The Top 100 Collectible Children's Books

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Beginner Books' Beginnings

Up until the mid-1950s, there was a degree of separation between illustrated educational books and illustrated picturebooks. This all changed, dramatically and with much national fanfare, with the 1957 publication of Dr. Seuss's The Cat In The Hat. Here was an early reader, full of 220 madly rhyming words, which made its way into our elementary school classrooms. The publication of the book in 1957 forever changed the way in which children would learn to read and be educated. Reading could be fun!

Though Random House initially published The Cat In The Hat, because of its success Beginner Books was formed as an independent publishing company, with Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, as president and editor. Beginner Books was chartered as a series of books oriented toward various stages of early reading development. The second book in the series, The Cat In The Hat Comes Back, published in 1958, was nearly as popular.

Springing from this series of beginning readers were such standards as A Fly Went By (1958), Put Me In The Zoo (1958), Green Eggs and Ham (1960), Go, Dog. Go! (1961), Hop On Pop (1963), and Fox in Socks (1965), each monumental in the picturebook industry and also significant in the historical development of early readers. All are still in print and remain very popular nearly fifty years after their initial publication. The Beginner Books dominated the children's picturebook market of the 1960's, and still play a significant role today within the phases of students' reading development.

Should Beginner Books Be In The Top 100 Picturebooks?

With respect to student reading development, experienced booksellers might ask, "So What?" Is this sufficient to qualify them to land into the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks? Certainly a justifiable question.

One key factor contributing to the collectibility of a book is the total number of copies sold in the primary market (i.e. new books) relative to the number of first editions originally printed. Children's picturebooks are no different. In 2001 Publisher's Weekly (PW) created their list of the All-Time Bestselling Children's Books, comprised of 189 hardcover children's books with over 750,000 copies sold. Twenty Beginner Books made the list, and eleven were in the top 50 All-Time Bestselling Children's hardcover books:

Click here to see the chart.

The public's embrace for Beginner Books over the course of fifty years lends high credibility to their consideration in the Top 100 Collectible Picturebooks. The Key Beginner Books

Two of the Beginner Books, Green Eggs and Ham and Cat In The Hat, have previously been selected as part of the Marquis 25. Nine additional Beginner Books have been selected for the Top 100 Collectible Picturebooks.

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.

The first edition books are relatively affordable, but many are difficult to find. Ironically, Dr. Seuss first editions are comparably easier to find in the secondary market since they are known collectibles by both children's book specialists and generalist booksellers. The five non-Seuss books are more difficult to acquire.

Some comments on specific books:

  • All four of the Dr. Seuss books, The Cat In The Hat Comes Back (1958), One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (1960), Hop On Pop (1963), and Dr. Seuss's ABC (1963), made the Publisher's Weekly list of All-Time Bestselling Children's books.

  • Put Me In The Zoo (1960), Are You My Mother?, and Go, Dog, Go! also made the Publisher's Weekly list of All-Time Bestselling Children's books. Each has a Seuss-like aura about them, created while Geisel was President and Editor at Beginner Books during their time of publication.

  • The Big Honey Hunt (1962) introduces the Berenstain Bears. The follow-up book, The Bike Lesson (1964), appeared two years later, followed The Bears' Picnic (1966). Since then, nearly three hundred Berenstain Bear books have been published, becoming one of the most successful children's book franchises ever!

  • Authorship credit for Fish Out Of Water (1961) is given to Geisel's wife, Helen Palmer. Actually, the story first appeared a decade earlier, as a Dr. Seuss story "Gustav The Goldfish" in the July 1950 Redbook Magazine. From the Morgan's excellent biography, Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel:

[Seuss] gave Helen formal permission to write a Beginner Book from "Gustav the Goldfish," which he had written in 1950 in his long-running series of children's stories for Redbook. "You have the right to use any of the situations of any of the words from the original story that your little heart desires. You must, however, comply with all the necessary steps in protecting my original copyright."

Rating The 'Copies Sold'

The number of copies sold is an important factor in determining the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks because it is a measure of the public's embrace of the book and an amalgamation of other factors affecting a book's collectibility: When the story is embraced by the public, the author or illustrator is favored by the public, the book wins an award, is adapted into a feature film or is part of a franchise, more copies of the book will be sold As a result, I weight the 'Copies Sold' factor highly.

A book's collectibility is enhanced when the first printing of the book is small relative to the number of copies sold over time. In most instances, a book's popularity was not originally anticipated by the publisher, and thus the book goes through many printings to meet demand, often in the early years of its publication history. All of the books in the Top 100 have had multiple print runs to meet a demand which often spans decades. In all cases the original first print run was small relative to the total number of copies sold to date.

Almost Nearly No Brainers

Previously, I selected nearly seventy of the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks - the Marquis 25, landmarks within the genre, so called No Brainers, since they would be on nearly everyone's list of classic American picturebooks, and subsequently, the Nearly No Brainers. Though the Almost Nearly No Brainers have many of the qualities of Marquis 25 No Brainers and the Nearly No Brainers, they do not possess all of their brethren's 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 again that the values of several of the Almost Nearly No Brainers are higher than many of the books previously selected.

