Children's Books from Aleph-Bet Books
Books for the children from Aleph-Bet.
By Michael Stillman
Aleph-Bet Books has issued a new catalogue of Children's Books and Illustrated Books. This is their 92nd catalogue and it follows their familiar format - 600 books with both clear descriptions and a color photograph of each one. These are books filled with fantasy, though the messages they impart are often very real. The values, and sadly, the prejudices of their times are revealed in the lessons past generations taught their children. Future collectors will undoubtedly say the same about the books we use to teach our children today. There is much to be learned from these books, even if technically they fall under the heading of "fiction." Here are some of the books Aleph-Bet has for us this month.
Ethnic prejudice was a staple of many early children's books. Blacks were the most frequent victims, with cruel, stereotypical portrayals which made even "Sambo" seem positive. Copies of the Ten Little N....'s abound, including editions in German and French. There are also anti-Semitic books. Some, not surprisingly, come from Nazi Germany, where stereotypes are even worse than degrading. Yet, here we find one from England, an ugly version of The Story of Mother Goose, by Frank Adams, published in 1920. Seems that in Adams' version of Mother Goose, Jack attempts to sell the golden egg laid by his goose to a Jew who beats Jack up and steals it. Item 59. Priced at $300.
A much more peaceful message can be inferred from item 372, The Story of Ferdinand. This 1936 classic by Munroe Leaf tells the story of Ferdinand the Bull, who would rather smell the flowers than participate in a bullfight. Coming on the eve of the Spanish civil war, and the much larger conflagration lying in wait behind it, it was regarded by many as some sort of subversive, pacifist plot. It was banned in Spain and Germany, though it seems that Leaf was more attempting to write a nice story for children than create a political uproar. Unfortunately, there was little use for Ferdinand's role model among those nations and Ferdinand was not able to prevent war, though he tried his best. $8,500.
Now for some children's verse that is far less controversial. If there is some hidden message in the famous Purple Cow poem, it remains hidden to me. Nevertheless, generations of children have been amused by this four-line stanza, thankful they are not themselves such a beast. Item 145 is The Purple Cow, the first book of nonsense rhymes created by Gelett Burgess, including, naturally, the title poem. $475.
Item 214 is a picture book with a different take on Robinson Crusoe. In Clifton Bingham's circa 1900 version, Jumbo Crusoe, Robinson is depicted as an elephant, and Friday as a bear. There is a brand of peanuts known as "Robinson Crusoe Virginia Peanuts" which Jumbo Crusoe undoubtedly would have appreciated. $1,500.
Children's Books from Aleph-Bet Books
Buster Brown's toothy sidekick Tige.
Edith Nesbit employed some similar imaginative drawings in her Voyage of Columbus Discovery of America, published in 1892. Rather than employing animals, she portrayed Columbus, his men, and the Indians who met them, as children. One can only wonder had her vision been true, would we have a more peaceable world or would America have devolved into the Lord of the Flies? Item 428. $1,500.
Do you remember who lived in Buster Brown's shoes, besides Buster himself? Here is his story. Buster Brown was one of the first comic strips, created by the originator of modern comic strips, Richard Outcault, also creator of the first strip, The Yellow Kid. Buster Brown had the appearance of a proper young man, dressed in his Little Lord Fautleroy outfit. Nevertheless, he was always getting into mischief, being punished, only to get into trouble again. Brown also had a unique cohort, a dog named "Tige," who spoke to him, but not to adults. It was a very popular strip, but faded out after a couple of decades. However, Buster Brown and Tige were adopted by the Brown Shoe Company as their symbol. The comic has been gone for almost a century, but Brown and Tige live on as the shoe brand's symbol. Item 441 is Outcault's Tige: His Story, published in 1905. $200.
Aleph-Bet Books may be reached at 914-764-7410 or Helen@alephbet.com. Their website is found at www.alephbet.com.
You will find many of Aleph-Bet's books listed in "Books For Sale" on this site. Click here.