The Top 100 Collectible Children's Books

by Stan Zielinski

21 March 2011

Nearly No Brainers

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Top 100 Collectible Picturebooks - Overview

A series of articles to select the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks, providing the rationale for each book's inclusion, with an objective of providing readers with the context for valuing first editions within the genre.

Within the hobby value is a combination of scarcity and collectibility: very scarce and very desirable lead to very valuable. Scarcity is a function of the number of copies in the first printings and the subsequent attrition over time due to natural causes. Collectibility is more elusive, outlined heretofore as a complex intermingling of eight rated factors.

Nearly No Brainers

In the previous article the Marquis 25 was selected - the top 25 collectible American picturebooks. Although some might argue whether a book or two belongs in this list, most would agree that all belong in the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks. The next logical step is selecting the books that almost made the Marquis 25 - what I call the "Nearly No Brainers." These have many of the qualities of the Marquis 25 but by comparison do not have all the necessary credentials.

The following chronological chart provides a brief summary of the selection rationale and the estimated market price for the first edition book with the corresponding first edition dust jacket, both in VG (Very Good) or better condition.

Click here to see the chart.

Note that the values of several of the Nearly No Brainers are higher than several of the Marquis 25's.

Some comments on specific books:

  • Angus and the Ducks (1930), the first of five books in the Angus series, was written and illustrated by Marjorie Flack. Flack also authored the Story About Ping (1933), though this was illustrated by Kurt Wiese. Since Wiese had previously lived in China for six years, Flack felt his illustrations would lend more authenticity to the story. Wiese was a prolific children's book illustrator with over 400 books to his credit, winning two Caldecott Honor awards and illustrating the Newbery Medal book Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze. He is best known, however, for illustrating Walter Brooks' Freddy the Pig books. Story About Ping is Wiese's only book on the Top 100 list.

  • A Hole is To Dig (1952) is the first of many books authored by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Krauss was married to Crockett Johnson, the author/illustrator of Harold and the Purple Crayon. The other Sendak book on the Nearly No Brainers list is Kenny's Window (1956), significant since it was the first book he authored.

  • Mei Li (1938) and Abraham Lincoln (1939) made the list largely on the strength of winning the 2nd and 3rd Caldecott Medals. Madeline's Rescue (1953), the second Madeline book and also a Caldecott winner, possesses additional strengths.

  • Chris Van Allsburg's Jumanji (1981) made the list, joining his Polar Express (1985) and David Wiesner's Tuesday as the only books published since 1980 to make the Top 100.

  • Six Dr. Seuss books made the list. Seuss first editions are highly collectible and have corresponding high market values. While three of the Seuss books won Caldecott Honor awards, this has little or no impact on the values of the first editions. Some might be surprised to learn that Dr. Seuss never won the Caldecott Medal.

  • The selection of Robert McCloskey's Journey Cake, Ho! (1953) might also be a surprise. McCloskey won two Caldecott Medals for his illustrations in Make Way for Ducklings and Time of Wonder and Caldecott Honors for Blueberries for Sal, Journey Cake, Ho!, and One Morning in May. McCloskey collaborated with his mother-in-law, Newbery Medalist Ruth Sawyer, who authored Journey Cake, Ho!. First editions are difficult to find.

Rating Each Book, Each Factor

As noted in Part I, I used eight different but related factors to rate each book. The above chart provides a single line summary rationale that synthesizes these ratings. The chart at the end of today's article provides the specific ratings for each factor - a '10' indicating strong collectibility.

Rating The Illustrators

I rated Dr. Seuss a '10' as an illustrator, a rating given to only two other illustrators - Maurice Sendak and Chris Van Allsburg. The basis for this is the Illustrator's Eminence, which is determined by four key criteria:

  • Longevity in the business

  • Productivity, or number of books published

  • General popularity, or books sold

  • Illustration awards

There is a natural progression from beginning illustrator to established illustrator within the children's book publishing industry, also a progression within the collectible book market. However, collectors should note that an illustrator's success in the publishing industry is not necessarily synchronous with collectibility, which often requires years of publishing success to attain.

Following several successful books in the primary market, a small group of collector's might take interest in an illustrator's first editions. This group grows, necessarily, after a decade or more of success, more so if the illustrator garners an award or two, and specialist booksellers also become involved. If the collector base grows substantially, generalist booksellers may take interest too. Within any specialty, however, generalist booksellers must be assured that a given book or illustrator has a sustained market value before risking capital to acquire it, not to mention the time required to research it.

I've developed the following categories for the illustrator's status in the collectible book market:


Rising Collectible (6)




Choice Collectible (7)



Highly Collectible (8)




Prestige (9)




Luminary (10)


Illustrators who have several books published and have measured success in the marketplace but have not yet garnered major awards or received critical acclaim.

Often their books are modestly priced relative to their body of work but are recognized as collectible by astute children's booksellers.

Illustrators whose books have been published for several years and have enjoyed significant success. In some cases they might have received a prestigious award.

Their books are recognized as collectible by many children's booksellers.

