For the past couple months I’ve been using this book-collecting blog to snobbishly discuss first editions, rare volumes, and one-of-a-kind pieces of ephemera. But I should also acknowledge that the world of children’s book collecting is huge -- big enough for anyone with an interest in the field to find a place at the table.
People collect for all kinds of reasons (because they truly love children’s books…out of a sense of nostalgia…perhaps as an investment…) and the focus of their collections can range from specific authors or illustrators to subjects as diverse as circuses, firefighting, ABC books, and elephants. Collecting isn’t just for those with high-end tastes and big bank accounts. For every collector trying to track down a signed, first edition of THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN or LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS, there’s another trying to complete a set of Goosebumps paperbacks, buying them for a dollar a piece at the local thriftshop.
Some favorite books in my collection only cost fifty or sixty cents. Does anyone remember this one:
Or how about:
I got them from the Scholastic Book Club at school and I still treasure both books. I also treasure my memories of the Scholastic Book Club itself. Two, maybe three times a year, our teacher would hand out an ordering form that showed a picture of each available book, accompanied by a brief description. The pamphlet was only three or four pages, but I would pore over it as if it were a thousand-page Sears catalog, debating the merits of this book versus that one. Should I go for quantity and spend my $2 on four fifty-cent books, or shoot for quality and get three sixty-cent volumes that seemed more interesting? There was such diversity in the offerings too, with books ranging from classics (BLUE WILLOW by Doris Gates) to silly movie tie-ins (why DID I buy that novelization of THE LOVE BUG?) to books about magic tricks and UFOs. Toward the end Scholastic even started selling posters and I remember one that everyone in our class had to have: a very "seventies" magenta-tinted photograph crowded with teenaged faces (probably students sitting in the bleachers at a football game or something.) Superimposed over that, etched in white, was an oversized face of a mournful-looking girl. The accompanying quote was something about feeling lonely in a crowd. We all found it profound in a seventh-grade kind of way.
After much debating about which books to choose, we’d turn in our order forms and money to the girl in charge. (Always a girl. Girls were Responsible. Boys were Not.) As I recall, the girl in charge (hereafter G.I.C.) either got all her books free or at least got a few extra titles free with her order. But I don’t think that was the main draw for being the G.I.C. The best thing about being the G.I.C. (it seemed to me, the boy who wanted to be the B.I.C.) is that the day the books arrived, the G.I.C. got to skip part of her classwork, sit at a table in the back of the room, and open that huge box, pulling out handfuls of shredded packing material and then reaching deep inside to lift out stack after stack of fresh, brand-new books. She'd then sort them into separate piles matching each student's order and call each of us to the back of the room where she'd hand us our books and cross our names off her list. What power!
I still remember the time my friend Jody got to be the G.I.C. -- the amount of time she spent selecting her free books; the cashier-like way she collected our money and put it in a file box; the whispered G.I.C. conversations with our teacher. I also remember that she was off sick the day the books arrived and some other G got to open the box and pass them out. Since we lived across the street from each other, I brought Jody's books home for her that day. I still remember the bright sky, the snow on the ground, and how Jody threw her head over her right shoulder and HOWLED when she opened the door and saw me standing on the porch with her books in hand.
(Still, she was a good sport. Later on, when I was the one off sick from school she lent me her Scholastic Book Club copy of MEMBER OF THE GANG by Barbara Rinkoff.)
I now wonder what genius came up with the idea for the Scholastic Book Club. Who arranged for these books that, even then, would have cost $3.95 or $4.95 in hardcover and .75 or .95 in paperback to be sold at such deep discounts, allowing a lot of kids who probably never before owned a book to have a few of their own? Who came up with the idea of calling it a book "club"? It had no president, no meetings, no membership dues, yet it was something we all wanted to belong to. Even kids who hated reading wanted to be part of it, and would bring in their quarters and nickels to buy a joke book or puzzle volume from the Scholastic Book Club.
An inveterate shelf-snooper, I'm always amazed today when I peruse someone's bookshelves and see they're still holding onto a couple old Scholastic titles thirty or forty years after they purchased them. These modest little paperbacks cast long shadows over our lives. I have read FOLLOW MY LEADER by James B. Garfield and THE WEDNESDAY WITCH by Ruth Chew dozens of times over the years. (I just noticed that my copy of WEDNESDAY WITCH is the first printing from September 1968. The paperback actually predates the hardcover edition -- which used the same witch-riding-a-vacuum cover art -- by three years.) And I'm not the only one. When adults talk about their favorite childhood books, they invariably mention paperbacks they bought from this book club. Just mentioning the above two titles here is going to increase the number of hits my blog gets today, as people Google "witch on vacuum" or "blind boy with leader dog story."
Just writing about these books makes me want to track down other Scholastic Book Club titles from the same era and add them to my collection. Maybe I'll get some of the books I couldn't afford with my $2 limit back then. I'll order them off the internet and, when the books arrive in the mail, I'll open the boxes, remove the packing material, and stack the books on my desk -- at last the B.I.C.