Last Christmas, I became obsessed with finding Jill Krementz’s A Very Young Dancer for Magnolia.
It’s an oldie, part of a series of oversize photography books that explored the lives of individual girls living out some universal girlhood fantasy (there were also very young gymnasts, riders, and skaters). The books were published in the 1970’s and are now out of print. Dancer follows the life of a little girl in New York City who is chosen to play the lead role in the Nutcracker one Christmas. Perfect for our own little ballerina.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered these books were published by Knopf (my employer), but out of print. Alas, no amount of treasure hunting around the office turned up even one copy of the series.
So I did what everyone else does these days and I Googled the book. And that’s when I made one of my favorite discoveries of the last year: Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves.
This blog, run by San Antonio mom Burgin Streetman, is an absolute find. Burgin haunts vintage shops, thrift stores, estate sales, library sales; really, anyplace there might be a used kid’s book. And the stuff she finds is gorgeous and wonderful.
I’m always looking for great books to read to the kids, so I took time to ask Burgin some questions about her inspirations and strategies.
Q: Your site is so inspiring! It sounds as if you’re constantly discovering forgotten classics. Where do you find these great books? Where would you advise a novice book-sleuth to start their search (and are there any places to avoid)?
A: We find our books everywhere. Used books shops, thrift stores, estate sales, yard sales, library sales, on-line. If you are a novice, my suggestion would be go everywhere. The times when you feel an impulse to avoid someplace, go there! Odds are, everyone else gets the same vibe when they pass, so you’ll be the only one brave enough to search. The trick too is, if you find a shop that you really like, go there, often. That’s how you make sure that if something great comes in, you’re the one who snags it.
Q: What is your philosophy on buying vintage books? Are you looking for specific titles, or is it a treasure hunt? Is there a price point you won’t go over?
A: It’s a treasure hunt, really. For the most part, I stumble across things, but if I’m really desperate, I’ll pay for something online. As far as price goes, I’m pretty thrifty. I’ve only paid premium for two books. $50 for Jim Flora’s The Day the Cow Sneezed (before it was reprinted) and $125 for the Charles Harper’s Golden Book of Biology.
Otherwise, I probably won’t pay more than $10 for something I really want.
Q: Your son is obviously a big reader (sounds like he’s already reading alone at five?). How often do you read to him?
A: When he was three and four, we probably read together three hours a day. Now that he’s in kindergarten, we read maybe 30 minutes a day of picture books, and about an hour a night of longer chapter books. My biggest piece of advice to parents who want to raise children who love books aside from reading to them, of course, is audio books. I can’t sing their praises enough. My son started listening to books like Charlotte’s Web when he was around three, and eight million hours of audio later, he loves it. More than TV even. He listens to audio books almost constantly when we are home. While he’s playing and coloring. Children can listen to them anywhere and everywhere, road trip, alone in their room, and in the end, they’ll end up with gigantic vocabularies.
Q: We all have books we remember from our childhood, but as a parent I am always amazed at the wonderful books I discover that I never knew about (I Am a Bunny and Harold and the Purple Crayon both come to mind).
What are some of your favorite discoveries (or re-discoveries) you’ve made with your son?
A: Mercer Mayer, for sure. I loved Mercer Mayer when I was growing up, but I probably only ever owned one or two of the Little Critter books. The rest I would check out from the library. Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp was a book I saw once in a book store when I was four or five years old, and I remembered it passionately for years. I didn’t remember the name or the author, just a general idea of the story and pictures. About ten years ago when book searches became so easy on the internet, I tracked it down and fell in love all over again.
Q: Our six-year-old has just started asking to be read chapter books. Do you have any suggestions of books worth seeking out for this transitional stage (beyond Roald Dahl)? Any unsung (vintage) heroes in the adventure story/fantasy genre (beyond Narnia)?
A: You know, I wish there were more. My son really loves the fantasy genre like Harry Potter, Narnia and Percy Jackson, but I often find so many fantasy books of old were not written with children in mind so you really have to dig. He loves Peter Pan, Treasure Island, E.B. White’s books, and L. Frank Baum has lots of books (other than The Wizard of Oz) that he loves like The Magical Monarch of Mo. He is starting to get into Lloyd Alexander’s five-part series The Chronicles of Prydain. The Phantom Tollbooth. My Father’s Dragon.
Q: What are your three favorite picture books and why?
A: Just three, really?
William Steig’s Rotten Island… I’ve read this books to so many boys that I’ve lost count and every single of of them gets their mind blown when they read it. Steig had such a wonderful, off-kilter and somewhat dark imagination, but always with a spark of uplift and hope at the end. His books never get boring to me. EVER.
Mercer Mayer’s One Monster After Another… Mercer’s pictures are so fun to look at and his words so silly to read, my son adores this book, as do I. It’s a weekly read, but honestly, we could read it everyday and my son would never stop asking for it.
Tomi Ungerer’s Zeralda’s Ogre… Any book by Ungerer is gold in my mind. My son loves them. I love them. Dark and magical. And awesome.
Thanks, Burgin! Check out her blog for inspiration for your kiddos.
Just reading her blog brought back a few of my own childhood favorites:
Big Sister and Little Sister is one that my mom read to Katie and me when we were kids. Big Sister is (what some would say) typical: always instructing Little Sister what to do and how to do it. Little Sister has to show Big Sister that she can take care of herself before they can both take care of each other “because Little Sister had learned from Big Sister, and now they both knew how.” Just thinking of it makes me want to call my little sis.
The Three Little Horses by Piet Worm is a book my godmother gave to me when I was probably about seven. The three little horses of the title decide to take a break from horsey pursuits and visit the local town beneath the field where they play. They dress up as princesses and pass among the people. It’s a sweet book with gorgeous illustrations and it has recently been reissued. I bought it for Magnolia; she loves it as much as I did.
The Children’s Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit and illustrated by Rolf Klep. The inscription is to “Sarah Marie” (my mom) from “Mother and Daddy 1960.” And it has my mom’s childhood address in it, which makes it that much more special to me. About the book: it’s a gorgeous hardcover (published by Random House!) that essentially breaks down twelve of Shakespeare’s greatest to kid-friendly prose. I blame this book for my college, and later my graduate-school interest in Shakespeare. Worth seeking out, and in print.