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Buying and Selling Children's Books

The Malt Shop Era

by Guusje Moore

#60, 23 January 2006

One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock, rock,
Five, six, seven o'clock, eight o'clock, rock,
Nine, ten, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock, rock,
We're gonna rock around the clock tonight.

Bill Haley

Once upon a time when Russia was the Red Menace, we hadn't yet gone to the Moon and everyone liked Ike, a genre of teenage girl novels nicknamed "Malt Shop Books" reigned supreme. Compared to today's YA (young adult novels) they personified innocence, and the problems the typical heroine encountered were comparatively minor. Back then the causes of teenage angst were not AIDS, binge drinking or premarital sex; they were attracting that cute boy, whether or not to go steady or finding the right dress for the prom. Boys were men and girls were girls. Everyone was white, middle to upper-middle class, Mom was always in the kitchen, and Dad's only contribution was to tease the girls about their dates or pay for a frou-frou formal. The settings vary between high school or college but the end result is the same: The acme of a girls life was to wear "his ring".

You would think that no self-respecting 21st century woman and feminist would ever read these books, but they were read and still are. Baby Boomers in search of their fast departing youth make up one part of a large audience, and home schoolers the other, mainly because these books express the wholesome family values of conservative or protective parents.

Most of these books are series books - 3, 4, 5 stories or more about the same family with the same cast of characters. As is true with many series, the first book and the last book are the scarcest and the most desirable. The books were frequently rebound in stout library buckram with pictorial covers, but you can still find them with dust jackets under mylar. Librarians will tend to weed the entire series, not just a couple of the books, so if you find one in a box, dig down; chances are you'll find others.

All of these authors wrote many, many books - too many to list - so just deposit their names in your flashpoint memory bank and pick up any title you come across. Sell them singly or in lots, depending on how the market is doing. A bit of research into eBay's completed auctions really pays off when it comes to the Malt Shop novels. Almost all of these books culminate with a wedding book, in which our heroine, clad in misty white goes off into the happy future with her college educated husband (Malt Shop girls always waited till their men finished college before they snagged them). By the time the wedding rolled around, many libraries stopped buying the books, so they are the hardest to find and of course command the best prices. One hint: don't waste your eBay title characters with the words "Malt Shop." It's a term only hard core fans are familiar with. Include the name of the main character instead.

A few Malt Shops were reprinted up by the Junior Literary Guild and other book clubs but most were available only from libraries. This is yet another case where ex-library is all there is. Scholastic Paperback books printed many in paperback editions in the late 1960s, and even these are collectible.

ImageCascade Publishing has recently reissuing many of them in good quality trade paperback bindings, and the result has been a major drop in values (as I have said before, reprints are the bane of my existence). However, there is still a market for the hardbacks because reprints just don't have the same feel. I've bought some of the Image Cascade books, and while the text is identical, the reading experience isn't. I would rather read one of my well-loved ex-library copies. Do cruise over to their website. They used the original cover art, so you will get an idea of what to look for in vintage copies.

Note also that some publishers issued new cover art in the 1970s (with the identical text). Copies with original cover art command better prices.

Lenora Mattingly Weber

Lenora Mattingly Weber, author of the Beany Malone series and, later, the Katie Rose & Stacy series, was the one of the most prolific Malt Shop writers. Her long career began with Meet the Malones in 1943 and ended in 1972 with Sometimes a Stranger, the year after her death. All are all set in Denver and recount the adventures of two large and loving Irish-Catholic families. The Beany Malone series officially ended with Come Back Wherever You Are, in which Beany is a young and harried wife and mother, but all the Malones make guest appearances in the subsequent Katie Rose & Stacy books.

Weber's books have a bit more depth than many of the Malt Shop books. Beany and her older sister Mary Fred struggle with how much loving to allow, main characters die, and religion plays an important role. Weber also wrote some adult novels and stand alone titles which are elusive, out of print, and worth a pretty penny. Rocking Chair Ranch, Wind on the Prairie and Podgey and Sally Co-eds will command values of $200 and up - even in ex-library. She is also the author of the The Beany Malone Cookbook, which tends to show up in the non-fiction or cookbook section of library sales. Be sure to put "Beany Malone" in your eBay title.

