Ah, books. They’re beautiful to look at, comforting to carry and hold, and they often smell divine. They can transport us to a whole different world just by turning their pages. If you’re a book lover, chances are good you have a bookcase (or two) overflowing with different titles. My bookcase is an eclectic mix of my favorite novels, my boyfriend’s endless collection of sci-fi adventures, old textbooks, art references, and history books. But there is one corner of my bookcase that is special. It houses my small collection of prized children’s books.
“Children’s books?!” you may ask. “Why are you collecting children’s books?” I have no kids in my house, or even any in my extended family (quite yet!); I’m not a children’s book author, or even a serious book collector. But I’ve found children’s books to be the perfect combination of my interests. I love vintage ephemera, I love illustration art, and I love collecting on a shoestring budget. Within the pages of a children’s book (especially across the past 100 years or so), you can find an endless array of storytelling, art making, and design.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post books can act as fantastic pieces of decor. But they can also be treasured objects on their own. Once you hit upon a subject, artist, style, or theme that speaks to you, it’s easy to start hunting for additions. For example, a handful of scouting books from a variety of years can be an amazing resource to learn about the history of boyhood in America. How did scouting change from your grandfather’s youth to your fathers? They can be amazing conversation starters and you never know what you might learn.
Perhaps the most exciting part of collecting vintage children’s books is the hunt. From traditional book fairs and auction houses to flea markets and library sales, children’s books are everywhere. I’ve found some of my most treasured titles in my grandmother’s attic, where they sat awaiting someone who would open them and bring them back to life. My personal collection started as a vague search for mid-century, bright illustrations – when I stumbled across a book called ‘Pandora’ and fell in love with the artwork (the fact that it looked exactly like my cat Lila didn’t hurt!), and from that point on I was always keeping an eye out for more titles by the same author and illustrator, Clare Turlay Newberry.
Pandora by Clare Turlay Newberry and Lila the Cat
Children’s books are a great way to add vintage art into your life without breaking the bank. Unlike an original illustrated poster from the 1940’s, a children’s book from the same era might be found for pennies on the dollar, and include pages and pages of beautiful art. While I love books in their original bound form, if a book is damaged the pages can always be removed and framed individually, giving them an entirely new life!
Framed French Newspaper from Erika’s personal collection
Children’s books remind me of warm summer days spent laying on my quilted bed, hours spent reading and getting lost in my dreams, excitedly awaiting the start of the new school year. Perhaps the moment of reliving that excitement and joy is what inspires me to collect. When I found a copy of my mother’s favorite childhood book we enjoyed reading through it together, and she pointed out which images were her favorite growing up. Whatever the stories of your youth, whether they were full of colorful kittens and dinosaurs or frightening adventures through haunted woods, taking a peek at them again can be a surprisingly refreshing break from a stressful day. I’m just counting down the days until I can share those stories again with the next generation of little ones in my family – stories passed down through the generations to be shared and cherished for years to come.