Back to Childhood with Aleph-Bet Books
A Dr. Seuss "nude" on the cover of Aleph-Bet's Catalogue 80.
By Michael Stillman
It's time for a trip down memory lane with the latest catalogue from Aleph-Bet Books, number 84. Titled Children's Books and Illustrated Books, it is filled with stories and characters you will remember from days when life seemed simpler and happier. Of course it wasn't, it just seems that way, but Aleph-Bet has the books to bring us back to our imagined, mythical youth. So open up your imagination and take a look back at the world of yesterday. Do you remember...?
We remember L. Frank Baum for his "Oz" books, but Baum was a prolific writer with much more to his credit. Item 54 is Baum's 1903 book The Enchanted Island of Yew. This copy contains a full-page inscription to one Katherine Elizabeth Hubbard, a young girl whose aunt evidently requested the inscription. Writes Baum, "It's all about a Fairy Prince and the High Ki of Twi, and I am sure it is just as true as any fairy tale you have ever read." Priced at $12,500.
Item 63 is Prince Mudturtle, a 1906 book by Laura Bancroft. A little digging will reveal that Ms. Bancroft is none other than the aforementioned Frank Baum. Laura Bancroft was just one of several pseudonyms he used, along with his own name. This title is the first in the Bancroft/Baum "Twinkle Tales" series. $875. Five other Baum books under the Bancroft name are also offered.
Items 55 and 56 are a pair of Baum alphabet books, published in 1900, the same year the "Wizard of Oz" was first printed. The first is The Army Alphabet. $2,500. The second is The Navy Alphabet. $2,750. These books teach children their ABCs using rhymes based on the military services.
There are many more alphabet books offered. Item 2 is Our Auto ABC. Only wealthier children could have personally related to this work. It was published in 1912, when few people yet owned automobiles. The drawings display vintage-looking cars, ones that still looked more like horseless carriages than what we think of as autos today. $300.
Racial stereotypes were often featured in early children's books. Item 5 is ABC in Dixie. A Plantation Alphabet. Stereotypical characters and dialect rhymes are featured in this circa 1900 book. Item 5. $4,000. However, at least the illustrations are not such offensive black stereotypes as those found in My Honey ABC, another work from around the turn of the century. Not surprisingly, in this book "W" stands for watermelon. Item 7. $1,200.
If this will make Americans feel a little better, Australians were not above such stereotyping either. Item 44 is a 1919 Melbourne contribution, Mia Mia Mites by Muriel Pornett. It is the story of two aborigine children named "Fuzzy Head" and "Woolly Top." No more need be said. $400.
Back to Childhood with Aleph-Bet Books
L. Frank Baum's Army and Navy Alphabets.
Here is one that takes offensiveness international. The book is Our Little Philippine Kiddies, part of the "Kids of Many Colors" series by Grace Duffie Boylan. These 1901 Philippine children look remarkably like grotesque American Black characterizations. This book doesn't limit itself to Philippine children, but also takes on American Blacks, pygmies, Arabs, Mexicans, and Indians. It's doubtful that Ms. Boylan meant any harm, but she sure could have used some sensitivity training. Item 90. $300. Incidentally, the 2000 film "A Rumor of Angels" is based on a later and very different Boylan book where she speaks of receiving messages from the great beyond after her son died in the First World War.
Here is a unique item. It is a nude drawing by none other than Dr. Seuss! Okay, I've made it sound a bit more risqué than it is. It is Seuss' drawing of Teenie Godiva looking a gift horse in the mouth. This illustration, in reduced form, was used in his book The Seven Lady Godivas from 1937. It is typical Seuss and this "Teenie" Godiva is quite overweight and will appeal to no one's prurient interests. Item 481. $50,000. Also offered is a series of Seuss drawings for This is Ann, the story of a mosquito published to humorously warn servicemen in World War II of the dangers of mosquitoes and malaria. Most feature the quite evil-looking Ann.
Here is an unusual item by "Flight Lieutenant Roald Dahl." The title is The Gremlins, and it tells of these creatures that plague pilots, of which Dahl was one (with the RAF). Although Dahl was British, the book was first published in 1943 in the U.S. by Disney. It was meant to accompany an animated film that was never made. Item 165. $3,850.
Speaking of Disney, here is a Disney book inscribed by Walt himself. It is the 1956 work Our Friend the Atom. It was written by Heinz Haber, a German astrophysicist who intelligently switched sides after the War. He received his training working on decidedly unfriendly uses for the friendly atom. Item 186. $4,750.
There are many more entertaining and collectible books within this wonderful catalogue. You may reach Aleph-Bet Books through their website, www.alephbet.com or at 914-764-7410.