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Never Buy Book Club Editions
Buying and Selling Children's Books

by Guusje Moore

#91, 2 April 2007

"Don't buy book club editions" is one of the first commandments of bookselling. I'm not sure if comes before or after "Don't buy Readers Digest Condensed Books," but certainly it's right up there with "only Craig collects microwave cookbooks!"

When it comes to Kid Lit, however, there are some book club editions that are worth picking up. The good news about children's BCEs is that they are easy to find, making frequent appearances at garage sales, FOL sales, and thrift stores. The bad news is that many Kid Lit BCEs are made with inferior materials and rarely issued with dust jackets - and therefore are especially vulnerable to wear. It's not uncommon to encounter severely damaged bindings and text blocks with detached pages.

The two major players in this field are Parents' Magazine Press and the Weekly Reader Club. Both operated clubs for various age levels, so both published picture books and chapter books. Occasionally, non-fiction titles were produced, but as a rule these are worthless. Both of these clubs were active in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s; however, Scholastic Books now dominates the market. Parents' Magazine and Weekly Reader books are typically hardback, while Scholastic books are usually (but not always) paperback. In addition to these, Dell Yearling books, though not sold through the schools or by mail, were among the first to be published in affordable paperback editions for the home market.

Not so long ago, before the Internet, Barnes & Noble, and school book fairs, children's books were harder to come by, and, for many of us baby boomers, book club book editions were the only thing we owned. Consequently, some of these books have a nostalgic appeal that can make baby boomers' eyes mist over and convince them to dig deep into their wallets.

Another reason for the popularity (and salability) of some of these titles is that they have been incorporated into home school curricula or embedded into many a teacher's lesson plans. Now that most are out of print, eBay and used book venues are the only venues where they can be found. Also, a surprising number of well-known Kid Lit authors got their start via Parents' Magazine Press. Marc Brown, who went on write the widely popular Arthur series, and Frank Asch, who wrote the Moon Bear books, are but two examples. Collectors looking for a full run will buy book club editions because these may be the only copies available.

An aside: Purple House Press is reprinting many of these titles. Each time they do, the price of the respective used copy plunges. Upcoming titles are announced on their website, so if you're holding one that they plan to reissue, get it listed ASAP! I'm delighted the books are going to be available to another generation of children, but it does severely impact my bottom line.

Wende and Harry Devlin wrote the Cranberry Series for Parents' Magazine. There is a Cranberry book for almost every major holiday; Cranberry Thanksgiving is the most common. They also penned Old Black Witch (recall that almost any witch book is worth picking up). Sell them alone or as a lot. They are better suited for eBay than Amazon, as are most Kid Lit nostalgia books.

Also published by Parents' Magazine Press - Miriam Young's Jellybeans for Breakfast. This is a very small, skinny picture book, easy to overlook but very, very desirable. Take a look at prices in various eBay stores. I sold a copy in February for $86, and it was not in the best of shape. Young was a prolific author, but only one other of her books, Prance, a story about a carousel horse, has attained cult status. Remember, horses are another Kid Lit flashpoint! Miss Suzy, a tale of an adventurous squirrel, is available from Purple House Press. The other Miss Suzy books would be worth listing as lots should you find them cheaply on bag day.

When listing an animal book, be sure to include the animal name (e.g. squirrels) in your title. Many people collect a certain animal or breed of animal - Scottie dogs are very popular. This will make it much easier for them to your book in keyword searches.

Eleanor Cameron is a fantasy author, best known for the Mushroom Planet series. Scholastic published some of her books in paperback back in the 1960s and 1970s. Buy any Eleanor Cameron that comes your way, paperback, hardback, ex-library copy or book club edition. Purple House Press has reprinted some of these, but they are still worth grabbing.

Scholastic issued many of Ruth Chew's books in paperback. Chew wrote fantasy, magic, and witch books, and, though single copies may not net you much, grouping several of her books can be profitable. One advantage to shopping garage sales over thrift or FOL stores is that you'll tend find a run of an author's books all in one place - an instant lot! In this case, the sum is often greater than the individual parts.

Jane Trahey, who later became an advertising executive, wrote Life with Mother Superior about her experiences in a convent boarding school. You may recall the film based on it - The Trouble with Angels, staring Hayley Mills. Life with Mother Superior was then reissued as a paperback with the same title as the film. The paperback title is the more common, so if you list the hardback, be sure to list both titles in your description. It is long out of print and very sought after. Don't bother with the video; it's available on DVD. And unless you aspire to be a penny book seller, don't confuse Trahey's book with the identically titled one by adult romance writer Debbie Macomber.

By the way, children's fiction featuring nuns and convent schools is a sure seller. However, they must be pre-Vatican II nuns in full, flowing habits. No modern nuns in short skirts will do for nostalgia readers!

