Currently Obsessed with…Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves

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.

Happy hunting!

9 Responses to “Currently Obsessed with…Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves”

  1. 1 Read Aloud Dad March 31, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    Loved this interview!!

    Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves is a superb web site and so unique – perfect for every parent.

    Read Aloud Dad

  2. 2 Jill Casey April 1, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Burgin’s blog is a wonderful resource for parents. I followed Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves and was inspired to start my own blog. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of reading to your children. Not only will it help them immensely in school, but it will develop the love of reading that will continue their whole life. I have four grown children and we spent many hours reading together when they were young.

  3. 3 Jennifer April 1, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Love this post! In particular, the pictures on that biology book are all so bizarrely familiar to me, in that strange way that important images from our childhoods are emblazoned on our brains… here’s a post on children’s book art from my own site!

  4. 4 Sarah Gillespie April 1, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    What a wonderful post!!!!
    I absolutely remember your favorite childhood books. I had forgotten you had the Childrens’ Shakespeare book.
    Jasper and Magnolia are so lucky to have such a “bbok worm” mommy.

  5. 5 janet gillespie April 1, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Is it not amazing how a “childhood” book leaves a lasting impression on our adult spirits !!! For me, it was the Uncle Wiggly series..I begged my Father to read a chapter every night! Grampie/Dad was a wonderful reader, fabulous voice that turned even a dull tale into an exciting fantasy of the mind.

    He was especially gifted with ryhmning books …and so, I raised my children on many many in that genre…the love of reading , and reading out loud, has passed though our family…

    I highly recommend ANY of Bill Peete’s books…
    the illustrations are fun, the text is a wonderful rhyme, and there is always a MORAL to the story….a small lesson to be learned…try The Caboose WHo GOt Loose…Jasper will love it for the trains! if nothing else! you will love it for the cadance of the text.. not sure if they are VINTAGE as yet..but definetly a great read!

    Love to you and your family ! The “Godmother”
    ( I am thrilled that Magnolia loves the 3 horses too! …and yes, i will buy her her first pony! )XXOO Auntie Janet

    • 6 Chrissy April 2, 2011 at 7:48 am

      @Auntie J: I left out James & the Giant Peach- still have the beautiful hardcover you gave me – recently read it to the kids who loved it as much as I did. I realized when I was writing this that you gave me some of my all-time favorite books as a kid!
      I always remember Grampie reading Richard Scarry to Katie and I- he was a great reader. Dad gave us Smoky the Cow Pony which has been fun.

  6. 7 Elizabeth April 1, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    I love these books! Thanks for the super informative interview, and vintage book pics.

  7. 8 Rebecca April 2, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    I, too, went on the hunt for A Very Young dancer 3 years ago as it was a favorite of mine. Sure enough, I found two affordable copies, and bought one for my daughter Sophia and one for her friend Hennie. This is a book we turn to time and time again, and are so happy to have in our bookcase. I’m now enjoying Little House In The Big Woods with my 6 year old daughter Sabine, and recently bought The Saturdays for my 8 year old and will get The Four Story Mistake next. And now I have to find Nantucket Summer!

    Thanks for this great tip!


    • 9 Chrissy April 2, 2011 at 10:09 pm

      @Rebecca: I loved The Four Story Mistake! And am also trying to read Little House in the Big Woods to Jas & Nola. Will look up The Saturdays and Nantucket Summer. Thanks for the tips!

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