Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Thank Your Librarian: Tikki Tikki Tembo and The Funny Little Woman

Recently, my dear friend, Tori, asked me to write a letter of recommendation for her to include with an admissions application for a seminary. She has been a great inspiration and very influential in my life. While I was reminiscing about the many ways she has impacted my life, I began to think about other people who have also been a positive influence on me.
One person who came to mind was Miss Hill, the librarian at my grammar school, Rheems Elementary. At the time the kids in each grade were divided into three reading groups depending on their reading level. They would determine which group a child belonged in by having him or her read a passage from a book to the teacher. I have always been a shy person but when I was in first grade I had a severe case of performance anxiety, not to mention that that particular teacher was a very intimidating woman. So, although I was reading at a much higher level than most first graders, when it came time for me to read my passage from the book, I froze. I did manage to get through it but I was so nervous that it seemed that I struggled with the words. So, the teacher placed me in the middle reading group.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I certainly was not challenged by our assigned readings. Since my mother took me to the public library every week, I rarely took books out of the school’s library. One day, a few years later when I was in the third grade, I decided to check out a book that was at a higher reading level than what I was supposed to be reading. When I presented the book to Miss Hill, she raised her eyebrows and asked, "Are you sure you’ll be able to read this?"

"Yes," I replied. (I don’t recall the title of the book, now).

"Well, why don’t you read some of it to me before I stamp it."

Now, Miss Hill was such a kind and fun person that I felt no intimidation and no fear, so when I read to her from the book I did so with confidence. When I finished, she flipped through a binder and scanned down a list of students. When she got to my name, she said, "I think you’re in the wrong reading group."

Thankfully, Miss Hill took it upon herself to bring my reading abilities to the attention of my teacher. After another reading to my teacher, I was promoted to the advanced reading group. Which, for me was a good confidence booster. The reading assignments, however, were still not challenging.

Another reason I remember Miss Hill fondly, is for the enthusiasm with which she read to the children during story hour in the library. I looked forward to those days when my classmates and I would shuffle down the gleaming school halls to the library. We would sit in a semi-circle around Miss Hall and be completely enthralled by her performance. Because really, reading to a child can be like a performance, especially the way Miss Hill read. She would always get into character for the dialogue bits and never rushed the story.

There are two books that she read to us that really stuck with me because the way she read them would send my classmates and I into hysterics. They just happen to be by the same author and illustrator team.

The first is Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel, illustrated by Blair Lent. To this day, the book is still a lot of fun to read to children, even though in recent years it has come under some scrutiny for its accuracy. There are many claims that the story is really not derived from Chinese folk lore. However, I never forgot Tikki Tikki Tembo’s full name because of the way Miss Hill read it to us (Tikki Tikki Tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo).

A couple of years ago, I was really itching to get my hands on a first edition of this book. I was shocked when I did an Internet search and found no copies. At least, no copies that weren’t either ex-library or soft cover reprints. I added it to my want list on ABE and waited. When it didn’t turn up after a few months, I decided to email a few other booksellers I know to see if possibly any of them had a copy that they hadn’t listed online. I was in luck. A dealer in the Midwest happened to have a copy. I had to pay dearly for.

When I received the book, I immediately sat on the floor and read it. All the while, I had the voice of Miss Hill in my head and I swear I traveled back in time. I was seven years old again, sitting cross-legged in the library of Rheems Elementary school. So, whenever I need that kind of comfort, I just pull Tikki Tikki Tembo from my bookshelf and take another journey.

It was with the same vigor and enthusiasm that Miss Hill read Tikki Tikki Tembo to us, that she also employed in the reading of The Funny Little Woman. I can still picture her as she covered her mouth and let her voice rise an octave whenever the Funny Little Woman laughed, ‘Tee-he-he-he.’

I do have a copy of this book in my personal collection, which is signed by Blair Lent. I have an unsigned first edition in my inventory. This book also carries a relatively high price tag because Lent was awarded the Caldecott Medal for the artwork. Oddly enough, it is easier to find than Tikki Tikki Tembo.

