Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #3: Mapping the Months

December and January are common months in which to buy a new calendar or to receive one as a gift. I’ve saved several collectible calendars that were given to me over the years, including those bearing wonderful illustrations or photos from Norman Rockwell, Dick and Jane readers, and one of my favorite television shows of all time, Castle. While digging through the sale bin at a bookstore, in 1998, I found an excellent calendar marked 50% off, probably because we were already well into spring, even by Michigan standards. Why would I buy a calendar that late in the year? Besides the price being great, this calendar pictured a style of book that I’d already been collecting for years…the Dell map back!

map backs mine

Map backs (or mapbacks) were published by Dell, beginning around 1943. These paperbacks are often mysteries,  are numbered (over 500), and feature a map on the back that depicts a setting from the book. The three above are several favorites from my own collection. I love the cover of The Circular Staircase and the fact that it carries the price of 25 cents! Death of a Tall Man appeals to me due to the cat and because I’ve enjoyed many episodes of those campy Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries on TV. The middle book shows the map on the back of Through a Glass, Darkly, by Helen McCloy. This is a good example of how the maps sometimes show a small area, like a neighborhood or building, while others picture a larger geographic area, like a city or even country.

I’ve been collecting map backs for decades. My sister first introduced me to these often smelly old mysteries that wear such fun art work, front and back, although it can be a bit lurid, at times. As mentioned in a previous post, I had to part with many of my books when I moved from Michigan to Texas a few years ago. I kept my collection of about 50 map backs, however, and still search for additions to it whenever I visit a used bookstore or antique/collectibles shop. They’re usually quite inexpensive, and their conditions vary, of course. Until the day that I came across this map back calendar, I had never known that such a thing existed. What excitement!

calendar front resized

Each month features the cover of a different book with a smaller inset photo of the map from the back. The map grid page then carries some interesting phrases, such as, “Wouldn’t you like to know what the window cleaner really saw?” from this Hercule Poirot mystery by Agatha Christie.

calendar example 1 001 resized

Another favorite month shows this book, below, by C.W. Grafton. That writer was also a lawyer and father of the late Sue Grafton, author of the wonderful “alphabet mysteries” written about the fictional detective, Kinsey Millhone.

calendar example 2 001 resized

 

 

 

 

 

This last photo shows snapshots of all the months and is taken from the back of the calendar, which was published that year by Universe Publishing and distributed in the U.S. by St. Martins Press. I’ve never seen another one like it, have you? I’d love to read your comments, if you also own some of these books and enjoy “everything map back”!          ~Becky

calendar back 001 resized

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #2

dick and jane

If you learned to read at school in the U.S., sometime from the 1940’s to the 1960’s, there’s a good chance that you learned with the help of Dick and Jane, their little sister, Sally, and the pets, Puff and Spot. By today’s standards of instructional materials for reading, this basal series was quite dry and some might say boring. I loved those books in my first years of school, mainly because…I WAS READING!

Dick and Jane pages

Fast forward many decades, when I trained to become a teacher and landed my first elementary position in Michigan. Although we still used a basal series in fourth grade, that year, it was packed with “real literature” and was supplemented with sets of award-winning chapter books, in addition. By the time I served as a Chapter I reading teacher in North Carolina and later taught kindergarten back in Michigan, sets of charming leveled books (like “Mrs. Wishy-Washy“) had replaced all basals. Reading instruction methods, assessment, and progress tracking had been fine-tuned, as well.

During my years of teaching and even after I retired, collecting vintage children’s readers was a hobby that I enjoyed immensely. Many of those 30+ books were the Dick and Jane variety, while some featured other children, pets, and retold folk literature. I had a few favorites, like the cover that’s pictured above, which I can actually remember from childhood. I had read an article, once, that revealed the Dick and Jane characters originally were a part of other collections before they appeared in their “own series”. These early books were known to be quite the collectors’ items and sometimes brought hundreds of dollars. I stored this information in the back of my mind, but didn’t really remember the details.

