When people learn of my interest in children’s books they are usually anxious to tell me about their own childhood favorites. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, they’ve hung onto these volumes and will bring them out to share with me. Of course I’m fascinated by any children’s book from the past -- but I’m even more intrigued when I learn a particular title was important to the early life of someone I know. As I’ve said many times on this blog, every book has more than one story. One is written on the pages, another is the story of the person who owned the book. Today a friend from work shared two of her childhood books with me. One was a routine version of Cinderella, illustrated by Catherine Barnes and published by Harrison in 1946. The other was MISS SNIFF, written by Jane Curry, illustrated by Florence Sarah Winship, and published by Whitman in 1945. MISS SNIFF is billed as a “Fuzzy Wuzzy Book” -- meaning the illustrations of its eponymous cat are coated with a fuzzy black material. Reading MISS SNIFF is a tactile experience. You've heard of scratch and sniff books. This is a scratch Miss Sniff book. I had never heard of “Fuzzy Wuzzy Books” before today and wondered if my friend had a rare treasure -- then did a little research and learned there were all kinds of fuzzy-wuzzy books issued in the mid-to-late forties (WOOFUS THE WOOLY DOG; THREE FUZZY BEARS; PATRICK THE FUZZIEST BUNNY) and they aren’t worth much money today -- particularly when a copy has been chipped and taped and retaped and some of the fuzz is shedding. Such is the fate of well-loved books.
According to the inscription on the title page, my friend received MISS SNIFF from her grandmother on Christmas Eve 1946. But my favorite part of the book was the back endpaper where, many decades ago, my friend affixed a cardboard pocket labeled JOLLY CLUB LIBIARY (sic.) Inside the pocket was a construction paper card which she had laboriously lined with a ruler, providing plenty of space for the names of all the throngs who might someday want to borrow the book. Only one name was scrawled on the circulation card -- my friend’s little brother.
Well, I must admit that we had a good laugh over this. My friend has no recollection of a "Jolly Club" or even making pockets for her books. But MISS SNIFF preserved that bit of history. Imagine: back in the mid-1940s, a little girl was gluing pockets in books and checking them out to borrowers...and six decades later she is STILL working in a libiary -- I mean library. Who’d believe it?
The trouble with people sharing their childhood books -- and their childhood secrets -- with you is that you then feel obliged to turn around and share your books -- and your childhood secrets -- with them. You see, even though I chortled over my friend’s youthful hobby, and teased her unmercifully about it all afternoon, I had an even bigger secret to hide. No, I didn’t paste pockets in books or loan them out to my little brother. I was even worse. ...I was a juvenile cataloger. It’s true. I assigned call numbers to all my books and either printed them on stickers or typed them (using one finger) on my fafher’s old manual typewriter and then taped them to the spine of every volume. Look above at my childhood copy of FOLLOW MY LEADER by James B. Garfield. If you squint (or click on the image to enlarge it) you may even be able to read the call number taped to the spine:
I divided fiction into six categories. PRE stood for preschool, E for easy readers, and J for middle-graders.
PT was “preteen” (what the??? Whoever HEARD of such a designation?)
Then there was YA for young adult and A for adult, though I can’t imagine having many -- or any -- adult books when I was ten or eleven years old.
Beneath each of those headings were the first three letters of the author’s last name.
It gets worse.
My specialty was nonfiction.
I found a book on the Dewey Decimal system at the public library and cataloged my books accordingly.
You probably can’t read the call numbers on the labels, but I’ll tell you what they say (and please note that they are lined-up in correct call number order!) BOOK BINDING BY HAND by Laurence Town is labeled 025.7 T (T is the “cutter letter” for the author’s last name.) KNOW YOUR SCOTTISH TERRIER by Earl Schneider is 367 S. WEBSTER'S NEW DICTIONARY OF SYNONYMS is 424 W and TRACING YOUR ANCESTORS by Anthony J. Camp is 529 C. I have no idea if those call numbers are correct but they were the best I could do back when I was a PT.
It gets worser.
When I was about eleven, my aunt gave me a large collection of books from her own library. Many were purchased abroad and had fine bindings. But did that stop me from slapping stickers on all those leather and vellum covers? Nope. I not only stuck those labels on the spine of every single book -- even the 1827 Bible! -- but I also PRESSED DOWN FIRMLY, as the instructions on the box of stickers directed. Which is why I now have books like this fine copy of ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY
whose call number (610.2) can’t be peeled, scraped, steamed or sandblasted off. And yes, I do feel a bit melancholy about that.
Over the years I have been able to remove the labels from many of the others, though they left scars:
Still, who among us -- human or book -- gets through life without a few scars? Today, when I pick up one of my antiquarian volumes with the shadow of a sticker on the spine or a teenage paperback with its “YA” designation still Scotch-taped around the edge, it seems like destiny that, decades later, I ended up working in a library cataloging books. But that was never my plan. I wanted to WRITE books, not assign them call numbers. (...You know, I probably should have spent more time typing stories and less time typing stickers.) But no one could stop me back then. I was fascinated by books. I was driven. I...was a juvenile cataloger. And, after seeing my friend’s copy of MISS SNIFF with its pocket and charge-out card, I realize I wasn't the only one.
And if there were two of us, I imagine there were even more -- somewhere out there in the world.
Were you a kid cataloger too? If so, feel free to share your story here.
I’ve shown you my books. Now show me yours.