Children's Picturebook
Price Guide

A BookThink Review

by Craig Stark

#80, 30 October 2006

Children's Picturebook Price Guide

Linda and Stan Zielinski
Flying Moose Books, LLC, 2006, 479 pp
ISBN - 10: 0977939405
ISBN - 13: 9780977939404

If you've been reading the BookThinker for any length of time, you've no doubt heard me or somebody else complain about price guides. As bookselling reference books go, most of them are duds whether you're a collector or a bookseller - heck, especially if you're a bookseller. Part of this has to do with how the content is organized; part with the content itself. I'm not going to go over this ground again, but if you're interested in hearing more ranting on this topic, this article is a good place to start:

By the way, the referenced article reviews a price guide that I consider to be an exception to the rule - that is, it's very bookseller useful. Good news: I've got another one for you - Linda and Stan Zielinski's Children's Picturebook Price Guide. What initially piqued my interest about this book was that it contained issue points for Dr. Seuss first editions. [EDITOR'S NOTE: For the purposes of this guide, the Zielinski's define a Picturebook as "one in which the text and the illustrations are synergistic in telling the story" - the two are intertwined such that one enhances the other, and vice-versa. The illustrations are not an augment to the story, but are intrinsic to the story. Books included in our definition of 'picturebook' should meet the following criteria: a full-page illustration on every page or every other page; illustrations are credited to an illustrator (i.e. not an anonymous artist); published in hardcover format, with a dust jacket."]

Some of you may already know where I'm going with this. Several years ago, Helen & Marc Younger and Dan Hirsch published an excellent guide to Dr. Seuss first editions - First Editions of Dr. Seuss Books. 2002. Custom Communications. ISBN: 1892168081. At the time of this writing, the cheapest copy I could find online is offered for $175.00. Not bad for a 200-page book published only four years ago. Not bad, that is, if you're on the selling end of it. If you're a struggling bookseller looking for solid information that's hard to come by anywhere else, however, it likely won't fit into your budget.

Contrast this to the Children's Picturebook Price Guide, which can be purchased new at Wal-Mart for $16.36. The Zielinski's guide isn't by any means an exhaustive treatise on Dr. Seuss first edition identification, but there are over four pages of discussion that detail the pertinent issue points for titles both written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) and make some organizational sense of what can be a maddeningly complex process in this niche. To their credit, the Zielinski's strongly recommend the Younger/Hirsch guide for serious collectors.

Even though the Dr. Seuss information was what brought me to this price guide, this isn't the only reason I'm recommending that booksellers buy it. There's another, more important reason - flashpoints. In Chapter 8 alone, there are 9 lists of flashpoints:

  1. (Top 44) Most Valuable Picture Books (1933-1985)
  2. Top 20) Most Valuable Picture Books - 1930s
  3. (Top 20) Most Valuable Picture Books - 1940s
  4. (Top 20) Most Valuable Picture Books - 1950s
  5. (Top 20) Most Valuable Picture Books - 1960s
  6. (Top 20) Most Valuable Picture Books - 1970s
  7. (Top 20) Most Valuable Picture Books - 1980s
  8. (Top 20) Most Valuable Picture Books - 1990s
  9. (Top 100) Most Valuable Illustrators

Included in the first eight lists are titles, illustrators and prices, most of which are valued at well over $100 - in all, 140 titles that should be in any scouting book or at the very least committed to memory. The last list - Most Valuable Illustrators - interested me especially. First, I did what I do when I encounter any list like this: I took a test, putting a check mark next to, in this case, every illustrator I knew. Sad to say, I was deeply humbled; many more names were left unchecked than not, especially among those occupying spots 60-100. I'm always grateful for moments like this because they remind me that my education as a bookseller is far from over.

These aren't the only lists in the Children's Picturebook Price Guide. Others include:

  1. First Twelve Little Golden Books
  2. Picturebooks with Breakthrough Illustrations
  3. Franchise Books - Selected Examples
  4. Caldecott Medal Winners 1938-2006
  5. (Illustrators with) Three or More Caldecott Awards
  6. (Number of) Illustrators' Books in Price Guide
  7. Kate Greenaway Award Winning Books
  8. (First Printing Identifiers for Selected Publishers)
  9. Identifying First Edition Dr. Seuss Books
  10. Dr. Seuss Authored Books (as Theo Leseig)
  11. The First Fifty Beginner Books

There are additional lists in the following appendices:

  1. Caldecott Honor Books
  2. List of Caldecott Award Winning Illustrators
  3. Publisher's Weekly All-Time Bestselling Children's Books
  4. Newbery Award Books with Illustrations

All of these lists will point you to value in picturebooks and are worth far more than the purchase price of the guide.

Also included in the Children's Picturebook Price Guide are detailed discussions of many aspects of the children's picturebook marketplace and resources useful to collectors and booksellers alike. A list of chapter headings provides a good overview:

  1. Today's Golden Era of Picturebooks
  2. Factors Affecting Collectibility
  3. Approaches to Collecting
  4. Identifying First Editions
  5. Price Guide Illumination
  6. Book Grading
  7. Where to Find First Edition Picturebooks
  8. Most Valuable Books

Many of the ideas discussed, as you might expect, have general applicability to bookselling, and beginning booksellers especially would benefit from reading the front matter in this book.

The price guide itself, which comprises the bulk of this large-format, 479-page book, is arranged by illustrator - a sensible acknowledgment that picturebook collector interest is focused primarily on illustrators and secondarily on authors and/or titles. The year of publication, title, condition (VG-, VG, VG+ and Fine), author, awards, and publisher are noted for each entry (over 23,000 of them), and page layout is friendly to the eye: It almost seems to encourage the reader's eye to alight on high spots. As is the case with any price guide, prices quoted have begun to obsolesce as we speak, and their utility will necessarily and quickly narrow to a less edgy compilation of prices relative to other prices - that is, they will remain somewhat useful for comparing one title to others. Also note that any attempt to valuate collectible books is fraught with innumerable uncertainties; and, as the Ahearn's have asserted more than once, pricing is an art, not a science. Some of the Children's Picturebook Price Guide prices, therefore, are likely to strike you as ambitious, others spot on, and still others overly modest.

Finally, this is such a useful book that I'm reluctant to say anything that might dissuade you from buying it, but I think one thing could be safely noted, a deficiency that the authors acknowledge themselves - no illustrations whatsoever. And this is a book about picture books! A publication deadline, apparently, had to be met, and gaining copyright permissions would have prevented their meeting it. Perhaps a future edition could address this. Since this is already a hefty book, a second volume with illustrative content would make a great companion to it. Click here for more information. Now go out and buy the book:

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