One day, as fate would have it, I was looking through shelves of used books in a little shop near St. Louis, Michigan. I picked up an old school reader that was in pretty rough shape. My heart started beating a little faster, since the Elson-Gray name on the scarred cover rang a bell. I leafed through the book, being careful not to tear the somewhat brittle pages any more than they already were…Billy and Nancy, Alice and Ned, DICK AND JANE!!!

pages inside oldest Dick and Jane

I tried not to be too overjoyed, since I couldn’t tell if the price penciled near the front of the book said $2.00 or $200. Yes, I really wanted that 1936 edition, but it wasn’t in great shape, and I’ve never spent that much money on a book in my life. Holding my breath, I walked up to the counter. Luck was with me that day, and I still have the receipt for $2.12, with tax.

When I moved from Michigan to Texas a few years ago, I was forced to dramatically cut back on the books that I would pay to ship, since I had collected many different types, over the years. As an end result, I saved just five of my children’s readers, including three regular Dick and Jane books and this very special precursor of what they would later become. I’ll treasure it forever, along with the memory of that day.

oldest Dick and Jane

I’d love to hear from you in comments if you learned to read with Dick and Jane, or if you would just like to share a memory about learning to read!

 

 

Don Freeman: the Winding Path to Children’s Bookshelves

Come One Come All Don Freeman cropped copty

I recently wrote about my “fantastic find” at a bookstore of a signed copy of Hattie the Backstage Bat by children’s author, Don Freeman, which also sports an original illustration! This made me curious to find out more about the person, himself. I learned that he had written an autobiography as a young man before he and his wife had become published in the world of children’s literature.

The book, Come One, Come All, tells about his somewhat unusual childhood in California and his very early dreams about moving to New York and becoming an artist. It recounts his later struggles in New York, during the Depression, first supporting himself by playing the cornet in dance bands. We follow Mr. Freeman as he finally squirrels away enough savings to take painting classes with the inspirational artist, John Sloan.

Eventually, Don Freeman seems to find his artistic niche behind the scenes in the world of the theater. Some of his articles and illustrations were published in newspapers such as the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Times, and PM, in addition to making appearances in publications such as Stage and Theater Magazine.

Readers interested in the heady atmosphere of New York leading into the early 1950’s will find this to be a very interesting window into that period. The book ends happily with Don and Lydia, a young woman he had met earlier in California, getting married. We say goodbye to them as they are both experiencing their first tastes of professional success. What really grabs me about this well-written and charmingly illustrated book is that they had no inkling at the time how successful and admired they would later become in the realm of children’s literature.

This 244-page book was not a simple one to find! A few copies were available through Amazon or eBay for hundreds of dollars, each. That wasn’t going to happen, as much as I wanted to read it. Hurrah for WorldCat, the inter-library option, and I did find the book listed there!

The copy that I borrowed was through a university’s library and has been rebound, so no longer wears the interesting, illustrated cover shown above. No matter, since this copy DOES have something else that I find to be so intriguing. Tucked into the back is what I imagine to be the original card! This chronicles check-out dates in the 50’s through 60’s and being “mended” in the early 70’s. The borrowers’ names have been blacked-out, as shown, below. I love those old library cards and treasure a few used books in my personal collection that contain these. Digital means of book management are efficient, but sometimes I feel sad that we’ve lost a certain sense of history in the transition.

library card 2 001

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #1

hattie

Many of us are in agreement that we love bookstores. My favorite establishments are those that also offer used books and assorted vintage goodies, such as magazines, music and other miscellany. Although not widely traveled, I have wonderful memories of great bookshops spread from Duluth, MN, to Williamsburg, VA, with many in Michigan and Canada sandwiched in between.

As you can well imagine, I’ve made memorable “finds” in those visits. These items tend to fall into two groups: something specific I was looking for, or a totally unexpected piece. The coup that I will relate today definitely falls into the “unexpected” category.