Speaking of nuns, another series of books with a strong Catholic theme is the Karen books by Marie Killilea. Karen and With Love from Karen were both based on her daughter's battle with cerebral palsy. They are quite common but are still good "bread and butter" books, especially in hardback. Wren, a book she wrote for children about her daughter, is quite hard to find, and even the paperback will net you $25. Also, the family owned Newfoundland dogs, and out of this came Newf, another hard-to-fin children's picture book that appeals to Karen fans and to dog people. eBay should also be the venue of choice for Karen books.

John D. Fitzgerald's Great Brain books have recently been reprinted, but he's another author who does very well in lots, even in the old Dell Yearling paperback editions. He also wrote some semi-autobiographical adult books (Papa Married a Mormon) that will net you $20 to $40 on Amazon or eBay.

"Ballet" is a major flashpoint in Kid-Litland, and one of the most sought after series is the Susie books by Lee Wyndham. Susie and the Ballet Horse is the last of these (not the double flashpoints of "horse" and "ballet") and should be listed alone; list the others (Susie and the Ballet Family; On Your Toes, Susie; A Dance for Susie; Susie and the Dancing Cats) in lots if paperbacks and individually if hardbacks. Wyndham (a pseudonym for Jane Andrews) also contributed to the Career Romance for Young Moderns series. She was a very prolific author. Some of her books are worthless - Bonnie, a story about a candy striper, is basically a penny book; on the other hand, Lady Architect is a good 50/50 candidate.

Jean McDevitt's Mr. Apple's Family is a funny little book club quality book with a strong following, possibly because it's illustrated by Ninon, who is collectible in her own right, or that it's simply a cute story. I found the $60 that it added to my PayPal account the cutest thing of all! Ninon's style is similar to Tasha Tudor's - and very distinctive. An advanced search on eBay in the books category will bring up some examples of her work.

I've mentioned the Mousekin books by Edna Miller in previous columns - and "mouse" is another Kid Lit flashpoint. Mousekin's Golden House (look for a pumpkin on the cover) is the hardest to find and commands the best prices. Scholastic published many of this series in paperback, and a lot of 5 or 6 Mousekins will easily go for $30 or $40.

If you have small children, you are probably all too familiar with Thomas the Tank Engine, the big-eyed anthropomorphic locomotive. This series originated in England. Earlier volumes published by Egmont Children's Books or Edmund Ward start at $100 and go up. Don't bother with the eighty zillion American spin-offs and versions unless you like to sell lots.

I often stumble across British editions of books at thrift stores. UK or Canadian Harry Potter books also sell very well in lots - often in the $40 to $50 range. Not too shabby for paperbacks that are in still in print. Do emphasize that you are stateside and can offer US shipping, and for heaven's sake don't gouge anyone. Folks who buy lots are often well aware of the Media Mail shipping costs.

In fact, any children's book published in England and found in the US is a good speculative buy because there's often something special books that someone took the trouble to transport across the pond. Many adult readers of Kid Lit are avid anglophiles.

Elizabeth Goudge (don't confuse her with Eileen Goudge, who is a Danielle Steele clone) wrote numerous adult books, some of which are very collectible and some of which - Green Dolphin Street - are as common as dirt. Scholastic published one of her best known children's books, The Little White Horse in paperback. Rumor has it that this title is about to be made into a movie. There seems to be a sudden resurgence of turning classic children's books into movies lately, which always drives up the price of corresponding books. Boxed paperback sets of C.S. Lewis novels are another sure seller.

Returning to horses, don't forget C.W. Anderson. Scholastic issued many of his books in paperback. If you find a stack, once again group into a lot and you'll be $20 or $30 or $40 richer. Marguerite Henry's horse books were (and still are) issued in paperback, and she's another one who sells well in lots.

Dell Yearling reprinted many of Lois Lenski's regional books. At one time these sold well individually, but now they are best sent to Lotville. The same is true for Catherine Woolley's Cathy books and Ginny books; these carry the Scholastic imprint.

ScoutPal or a similar field lookup can be a valuable tool for checking Parents' Magazine and Weekly Reader books. There are many, many worthless titles floating around, but search the stacks and piles anyway because you will often stumble across a few gems that make it worthwhile. I found my copy of Jelly Beans for Breakfast at a charity thrift shop. Normally, I would have passed it by since it was a book club edition, and I also knew that her Miss Suzy book wasn't worth much. But I'd found a copy of Prance at a library sale a few days prior, so I pulled out my cell phone and dialed up ScoutPal. When I punched in the Library of Congress number, my jaw dropped. Since many of these books are pre-ISBN and none have barcodes, this is yet another instance when a knowledgeable seller can outperform scanners. Whatever tool you use, it should have the capability of accessing pricing information by Library of Congress numbers.

None of the books I've mentioned are signed firsts, and many will cost you only a buck or less. Given the potential return on this modest investment, however, it's well worth committing a few titles and authors to memory and rifling through the relics of someone's childhood at this summer's garage sales.

Questions or comments?
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