Six Hundred (almost) Children's Books from Aleph-Bet
Children's Books from Aleph-Bet.
By Michael Stillman
Here come some of the great literary classics, like The Podgy Puppy and Old Dame Trot and Her Pig. Okay, this is not a typical catalogue of great literature. What we have is a collection of children's books, and this is one of the best we have seen. Aleph-Bet Books of Pound Ridge, New York, offers a catalogue of Children's Books and Illustrated Books, containing almost 600 items which will bring you back to your childhood (or perhaps your grandparents' childhood as some of these are quite old).
There is something magical about a children's book catalogue. As you read through the pages, you will be surprised by how many of these books you remember. Some are well known, but there are others that you probably haven't thought about in a long time. The memories will return. Each book in the catalogue includes an illustration, and I was surprised how often I recognized the cover as well as the title, though I had not seen some of these books in a very long time. It is easy to understand why adults collect children's books after the trip down memory lane inspired by this catalogue. We highly recommend it for the child in you. Here are a few samples.
Young Peter sure knew how to get in trouble, despite his mother's best advice. He undoubtedly would have been described as a "wascally wabbit" by Mr. McGregor had the latter shared Elmer Fudd's speech impediment. Of course Peter's disrespect for the McGregors' private property is a bit more understandable when you recall that the McGregors murdered his father and then baked him in a pie. No wonder he held a grudge. Item 452 is one of the all-time children's classics, a first trade edition of Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit, from 1902. This copy is evidently the first printing of the first edition. Priced at $16,500.
Here is a book from one of the greatest of children's book writers: Curiosa Mathematica Part I A New Theory of Parallels. What, this doesn't sound like much of a kids' book? Isn't Charles Lutwidge Dodgson one of your favorite children's writers? Well, for the uninitiated, mild-mannered math professor Charles Lutwidge Dodgson is better remembered by his penname, Lewis Carroll. Under that name, he wrote his famous stories about Alice and her visit to Wonderland. However, he also wrote a few mathematical texts, and this is one of them. This copy is inscribed by Dodgson to his sister, Henrietta Dodgson. However, as he did when signing Carroll's works, he signs his name as "the author" (though he identifies the author as "her affectionate brother." Item 116. $12,500.
Here is a children's book that makes Curiosa Mathematica exciting: Fun with Dick and Jane. There was never any fun with Dick and Jane. These vacuous, tiresome pre-teens taught a generation to hate reading with their excruciatingly boring stories. "Run, Spot, Run." Really makes you want to read more. Item 190 is a special version of this book, a Teacher's Edition from 1940. What on earth was so complicated in a Dick and Jane book that it had to be spelled out for teachers? Were Dick and Jane too sophisticated for my teachers to understand without a guide? No wonder I turned out so dumb. This book will bring back other fond memories from your youth, like getting your teeth drilled without novocain. Item 190. $300.
Six Hundred (almost) Children's Books from Aleph-Bet
Popeye takes on the savage white people.
Dick and Jane led to a revolution in reading. The Thomas Jefferson of this revolution was Dr. Seuss. He figured you could better teach children to read by making the books fun. In 1957 he published the classic The Cat in the Hat, labeled "for beginning readers." Seuss wrote using the minimal vocabulary the young would be able to read while making the story fun, that is, making the children want to read it. Within a few years, the Cat and his progeny would bury the insipid Dick and Jane and Spot too. They are not missed. Item 504 is a first edition of the "Cat." $8,500.
Here is another book for beginning readers, I Wish that I had Duck Feet, by Theo LeSieg. LeSieg? Who is this Frenchman? It's a trick. Do you see? Dr. Seuss' actual name was not Dr. Seuss. It was Theodore Geisel. Geisel. LeSieg. Now you get it. Theo LeSieg was really Dr. Seuss, who was really Theodore Geisel. And to think, all of this happened on Mulberry Street. Item 507. $1,500.
There is one aspect to children's books that is not so much fun, and yet it is a stark and realistic look at attitudes of the day. That is how minorities, and Blacks in particular, are portrayed. Some books are downright ugly. There is the 10 Little Negroes, a book with its title cleaned up, but with the pejorative still used throughout the text. This 1944 edition uses the ugliest of stereotypical drawings to portray the Black family. If you think this is strictly an American issue, be notified this book was published in London. Item 88. $500. Other versions of this tale don't even bother to cleanse the "N" word in their titles. A 1950 edition uses the "N" word in the title, yet it surprisingly uses normal, positive drawings to depict the black children, rather than ugly stereotypes. Item 90. $225.
Then there is the most notable of all, Helen Bannerman's Little Black Sambo. Bannerman lived in India, and Sambo was something of a clever child, not a negative characterization. Still, racial stereotypes infiltrate these books, creating an unhelpful image Ms. Bannerman probably never intended. Even Babar (no, not Babar!), the beloved French elephant engaged in some racial stereotyping in his Pique-Nique Chez Babar. Well, let's blame author Laurent de Brunhoff for that, not Babar. Finally, there are titles like Langston Hughes' The First Book of Negroes, or Emma Akin's A Booker T. Washington School, which attempted to help black children develop a positive self-image in a world throwing negative stereotypes their way.
Here is a surprising about-face from the usual stereotype. Blacks and Indians have long been portrayed as "savages" in western books. So give Popeye credit for balance in his 1934 book, Popeye Among the White Savages. Perhaps this isn't fair either, though in 1934, some of the worst savages ever known to man were coming to power in the white continent of Europe. Go get 'em, Popeye! Sadly, we must report that Popeye passed away recently from e coli poisoning. Item 437. $900.
Aleph-Bet Books may be found online at www.alephbet.com, phone number 914-764-7410.