Prior to my recent move to Texas, I had also lived and worked in this state for some years when my children were young. Before heading back to my home state of Michigan, I began studies toward earning elementary education certification and fulfilling my quest to become a teacher. Denton, Texas, being the home of two universities, is a logical place for a used bookstore, of course. Recycled Books, Records, & CD’s , at the time I lived there, was already bursting its seams at a small location, and is today housed in a larger spot within a former opera house in the picturesque town square.

That day, I had at least one of my daughters with me, and we were just scanning the small children’s section. An author’s name on a hardcover picture book caught my eye…Don Freeman of Corduroy fame. The title, Hattie the Backstage Bat, wasn’t familiar to me, so I decided to take a look. It was a former library edition, in good shape, with no tears or other visual damage. I then looked toward the front of the book to notice that it had belonged to the local, Emily Fowler Library, and at one time been sold out of the library’s used bookshop, before ending up at Recycled Books and priced at $1.50. Turning the page, I was astounded to discover this:

Don Freeman jpeg 001 (2)

I can just imagine Mr. Freeman visiting the library during the year following publication of this book, meeting the eager listeners, and producing this original drawing for them right on the spot. Yes, Hattie’s blue hat did get a little smudged, and unfortunately an uninformed or overworked library worker  stamped “discard” in the middle of her left wing. I love it, just the same, and will treasure this book always! As an added bonus, the story is charming, and I shared it (along with other Don Freeman titles) with countless children during my years in the classroom.

In doing a little more research on this author, who died in 1978, I find on a lovely website, run by his son, that he was not only an author and illustrator of children’s books, but also a painter and lithographer who “vividly portrayed the street life and theater world of New York City in the 1930s and 40s.” That site contains a wealth of information and images, so you may want to take a few minutes out of your day for a visit.

What is your favorite “find” from a bookstore?

~Becky

 

Ding Dong School: before Mister Rogers & Sesame Street

Miss Frances Ding Dong School
“Miss Frances”

The day after Labor Day was always the first day of school in Michigan. One of my earliest memories is of my older sister, Terri, heading out for school the year I must have been four. I can see myself sitting in the bay window of our living room, and she alerted me that she was leaving for school, but mentioned how “lucky” I was that I got to stay home and watch “Ding Dong School” on television.

It all seemed rather dubious to me, since I WAS looking forward to kindergarten the next year, but it was kind of her to make the attempt. My mother looked on and seemed to be trying to gauge my response. I suppose it was hard for me to face summer’s end and be the only child remaining at home, since my younger brother was not yet born.

I DID love the show, however, and since we only had clear reception of one network in our little town in Northern, Lower Michigan, I was lucky that it ran on NBC through 1956 (followed by syndication for some years after). The presenter, Dr. Frances Horwich, known to the young viewers as our teacher, “Miss Frances,” had a calm, soothing voice that seemed to be aimed directly at me. The show always began with her ringing the large school bell, of course. She read books to us, presented various types of interesting lessons, and demonstrated art projects. Children often sent their drawings and other works in to the show, and Miss Frances would sometimes share those, as well.

a suitcase with a surprise

Sources reveal that she was an experienced educator, but had very little familiarity with working in front of the camera. From a kid’s point of view, the show felt very natural and real, as if I was actually there in her classroom. Due to the show’s popularity, many different types of products carrying the “Ding Dong School” name became available, like finger paints, balloons, valentines, and records. I don’t remember having any of those, but we did own some of the “Golden Books,” such as these shown. Titles often focused on family, community, and the use of imagination in play.

The Big Coal Truck

My afternoon kindergarten the following year paled in comparison, naturally. With a large room full of actual children and no helpers that I can remember, I’m sure that our teacher had her hands too full to give us much individualized attention. I kind of missed those mornings spent at home in our sunny living room, with my mom nearby and Miss Frances talking to me out of the black-and-white television like I was the only kid in the world. Little did I know at the time that my future would also find me as a teacher in the classroom with young children.

