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Buying and Selling Children's Books

The Career Romance Novel

by Guusje Moore

#62, 20 February 2006

Last month's column dealt with Malt Shop novels - teenage girl gets the boy of her dreams - all written and set in the 1950s and early 1960s. So where did these girls go after high school graduation? Why, they reappear in the Career Romance Novels, also published during the same time period.

CRNs were written during an era when many middle to upper middle class families sent their daughters as well as their sons to college. After all, a college education would equip her to be a better wife and mother. In addition, she would more likely meet a white collar husband within the ivy halls. If by chance she was not engaged her senior year, she could at least support herself until Mr. Right came along. Of course, this was all pre Betty Freidan and The Feminine Mystique.

CRN heroines are not the saucy, sexy Cosmo Girls of the swinging sixties; these are "good girls" who wear hats and gloves to work and might give up a chaste kiss on the final page. Oddly, Career Romances were virginal precursor of the highly successful Chick Lit genre. As an aside, Chick Lits, which are easily spotted in their hot pink covers, do well in lots if you can get the books cheaply on FOL bag day.

Most titles followed one of two rigid formats. Either the name of the main character appeared first followed by her career choice (e.g., Beth Hilton, Model, Sue Barton, Senior Nurse, Nancy Runs the Bookmobile) or there was simply an allusion or the actual job title (e.g., The Girl in the White Coat, Flight Nurse, Miss Library Lady). You will note that there are not many doctors, lawyers or engineers in these series. The jobs dramatized are very traditional and typically female dominated - e.g., teachers, decorators or secretaries. You might run across an occasional dancer or actress, but most of these books are about realistic career aspirations.

Nurse CRNs books almost deserve a column unto themselves. There are hundreds of them. When listing a nurse book, be sure to put "nurse" in your title if doesn't appear in the book title. There are lots of nurse memorabilia collectors, and this will drive them to your auctions. Most nurse CRNs are stand-alone titles, but there are series as well. Two queens of the genre are Cherry Ames and Sue Barton. Cherry even has her own website, which also has information on other nurse books.

The Tiny Pineapple is another good resource:

A friend once described Cherry Ames as "The Nurse with ADD" since Cherry changes jobs with more frequency than a two-year-old throws tantrums. There are 27 books in the series, and several were recently reprinted. As with most any series, the last appearing books are the most valuable - in this case, Jungle Nurse and Ski Nurse can net $200 and up on eBay. The earliest books are the most common but are still well worth grouping into lots. Research what you find and plan your auctions accordingly.

Sue Barton, a spirited redhead, was created by Helen Dore Boylston. The series follows her career from student nurse through her marriage and the birth of her children. Some of her struggles with career and motherhood still ring true today. The Sue Bartons with full color dust jackets showing head and shoulders pictures of the heroine command the best prices. Individual copies often sell for $50 more, even in an ex-library state. Non ex-libs with dust jackets can go for well over $100. However, since she's not been reprinted, any Sue Barton book sells, even the paperback or British versions. (See the Cherry Ames website for more information.)

Helen Dore Boylston also wrote a four-book series based on an actress - Carol Page. Titles include Carol Goes Backstage, Carol Goes on Tour, Carol Plays Summer Stock and Carol Goes on Stage. These are one of my holy grails. I have never read one, let along owned one. They sell for a pretty penny, but were I to find them, I think I would add them to my personal collection. An interesting piece of kiddie lit trivia is that Helen Dore Boyston is reputed to have been the lover of Rose Wilder Lane, only child of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House Books (more on her in a future column). And there is a theory that Lane did more than edit her mother's books - she actually wrote them.

As I mentioned, most career books are single titles written by a variety of authors, though Betty Baxter Anderson wrote quite a few of them. It is not as important to memorize authors names in this sub-genre because they are more commonly collected by job description or publisher runs. CRN publishers attempted to cover as many careers as reasonably plausible. Keep an eye out for Dodd Mead's "Career Books" and J. Messner's "Career Romances for Young Moderns" - two of the more prolific publishers. Most collectors try to complete full runs by publisher, though some specialize in specific careers. Besides nurses, there seem to a large number of teacher and librarian novels out there.

As with the nurse books, always list the career in your title, and, if you have room for the phrase "career romance" or "career girl," include it also.

Once our career girl met Mr. Right, the wedding was the next event on the agenda. Actually, there are not very many wedding or marriage books, perhaps because these books were written for teenage girls whose imagination went no further than a misty veil and a handsome groom waiting at the altar.

There are, however a few to look for. Prices have dropped sharply since most have been recently reprinted, but ex-library copies still appeal to nostalgia buffs. Rosamund Du Jardin wrote two - Double Wedding and Wedding in the Family, both of which start with an engagement ring and end with tossing rice. Maud Hart Lovelace (another author who deserves an article) ended her very popular Betsy-Tacy series with Betsy's Wedding. Lenora Mattingly Weber married off Beany Malone in Something Borrowed, Something Blue. She then added one more to the series - Come Back Where Ever You Are, which detailed Beany's experiences as young wife and mother. It was one of the few books that dealt with married life. The only other one I can think of is Anne Emery's Married on Wednesday.

Most of the time you will only find ex-library copies of these books. Hardback with a dust jacket under mylar is most preferable, but library bindings with pictorial covers are also saleable. Since these are young adult novels, you may find them in a teen fiction group at library sales.

So, keep your eyes peeled for Brenda Becomes a Buyer, Jet Stewardess, Jinny Williams: Library Assistant or Sue Barton, Staff Nurse. Grab the covers showing a dewy eyed bride in a trailing white dress, and you'll be smiling right along with the wedding guests.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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