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January 6, 2011

2010 Wrap: Books, Part 3

As an adult reader, I go for relatively little new fiction, in favor of older writing. I figure the cream of the crop has had more time to rise to the top, and certainly there's no shortage of classics that my schooling and personal reading have still left untouched. Given my extremely limited reading time (I am a parent of young kids, after all), my chances of striking literary gold seem stronger with that stuff.

Yet with children's books, in terms of what’s available in print, the choice has generally been between the giants of years past (Sendak and Ingalls Wilder and Seuss and the like) or the brand-spanking-new. Almost all the middle ground is out of print, only to be found with the help of a good local librarian. (Or such is my perception.)

Things have been changing, though, largely thanks to the New York Review of Books Children's Collection, which continues to publish five or so of their trademark beautiful hardcover reissues of forgotten out-of-print kids' titles every year. It appears 2010 was an early-1960s year: We got E. K. Spykman's sparkling, offbeat 1960 chapter book Terrible, Horrible Edie; Marjorie Winslow and Erik Blegvad's infintely charming 1961 cookbook for dolls, Mud Pies and Other Recipes; a whimsical 1963 fable from Rhoda Levine and Edward Gorey, Three Ladies Beside the Sea; and Alastair Reid and Bob Gill’s 1960 picture-book paean to creative imagination, Supposing. Everything NYBRCC selects to republish is of such high quality, and the volumes are such gorgeous little gems of book production (just the right amount of old-fashioned), that I've come to anticipate every new reissue—if you’ll pardon the oxymoron—with only slightly less eagerness than readers of Dickens's serials must have awaited the continuation of his novels.

Other publishers seem to have caught on, at least with regard to their own backlists; the year saw a number of compilation volumes of greatest hits past. David Macaulay reached back to some of the books with which he first made his name—the classic architecture-for-kids titles Cathedral, Castle, and Mosque—dusted them off, and updated them for the marvelous Built to Last. Sara Pennypacker's neurotically hilarious Stuart books got a (remarkably affordable!) three-book compilation edition as well, The Amazing World Of Stuart.

I hope the trend continues and enlarges; there's still an awful lot of good material out there waiting to be rediscovered. (Not to harp on it, but I'd certainly be obliged if some helpful publisher would reprint the personal childhood favorite I mentioned a post ago.) In the meantime, I'll go wait for the next scrumptious NYRBCC title.

Coming in part 4: Can gross-out books for boys be literary?

[Images: Courtesy of New York Review of Books Children's Collection (Supposing, Edie) and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Built)]

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