Illustrators whose books have been published very successfully for several years, perhaps decades. They or their books might have received prestigious awards, and one or more of them might have crossed over into pop culture.

Their books are recognized as highly collectible by children's booksellers.

Illustrators whose books have been very successfully published for decades, selling millions of copies. They and their books have received several prestigious awards, and several of them might have crossed over into pop culture.

Their books are recognized as fine collectibles by children's booksellers and many generalist booksellers.

Illustrators whose books have attained the highest level of collectibility, selling millions of copies for decades. They and their books have received multiple prestigious awards and several or more of them have crossed over into pop culture. These illustrators have also had a meaningful impact on society outside of their publication.

Their books are recognized as fine collectibles by general booksellers.

Key Caldecott Medal Winners

While the Marquis 25 and Nearly No Brainer's selections included several Caldecott Medal books, the award itself was not the crucial ingredient ; other factors contributed to the book's inclusion. Twelve additional books were selected based primarily on the basis of winning the Caldecott Medal.

The following chronological chart provides a brief summary of the selection rationale and the estimated market price for the first edition book with the corresponding first edition dust jacket, both in VG (Very Good) or better condition.

Click here to see the chart.

Louis Slobodkin, Leo Politi, the Dillons, and David Wiesner won their first Caldecott's fairly early in their careers, the rest toward the ends of their careers.

Some comments on specific books:

  • Many Moons (1943) was the first picturebook illustrated by Louis Slobodkin. He illustrated over 70 books during a career spanning three decades. Authore James Thurber, the well loved humorist, enhances the collectibility of the book.

  • The Little Island (1946) garnered Leonard Weisgard's only Caldecott Medal. The book's collectibility is enhanced by Margaret Wise Brown's authorship, under her Golden MacDonald pseudonym.

  • Lynd Ward was a prestigious woodcut artist prior to winning the Caldecott Medal for The Biggest Bear (1952). He is one of the few illustrators who moved seamlessly between the juvenile and adult markets, and is regarded highly in both.

  • Marcia Brown had won seven Caldecott Honors before winning her first Caldecott Medal award for Cinderella (1954). Brown later won two more Caldecott Medal awards for Once A Mouse (1961) and Shadow (1982).

  • William Steig, a renowned cartoonist, is best known for his book, Shrek! (1990), which has been turned into a pop culture icon. Sylvester And The Magic Pebble garnered Steig's only Caldecott Medal. Steig won two Newbery Honor awards for authoring Abel's Island (1976) and Dr. DeSoto (1982). Note that Newbery awards are given for distinguished children's stories, Caldecott's for distinguished illustration, and it is unusual for a picturebook to win an award for its story.

  • Tuesday (1991) won the first of three Caldecott Medal awards for David Wiesner, and first editions are much more difficult to come by than The Three Pigs (2001) or Flotsam (2006). Wiesner also won Caldecott Honor awards for Free Fall (1988) and Sector 7 (1999). With three Medals and two Honors, first editions of Wiesner's early books are going to increase in collectibility. Wiesner has redefined the wordless book; his work is truly remarkable.

Book Awards

Award winning children's picturebooks are of the highest caliber. In nearly all cases, sales of these books increase after the award and stay in print longer than they otherwise would. This increased demand and exposure, in turn, enhances collectibility and value of first editions.

There are a number of awards given annually to illustrated children's picturebooks, the most significant being the following:

  • Caldecott Medal and Honor

  • Horn Book / Boston Globe

  • Geisel Award

  • Golden Kite

  • Coretta Scott King Award

  • Irma Simonton Black Award

Currently, only the Caldecott Medal and Honor Awards make a significant impact on a book's collectibility. Rather than rate the Awards factor 1-to-10, I simply input whether the book won a Caldecott Medal or Honor.

Why Are Caldecott Award Books So Collectible?

Since 1938, the Caldecott has been awarded annually by the American Library Association. The ALA was originally chartered in 1879 and currently serves 150,000 librarians working at 110,000 libraries. A sub-group of the ALA, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) is responsible for the selection of the awards. A committee is appointed each year by the ALSC. The nomination of books for consideration is formalized, as is the selection and award process. Books can only win the award during their initial year of publication; there is no second chance.

This highly structured organization along with a credible and structured nomination and selection process gives credibility to the Caldecott awards. In and of itself, this should be sufficient to create high collectibility for first edition award books, but there is more to consider.

The ALA/ALSC is the same group responsible for selecting books carried in our public libraries, including elementary school libraries. It is a foregone conclusion, therefore, that Caldecott award books will be carried by most public libraries across the country, and are thereby front and center when librarians and elementary school teachers make recommendations to their students. This also fuels out-of-school purchases for home libraries. Children will gravitate toward books they have seen and read in school.

This cycle nearly guarantees the Caldecott books will stay in print for a long time and be read by children from generation to generation. Millions of readers, perhaps tens of millions, are exposed to the books as children. As these children become adults, some will harbor nostalgia for them seek first editions for their collections. The Caldecott award books are necessarily some of the most familiar books from an adult's childhood., and this familiarity breeds desirability, which in turn enhances collectibility.


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