Rare Book Monthly
Book Catalogue Reviews - February - 2007 Issue
Back to Childhood with Aleph-Bet Books
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.