Anyway, I’m very grateful to Miss Hill, not only for helping me move up to a higher reading group, but for teaching me, possibly unknowingly, how much fun reading can be.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Upcoming Book Fair

If you happen to be in the Berkshires this weekend and want to stop in and say "Hi!" I will be peddling my wares in Great Barrington.

18th Annual Antiquarian Book Fair
Saturday July 26 from 10am - 4pm
John Dewey Academy (Searles Castle) on Route 7
Great Barrington, MA

This is one of my favorite book fairs. If you've never been to the Berkshires, I highly recommend the trip. Great Barrington is a cool little town set in the scenic mountains of western Massachusetts. There's a bohemian vibe about the town which is home to many artists, writers and musicians.

The book fair is held on the first floor of Searles Castle, which is at the beginning of the main strip if you are coming fromk the south. It's a marvelous structure set on rolling hills, surrounded by a high stone wall and the back balcony (where a few book dealers will be set up) overlooks the property's lake.

Booksellers from all over the northeast exhibit here, so whether your interest is children's books, military books, modern first editions or even old maps or nautical charts, there will surely be something for you to add to your collection.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Story of Ferdinand

Bookseller v. Collector

As a bookseller who happens to have a passion for the genre of books I sell, there is a constant struggle between my internal bookseller and book collector. I often have the impulse to keep a number of books that come into my hands. However, I am running a business and do need to actually sell books to make a living. Often times, I will sit on a book I particularly like for awhile, and when I stop thinking about it, or images or passages from the book stop appearing in my consciousness, I know it is time to let it move on.

A Hard Learned Lesson

I am slowly learning what books I definitely do want to collect. A number of years ago, I had in my possession a first edition of The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson. As I was cataloging it, I found myself reading it and really looking at the pictures. I was so taken with it, that that night I read it to my partner. He, too, fell in love with it.

A few months went by and it was time for me to put a catalog together. The highlight of the catalog was Ferdinand. When I put it in the catalog, I really didn't know if it would sell or not as I didn't have a specific customer for it, but I knew it to be a very desirable title.
Wouldn't you know it? It was one of, if not the first book to sell. So, I packed it up and sent it off to its new owner. As the days went by, a knot in my stomach grew and twisted about. What was it that was bothering me?:

The absence of Ferdinand on my bookshelf.

It was on that day I vowed that if another first edition were to come up for sale, I would buy it immediately. It is one of those books that appears so infrequently, that I would have even bought in worn condition with or without a dust jacket.

Reunited at Long Last
A few weeks ago I received my list of Books Matched from I scrolled down the page expecting to see what I usually see: New copies of Ferdinand, later printings, Spanish editions, Disney versions, etc... To my delight and surprise, a bookseller was offering a first edition in dust jacket, and happily, it was in my price range. I snatched it up and was so pleased when I finally received it.

A Brief History of Ferdinand

Ferdinand would be the jumping off point for Robert Lawson's long history of drawing and writing about animals. Previous to this book, he was mostly engaged in illustrating fairy stories and fantasies. Lawson's friend, Munro Leaf, proposed to write a picture book for Lawson to illustrate. The subject matter was, of course, to be about gnomes, leprechauns and the like. However, when Leaf showed the manuscript to Lawson, it was none other than the Story of Ferdinand. To which Lawson replied that he had never drawn a bull in his life! And that it would be a great opportunity for someone else.

Fortunately for us, the story stuck with Lawson and he felt it necessary to begin researching bulls and Spain at the library. Once he began sketching and drawing, both Lawson and Leaf were so pleased with its evolution, that both were genuinely excited by its possiblities.

The book was risky at the time as it is one of the earliest instances of the pictures in the book being as important as the text they illustrate. Originally it was refused by Little, Brown. However, Kay Massee at Viking was willing to take the risk (It was she who had pushed Bemelmans to do his first picture book, Hansi). The book did not, however, see a large first print run. I don't know the exact number and have found no definitive answer, but I have heard as few as 500 and the highest number is 1500 copies printed. The book was immediately successful and saw many printings in the first year. It is still one of the most popular picturebooks of the 20th Century and has been in print since it was first published.