When Ebay was still a novelty, I often looked up collectibles that interested me. One day, I saw some of Frances Horwich’s personal items related to the show up for auction, following her death, such as a custom-made chair with her name on it, her collection of school bells, and awards that she had received. I did some research and learned that she and her husband had no children, so I suppose there was no one in particular to leave these types of things in a will. At first this seemed very sad, that her belongings would simply go to the highest unknown bidders on the Internet. After giving this some more thought, however, I realized how insignificant “things” really are and how many thousands of individuals, like myself, remembered this woman for providing them with a pleasant first education experience. That seemed much more important, in the grand scheme of things.

~Becky

Celebrate Independent Bookstores!

indie books

On the last Saturday in April (and every day!) celebrate and support those wonderful, independent bookstores. My mind floods with memories of shops I have known and loved, with many of them now being too many miles away for a quick visit. What factors are most important to you in a bookstore? I certainly have several thoughts on the matter, but also wondered what some of you look for in your “tome travels.” Leave a quick comment about what you think makes a great place to shop, or about your favorite “finds,” on your way out the door to load up on books!

TIP OF THE HAT: Among my all-time favorites is Snowbound Books in Marquette Michigan…

snowbound

What Draws Children to Certain Books?

flicka, ricka, and dicka

During much of my childhood, the public library in our little town was housed in a small area adjacent to the fire station. Each time I arrived at the library with my family, I worried that the fire alarm might sound during our visit. However, I remember a span of several years when I would hurry immediately to a certain shelf where the books by Maj Lindman were lined up, and I soon forgot all my worries.

This author/illustrator from Sweden produced several series of picture books from the 1920s through the 1960s, including those featuring the triplet boys, “Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr,” and also the set of titles built around triplet girls, “Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.” I’m happy to say that I’ve collected one from each series, which are library editions published in 1960. I see that Albert Whitman & Company has reissued many of these books (some with paper dolls, no less!); but, for me, those actually printed during my childhood mean so much more.

While looking my copies over, recently, I considered what it was that I had liked so much about them as a child. Possibly I can put some of my discoveries to use when fashioning my own books for young readers. I came up with the following factors:

  • Settings – The country’s name, “Sweden,” is stated in two out of the three books that I own in these series. Even when not mentioned outright, the setting depicted in the book feels very different from my neighborhood that was in the midst of a small town in Michigan.
  • Freedom  – Since many of the stories take place on farms or in other rural areas, the children often seem quite free to roam as they please and have many adventures that often involve animals, as well.
  • Names – Beyond the triplets’ monikers, many of the other characters have names that were also unfamiliar and interesting to me.
  • Family structure – Until I was somewhat older and a nearby neighbor gave birth to triplets, I had never known any such families. (Imagine my surprise when that trio was made up of one boy and two girls!).
  • Visually appealing – The lovely, full-page illustrations are so pleasing to the eyes, and many of the editions use a somewhat enlarged and easy-to-see font.
  • Simple stories that often involve extended families – This serves as a vehicle to get the children away from their homes and broadens the story options.
  • Surprise endings or subtle lessons to be learned – As I remember, the resolutions seemed satisfying to me as a child.

All that being said, it appears that some of the books are rather long and run over 1200 words. My mother preferred to read shorter books for story time, especially since I also had an even younger brother. My father usually chose to tell us stories that he made up, on the rare evenings when he arrived home early enough from work. My older sister was always eager to read to me, though, for which I am forever grateful.

snipp, snapp, snurr

Although the type of stories that appeals to today’s children has evolved, I’m sure, I believe that there are still some nuggets of basic childhood yearnings to be found in the pages from our youth. I’d love to hear about your favorite childhood books and what it was that drew you to them!