Monday, April 25, 2011

Books on a budget

In celebration of finally finishing my thesis, I went to my favorite antique store to buy books. This particular shop has lots of books, and tons of them are categorized as children's literature.

The process of choosing is always a difficult one. This time, I gave myself the following limits (otherwise I might have been tempted to go straight to that big glass case in the back and get those beautiful old copies of Dream Days and The Golden Age):

My total bill could not exceed $20
I could not buy copies of the usual suspects (Peter Pan, The Wind in the Willows)
Purchased books must be children's literature (or literature children could read)

Buying books for less than $20 in an antique shop isn't easy, but with a little diligence and the willingness to be disappointed (like finding a first American edition of Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke and hoping the dealer doesn't know what it's worth but realizing he definitely does know and has marked it up for good measure), you really can find wonderful treasures. The following came out to $21.20 because of tax, so I did break my rule a bit, but the total before tax was exactly $20.

Here's what I found:

Though another much more beautiful and expensive first edition copy of Kate Greenaway's Language of Flowers was on the shelf right beside this one, I stuck to my limit and spent only $4 on this. It's an old library hardcover copy in good condition with the dust cover. This may be the most romantic book I own, and I don't mean like lovey-dovey romance. I mean the attitude of the thing. Beautifully illustrated flowers all daintily colored and lovely women blessed with perfect faces grace almost every page. And the text adds to the romance, though it's also very informative. Who knew oak leaves speak of bravery and weeping willows of mourning? (Harry Potter fans might read through to make onomastic connections like the one on the page below.)

The second book I found was Marigold Garden, another $4 Greenaway piece with pretty illustrations. Also a discarded library book, it appears to have been used to teach children poetry. In the front, some thoughtful teacher inscribed, "Poems to teach: page 7, 6, 9..." and so on. My personal favorite of those marked is on page 22:

When You and I Grow Up

When you and I
Grow up--Polly--
    I mean that you and me,
Shall go sailing in a big ship
    Right over all the sea.
We'll wait till we are older,
    For if we went to-day,
You know that we might lose ourselves,
    And never find the way.

If you've read the next book already, don't ruin it for me. It's one I've been wanting to read, partly to give me an excuse to visit The Manor. It's not a beautiful copy, but that makes it perfect for reading. And for only $4 with the library sleeve still attached in the back, I couldn't pass it up. It seems to have been checked out regularly from August 1961 to May 1978. That's a nice long shelf life.

My most expensive purchase was a $6 copy of Richard Scarry's Best Story Book Ever. I know the title is presumptuous, but it may well be true. I actually gasped a little when I saw the following illustration because it took me to such a specific and vivid time in my childhood:

I can't be the only person who is immediately transported back in time at the sight of that crow. Then there's that old cat peering across the table in The Country Mouse and the City Mouse:

This book is completely full of stories from my childhood. I read them over and over back then, probably because they were some of the first things I read on my own that had a decent story, but I can't remember for sure. I do know the illustrations made an impression on me. Isn't it intriguing that out of all the things my brain could store for later, it keeps artwork from a children's book?

With only $2 left, I managed to find a tiny book with a big message. The yellow and brown motif isn't my favorite, but the story inside (at just over 90 words) is hopeful and rebels against common sense, two characteristics I don't often hear attributed to board books. Plus, even in yellow and brown, you can't help but love Crockett Johnson's illustrations and think of Harold (though he and his purple crayon came 10 years later):

Even with all of these treasures now living on my shelves, I still slightly regret not having the Grahame books from the big glass case. You wouldn't happen to be looking for the perfect graduation present for me? Oh, you are?! Just go straight back and to the right corner...or there's always the Pullman first edition hidden on the bottom shelf...or that beautiful Greenaway near the front door...

I've got an idea--just surprise me.