Rosamund du Jardin

At the other end of the spectrum is Rosamund Du Jardin (or DuJardin), who in my opinion created little more than a series of fashion minded, boy crazy air heads. Set in a small Illinois "Leave it to Beaver" type town located near a large city (possibly Bloomington), it's all about boys, college weekends, dances and prom dresses. Cheating on a test or teenage drinking is about as serious as it gets. Du Jardin is best known for the Tobey and Midge Heydon series (Wedding in the Family is the scarcest), The Pam and Penny Series (about a set of identical twins), and the Marcy series. If you come across the Pam and Penny books, be sure to include the word "twins" in the eBay title field since many people collect books about multiples. Unlike Lenora Mattingly Weber, Du Jardin's characters stay put in their own series, never straying into others, though the settings of all the books are virtually identical.

Anne Emery

Anne Emery also wrote an assortment of series books. Like Du Jardin, her stories are set in the Midwest, mostly in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. Her most popular works are the Sally and Jean Burnaby books, followed by the Pat Marlowe books (which feature young love), the Jane Ellison series (which revolves around 4-H activities), and the Sue Morgan books (which explore high school pecking orders).

Her last series features a spunky girl named Dinny Gordon. Dinny was much more serious and career minded than any of her other characters. She was interested in dating and instead wanted to be an archaeologist! To her credit, Emery did attempt to address some "serious" topics the Gordon series. Dinny Gordon encounters anti-Semitism, for example, when a Jewish family moves into her neighborhood; Pat Marlowe copes with heavy petting; and Sue in the Popular Crowd books struggles with the morality of cheating. She also wrote some stand-alone books too - Married on Wednesday and That Archer Girl. The latter is the only Malt Shop book I've ever encountered which features a bad girl who not only doesn't reform but revels in her evilness. Both titles are hard to find. In the early 1970s, Emery also wrote several books that attempted to tackle the issues of drugs and social upheaval, but she was out of her element. They are pretty lame and not especially sought after. Note the family name in your eBay title.

Janet Lambert

Janet Lambert, another Malt Shop author, set her series in the military. I never cared for them. I came of age during the Vietnam War and wasn't comfortable with her pro-military stance, but she has an avid following. In any case, the military life she describes is long gone. Officers had servants, the General's daughter led a charmed life, everyone lived on base in large rambling houses, and no one ever seemed to suffer from PSD, let alone get wounded or killed. Rather, it was one long series of parties and dances at the Officers Club.

Lambert wrote 27 books, chronicling the adventures of Penny and Tippy Parrish and the Jennifer Jordan family. Everybody wanders in and out of each other's stories so much that ultimately it's difficult to recall which character belongs where. The Jordans were a large family, and all the children married and moved on to spin-off series of their own within the overall series. Confusing, isn't it? I've never been able to keep up with it all, but her fans have the genealogy committed to memory. In addition, she also wrote the Candy Cane series, The Campbell books and the Drayton Family series. Like most other Malt Shop authors, Lambert also wrote several stand-alone books. Again, put "Peggy Parrish" or the main character's name in your subject heading.

There are some excellent websites devoted to series books - Image Cascade (noted above) and the following:

Book Safari

BookLovers Den

Girls Series Books 1840-1991

All are worth visiting for more knowledge about this sub-genre of children's books, and devoted fans maintain websites dedicated to many specific authors.

Lenora Mattingly Weber

Rosamund Du Jardin

Anne Emery

Janet Lambert

There are many non-series Malt Shop books as well. Beverly Cleary of Ramona books fame wrote 3-Jean and Johnny, Luckiest Girl and Wedding in the Family - all of which are still in print. However, the new arrivals were published with dust jackets, so there is still a market for vintage copies possessing Joe and Beth Crush's original cover art.

The popularity of Malt Shop books began to wane during the turbulent late 1960s, and their death knell came with the publication of Judy Blume's Are You There God, It's Me Margaret in 1970. Blume wrote the antithesis of the Malt Shop novel. The heroines not only have sex but also go to Planned Parenthood for birth control pills! Blume's books, by the way, are still in print and not worth picking up - much too common.

So, when see a book with a picture of sweet young thing hanging onto the arm of a boy with a crew cut, grab it, especially if there is a picture of a roadster or a juke box in the background!

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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