Some comments on specific books:

  • Wanda Gag's The Funny Thing (1929), a follow-up book to Millions of Cats (1928), was very similar in form and format, featuring dynamic double page spreads, black and white and handwritten text, etc., and helped establish the picturebook genre. Gag's ABC Bunny (1933), another early book in the genre, received a Newbery Honor award from the American Library Association in 1934, a few years before initiating the Caldecott Medal to honor this new picturebook form.

  • Alexander The Gander (1939), Tasha Tudor's second children's book, followed her Pumpkin Moonshine (1938).

  • Katy And The Big Snow (1939) is Virginia Lee Burton's third book to make the Top 100 list, following the selection of Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel (1938) and her Caldecott Medal book, The Little House (1942). All three books have become children's classics over the past seventy years, and first edition examples of all are scarce.

  • Dorothy Kunhardt's Pat The Bunny (1942) is 6th on Publisher's Weekly list of All-Time Bestselling Children's Books with over 7.5 million copies sold. At the time of publication it broken ground as a touch-and-feel book for young toddlers. For more on the book, read the 1990 New York Times article "The Original Touchy-Feely: Pat the Bunny Turns 50" by Kunhardt's son, Philip, a former managing editor for Life Magazine.

  • H.A. Rey's Cecily G and The 9 Monkeys (1942), originally published in France in 1939 as Rafi et les Neuf Singes, marked the first appearance of Curious George. The first American appearance of the beloved monkey was in 1941 as Curious George, and s followed in the US. Collector interest for first editions in the series has been heightened since the $22,000 PBA Galleries 2007 sale of Curious George.

  • Runaway Bunny (1942), another collaboration between Clement Hurd and Margaret Wise Brown, also made the PW list of All-Time Bestselling Children's Books.

  • Little Bear (1957) is the first book in Harper's 'I Can Read' series - a counterpart to the Beginner Books launched the same year. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak and written by Else Holmelund Minarik, Little Bear was the first of several in the franchise whose popularity eventually led to a successful Saturday morning cartoon series. Collectibility is understandably heightened for first edition books which crossover into pop culture.

The First Twelve Little Golden Books

Next in the list of Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks are the first twelve Little Golden Books, all simultaneously published in 1942.

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.

Surprisingly, these Little Golden Books were initially published with dust jackets (1942-1947) - one of the pre-requisites for the list - then transitioned to the now familiar gold foil spine. LGB's with dust jackets have blue cloth spines and thus are easily differentiated from the those published after 1947.

Why Twelve Little Golden Books?

While Little Golden Books have an avid and passionate collector base, they have been relatively overlooked by generalist booksellers and book collectors. Many wonder if they are sufficiently credentialed. Here is a perspective from the Random House Little Golden Books website:

The Story of Little Golden Books

When Little Golden Books launched in 1942 at 25 cents each, they changed publishing history. For the first time, children's books were high quality and low-priced. They were available to almost all children, not just a privileged few. Little Golden Books were designed to be sturdy (a new concept), delightfully illustrated, and to be sold not only in bookstores, but department stores and other chains (another new concept).

Little Golden Books were an instant success story, even though WWII was on and paper shortages loomed. Five months after the launch, 1.5 million copies had been printed, and LGBs were in their third printing.

Since then, over two billion Little Golden Books have reached the hands of children all over the world. Who hasn't heard of The Poky Little Puppy, star of the best-selling Little Golden Book of all? It has sold well over 15 million copies worldwide, in many different languages. Tootle the Train, The Saggy Baggy Elephant, The Shy Little Kitten, The Little Red Caboose, The Tawny Scrawny Lion, and Scuffy the Tugboat soon followed, to become household names.

Little Golden Books have mirrored children's popular culture over the years, having featured Lassie, Raggedy Ann, Uncle Wiggley, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Howdy Doody, Annie Oakley, Captain Kangaroo, Bozo the Clown, Gene Autrey, The Lone Ranger, Smokey Bear, Disney, Warner Brothers, Hanna Barbera, Sesame Street, Pokemon, and Between the Lions characters, Mister Rogers, Barney, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Underdog, Peter Cottontail, Barbie, and others. Dr. Ruth Westheimer has just penned a story about grandparents starring herself.

Many famous writers and illustrators created Little Golden Books, notably Margaret Wise Brown, author of GOODNIGHT MOON (Harper). Her LGBs were often illustrated by Garth Williams, most famous for his illustrations for CHARLOTTE'S WEB, STUART LITTLE, and the "Little House" series. Richard Scarry began his career at Golden Books and did most of his most famous books here, from Little Golden Books to his beloved oversized books CARS AND TRUCKS AND THINGS THAT GO, and RICHARD SCARRY'S BEST WORD BOOK EVER! Eloise Wilkin, famous for her stunning paintings of cherubic children, illustrated dozens of LGBs. Caldecott medalists James Marshall, Tibor Gergely, Leonard Weisgard, Alice and Martin Provensen, and Trina Schart Hyman have illustrated Little Golden Books. Today, Little Golden Books are an icon.

