while some of her books, notably the Cowboy Small series, were recently reprinted, it is still worth your while to grab anything you see written or illustrated by her.

In fact, Lenski illustrated the first four of the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. Like the Little House books, these are autobiographical novels based on the author's childhood. Set in Mankato, Minnesota in the early 1900s, they follow the adventures of the author and her two best friends from age five until their marriages.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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