What to Look for in Collectible Children's Books

Exploring Art, Memories, and Values Associated with Literature for Youngsters

Collecting Children's Books: Art, Memories, Values by Fleisher and Zittle
Collecting Children's Books: Art, Memories, Values by Fleisher and Zittle. Krause Publications

Most everyone has a favorite book they remember from childhood. Whether it involves a visit to a secret garden, skipping down the Yellow Brick Road, or a trip to Whoville, imaginations the world over have been sparked by children’s literature.

Husband and wife authors Noah Fleisher and Lauren Zittle explore this fascinating world in Collecting Children’s Books: Art, Memories, Values (Krause, 2015).

But this is more than a simple value guide, Fleisher and Zittle share a passion for kid’s books that has grown along with their daughter.

“What it is at its heart, besides a trip through time and childhood, is a book about collecting. Hopefully more than a few peole who have no experience in the collecting marketplace will see something that piques their interest and decide to pursue it further. That is the very essence of collecting: pursuing something because it speaks to you,” said Fleisher in the text.

While Fleisher is well-versed in the subject of collecting as the former Public Relations Director for Heritage Auctions and editor of Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles, Zittle really didn’t see herself as a collector until she started introducing her daughter to books she’d loved as a kid. “When our daughter Fiona was born, long-forgotten memories hidden away in my brain were re-awakened,” she shared in the book.

She’s a prime example of someone who rediscovered something they loved as a child and turned that passion into a meaningful collection.

What to Look for When Buying

Early on in the text, Fleisher and Zittle share some tips on what to look for when buying books that were originally marketed to the younger set.

Many of these tips apply to general book collecting as well, but in this context they’re intended to help those with a fledgling interest get a good leg up on growing a collection of children’s lit titles:

Examine the Cover – “The condition of the cover is everything.” Collecting Children’s Books notes that there is a vast difference between a book in fair condition and one in very good condition. Learn to grade books based on how clean and blemish free is, and you’ll have the key to purchasing books that will retain their value.

Is the Dust Jacket Present? – Not only will you want to make sure the dust jacket is still with a book, you’ll want to verify that it is original. “Original dust jackets can sometimes mean the difference of hundreds of dollars for a book.” You definitely don’t want to pay top dollar for a book that is missing the jacket.

Is the Book a First or Second Edition? – First editions are well known to have value significantly higher than other printings in many instances, but you also have to make sure the book you’re buying is the first printing.

That’s not to say that second editions and other printings can’t have value, but never pay top dollar without verifying the edition information on the copyright page of a book. Become familiar with the way different publishers marked first editions as well, and you’ll have a leg up on other thrift store and bargain bookstore shoppers as well.

Consider the Condition of the Book – Be sure to check spines for breaks, cracks and fading. Look at the pages for foxing (age-related spots and browning along the edges) and water damage along with tears and creases. Missing pages should be noted as well. “The price you pay will reflect all these things. It’s best to know what similar copies have sold for.”

Is It a Book You Really Want? – Sometimes condition issues go out the window with rarities or titles you’ve been kicking yourself for not buying when you saw them the first time around. Just be sure that you really want it bad enough to pay the price for something in less than stellar condition.

Make Sure Signatures and Inscriptions are Authentic – Having a signed book from a favorite author can kick things up a few notches for a collector. If you’re buying an estate sale bargain, you can get it authenticated it later without too much risk. But when paying top dollar, make sure the book has already been authenticated and that the seller will stand behind the deal if it turns out to be a dud.

More on Signed Books

“Whether you are a collector or simply a fan, getting an author to sign your book can make a world of difference, both in the sentimental value and in the financial value. Getting a personalized inscription – along with a drawing, when possible – can turn the most ordinary book into a true treasure,” note Fleisher and Zittle in their text.

Obviously, when your favorite author has already passed on, you’ll have to hunt down an older copy of the book that he or she inscribed years ago. Expect to pay a premium for really popular signatures on your wish list. With children’s book authors who are still working, however, there are other options to consider.

First, check the author’s website or that of their publisher. Many list upcoming appearances in terms of signings and readings in major cities. Bookstores in your area that are known to host frequent book signings are also an excellent resource, so sign up for their newsletters and mailing lists. You might have to stand in a line to get your book signed in this way, but if you’re a true fan that time spent will be well worth the effort. And if you miss a signing, be sure to ask the bookstore if they have extra signed copies available. It’s a common practice to get authors to sign extra copies of their books while they’re visiting.

If that’s not an option, consider “taking a shot and reaching out, in the spirit of respect and appreciation …” That might mean emailing the author if you can, or contacting the publisher with your request. Just be sure to ask politely for a signature, and be willing to send your book to the author or publisher if that’s what they suggest. That might take a bit of faith, and expense, so keep that in mind. You’ll always want to include a return envelope complete with adequate postage when requesting a signature by mail.

Another thing to consider if you’re approaching someone who illustrates children’s literature is offering an honorarium if you’re requesting a drawing. Fleisher and Zittle suggest $50 or so. “Not all writers are making a mint off their books – many work hard to get by just like you and me – and they may appreciate the gesture.”

Books Included in This Guide

Fleisher and Zittle advise that their book isn’t encyclopedic by any means. But, it does include a broad range of children’s titles from the early 1900s through the present. The major authors from each of those periods are covered along with many beloved characters ranging from Peter Pan to Mary Poppins to Harry Potter. Special sections on Disney, Garth Williams, Maurice Sendak, and Dr. Seuss aptly round out this thoughtful guidebook.

Anecdotes from the authors also make this book special. Fleisher’s perspective as a professional formerly working in the field adds wisdom and guidance any book on collecting requires, while his rather-new-to-collecting wife shares her “Lauren’s Picks” sidebars filled with insight and wit.

All and all, anyone interested in books, specifically children’s titles, should enjoy this well-written book. Anyone considering starting a collection with a youngster will find it to be immensely helpful, and it could even double as a must-read list for a budding bookworm in your family.

Noah Fleisher, Lauren Zittle, and their daughter Fiona are featured in Pamela Y. Wiggins’ upcoming book titled Collecting with Kids: How to Inspire, Intrigue and Guide the Young Collector.