The Smithsonian Institution includes Little Golden Books and artwork in its Division of Cultural History.

Note the many collectibility factors:

  • LGB's have enjoyed great popularity with billions - billions, not millions! - of books sold!

  • LGB's have crossed-over into pop culture.

  • LGB's have featured many highly successful illustrators & authors.

The question isn't whether or not to include Little Golden Books in the Top 100 list but instead which books to include. Five LGB's made the Publisher's Weekly Bestselling Children's Books, four of them in the top ten - The Poky Little Puppy, Tootle, Saggy Baggy Elephant, and Scuffy The Tugboat. I debated whether to include only these five LGB's or the entire first twelve. Given that the success of the first twelve laid the foundation for the subsequent success of the following books in the franchise, I decided to include all twelve in the list of Top 100. This was a key decision in the strategic formation of the list.

The Late Great Debatable Eight

Ninety-two of the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks have been selected. The remaining books, the Late Great Debatable Eight, are difficult to select.

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.

Since the selection of each of these is likely to be contentious, I'll provide commentary on each book:

  • Danny And The Dinosaur (1958) is one of Harper & Brothers first books in the I Can Read series, published a year after the Sendak/Minarik's Little Bear. Syd Hoff wrote and illustrated a number of the early I Can Read books, including Julius (1959), Sammy The Seal (1959), Oliver (1960), Stanley (1960), Albert The Albatross (1961), Chester The Horse (1961), and Little Chief (1961), each of which was published prior to Harper & Brothers 1962 merger with Peterson & Row (becoming Harper & Row). In my opinion, these early I Can Read books are under appreciated by the hobby.

  • Inch By Inch (1960) and Swimmy (1963) each won Leo Lionni a Caldecott Honor award. I debated between each of these in the context of the ground breaking illustrations in Lionni's first children's book, Little Blue and Little Yellow (1959), but thought the Caldecott tilted the scale toward the award books. Lionni had a very successful career as a commercial illustrator, eventually becoming art director for Fortune Magazine, while influencing the art direction of many other Time-Life magazines. He left commercial art in the 1950's and became, exclusively, a children's book author and illustrator, earning four Caldecott Honor awards. Had it not been published in the same year as Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are, Swimmy would likely have won the Caldecott Medal in almost any other year.

  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (1968) is the first children's picturebook illustrated by Eric Carle, and similar to Lionni's, the illustrations were ground breaking; even today, the illustrations seem fresh. His Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969), which made the Marquis 25, was published the following year.

  • Maurice Sendak's In The Night Kitchen (1970) won a Caldecott Honor award and is the second most successful book he both authored and illustrated. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the nudity in the book, which Sendak refused to edit, and the book remains one of the most banned books in public libraries.

  • Some readers might be surprised by the selection of Mercer Mayer's Just For You (1975). The book introduces the Little Critter character, and the franchise has grown to over 200 books strong! A couple of animated cartoons have been produced, and it seems only a matter of time before a TV series or movie is made. While the vast majority of Little Critter books are published only in soft cover format, Just For You was one of the few published initially in hard cover with dust jacket. The first edition is currently very affordable and moderately available, as it is not front-of-mind for many booksellers.

  • Even though Tomie dePaola's Strega Nona (1975) won a Caldecott Honor, it is better known by mothers of book readers than book collectors. DePaola has written and illustrated over 200 children's books, winning a Newbery Honor in 2000 for 26 Fairmont Street. Strega Nona is the first of seven books in the franchise and is fairly difficult to find in first edition - none, in fact, were found on the market during a recent search. DePaola is another whose books are currently more loved by children than collectors or booksellers.

  • An auspicious debut for Chris Van Allsburg's first book, Garden of Abdul Gasazi (1979), winning a Caldecott Honor. The first edition Garden of Abdul Gasazi is more difficult to find than his two more popular Caldecott Medal books, Jumanji and Polar Express.

The Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks

In the last article the list will be dissected so the reader can view the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks from a number of perspectives. The Top 100 will be sorted chronologically, by scarcity, grouped by illustrator, grouped by author, and sorted by overall collectibility. Before presenting these perspectives, the following shows the entire Top 100 grouped according to the selection process.

To recap, the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks has been built using a sequence of partially logical steps. The sequence of steps segmented the Top 100 into smaller digestible bites, since selecting them as one large undertaking would have been overwhelming, both for myself and for the reader. The partially logical steps:

  • Group A: The Marquis 25, the No-Brainers

  • Group B: The Nearly No-Brainers

  • Group C: The Almost Nearly No-Brainers

  • Group CM: Key Caldecott Medals

  • Group BB: Key Beginner Books and the Early Readers

  • Group LGB: The First 12 Little Golden Books

  • Group D: The Late Great Debatable Eight

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.

As mentioned above, 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 following provides the specific ratings for each factor - a '10' indicating strong collectibility.

Click here to see the chart.

In the last article the list will be dissected from a number of perspectives.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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