It was the first original story to be bought by Disney to be made into a film.

It was also controversial in Europe and labeled as pacifist propaganda.

Why Do I Love This Book?
It's simple really. The story is clear, concise and avoids the pitfalls of many picture books, which is that it does not date itself. The images are perfect for the text and have almost a film-like quality. Lawson handles the animals with grace, he gives them just enough human qualities to give the reader a reference point and completely avoids the vulgarity of dressing them in human clothes. The expressions on the faces of both the animals and the people speak volumes where the text is mute. Ferdinand prefers quiet nature to the cruelty of violent sport--which Leaf thought showed that Ferdinand had class, as he noted in reaction to the "propaganda" accusations made by critics.

In Ferdinand, I can still see hints of Lawson's influences such as Charles and W. Heath Robinson, Hugh Thomson and Arthur Rackham. His use of line is impeccable, because the book was to be printed in b&w without half-tones he had to adapt his usual style.
I can read it again, and again and never tire of it, which for me is a testament to why this will stay in my personal collection.

What You Can Expect to Pay for a First Edition of Ferdinand?

It's hard to say, really. It doesn't show up often, so there aren't many records for recent sales. However, at a recent ABAA bookfair, a dealer from Boston had a first edition signed by both Leaf and Lawson in Fine condition in what appeared to be a Near Fine unrestored dust jacket. Their price? $15,000.

I sold my first edition copy, which was Good in a Good dust jacket, for $1500. In reality, I probably could have gotten more, but I didn't know better at the time.

A few years ago there was a book seller in Canada offering a first edition for $3200 USD. The jacket was in pieces with a damp stain. The book also had a damp stain that ran through the entire book.

Linda and Stan Zielinski's Children's Picturebook Price Guide estimates that a Very Good+ copy should sell for $5,000.

So, the range is great. Again, this is one of the few books that I would be very lenient about condition when a first edition becomes available. I assure you, if you don't buy it, someone else will...and quickly!


I have pulled some information from the following sources:

Robert Lawson, Illustrator: A Selection of His Characteristic Illustration With Introduction and Comment by Helen L. Jones. Published by Little, Brown in 1972.

American Picturebooks from Noah's Ark to The Beast Within by Barbara Bader. Published by MacMillan in 1976.

Children's Picturebook Price Guide by Linda and Stan Zielinski, published by Flying Moose Books in 2006.

Friday, July 18, 2008


I have always loved children's books. Long after my peers had put away their copies of Tikki Tikki Tembo and Goodnight Moon, I kept on reading picture books and juvenile fiction. Picture books are a particular draw for me because I am an artist as well as a writer.

As a child, my parents rarely bought new books for me to read. I usually ended up with either hand-me-downs from neighbors and cousins, or from trips to the flea market every Saturday. It was only on special occasions that I got new books. So, it only seems natural that I would fall into my current profession.

I own and operate E. M. Maurice Books, specializing in rare and collectible children's and illustrated books. I sell mainly through the catalogs issued throughout the year (usually four per year) and trade shows. I do sell online somewhat but it is through my personal relations with collectors that I am able to continue. I do welcome visits by appointment, but it's rare that this happens.

I try to stock only first editions and I'm very picky about condition and always note any flaws a book may have. I also love to research both books and their creators so I can provide my collectors with information about what they are purchasing or items in their collection they might like to learn more about.

I also believing in carrying a wide range of stock to accommodate collectors at all levels. People from all income brackets love books and I see no reason to alienate a collector by carrying only the priciest books. So, in my inventory you can find books that are well over a thousand dollars, but also ten dollar books. I've included a few photos of the shelves in my office.

My intent for this blog is to do a weekly post about a particular book or creator, highlighting selections from both my personal collection as well as from my inventory. My personal collection ranges from rare books, to books that I bought new because I was drawn to them for their artwork, as well as books that have sentimental value. I welcome questions and comments and of course additional information about the books or creators mentioned!