Children's Books from Aleph-Bet Books
By Michael Stillman
Aleph-Bet Books recently issued its Catalogue 86 of Children's Books and Illustrated Books. This latest collection offers almost 600 books and related items, such as letters and drawings. These are books for children, but it is interesting to see how what we believe is appropriate for the young has changed over time. Two centuries ago, it was primarily religious material. A century ago, ugly racial stereotypes were commonplace in what we taught our young. Who knows how future generations will look at how we instruct our children, but hopefully we will be better remembered for the likes of Seuss than Sambo. Here are some samples of what Aleph-Bet has for us this month.
As is appropriate to their name, Aleph-Bet has a whole group of alphabet books to offer. Here is an example of a very early, religiously themed ABC: The A, B, C. With The Church of England Catechism... This may not be an exciting children's book, but a most interesting one, attributable to the fact that this is a 1785 American edition. The Revolution had only just been concluded, and references to the Church of England might raise some hard feelings. So an eagle and horses are pictured on the cover with the words "Virtue, Liberty, and Independence." It is unlikely an English edition would have required these three words, particularly the last. Then, a note on page one states, "The Blanks left in page 6 were formerly filled with the words (King) and (him); but as that form of Expression does not suit our Republican Governments, the Teacher will be pleased to fill up the Blanks with what Words he may deem expedient." Item 213. $750.
Here is an alphabet, or more precisely, aleph-bet book that's from around 1900, but in a sense much older. It is called Antiquarian Spelling Book, which is an odd name for an alphabet book. It combines ancient Hebrew letters with their transliterated English equivalent. However, the language differences can lead to some oddities, like the letter "B" being illustrated by a house. Item 15. $500.
Item 4 is A Canadian Child's ABC, by R.K. Gordon. Do they use a different alphabet in Canada? $450. Item 16 is Oliver Herford's Sea Legs from 1931. Characters on a sea cruise are used for this alphabet. For example, "F is the Flapper / who walks the first day / by her Lone, but tomorrow / it won't be that way." This book teaches kids the ways of the world along with their ABCs. $400.
For children of the wealthy, there is ABC for the SE, "SE" being the stock exchange. This circa 1870 book uses the names of members and officials from the London Stock Exchange for its alphabet. Item 25. $1,600. For those with too much time on their hands, there is a collection of four grains of rice (originally five, but one is missing) with the entire alphabet or a saying painted on each grain. Japanese artist Keiichiro Yamamoto accomplished this magnificent but ridiculous feat through hand painting in 1935. Item 20. $200.