Interview with Burgin Streetman, author of the blog VINTAGE KIDS' BOOKS MY KID LOVES

Vintage Kids\

As I was preparing to write my review of Mud Pies and Other Recipes by Marjorie Winslow, I stumbled across the most amazing kid's book blog I have discovered to date - Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves, created by Burgin Streetman, also the author of the blog, Scribbling in San Antonio where she writes about life as a mother and wife.  Check this blog out for photos of the coolest Halloween costume I wish I'd thought of - Fawkes the Phoenix, familiar of Albus Dumbledore, as well as the most positive take on having your house toilet papered I've ever come across.

Besides the fact that I am head over heels for her blog, I want to share it with you because I tend to assume that adults/parents who are interested in making sure their kids have good books to read are also people who had beloved books as children - books they may still have on their shelves and read to their children.  And, as I often bemoan, there seem to be fewer and fewer picture books being published that I can imagine my kids hanging on to to read to their children some day in the distant future.  I am sure that you will delve into this blog and be reminded of why you love kid's books. With her blog, Ms Streetman does exactly what I hoped to do with mine when I first started - introduce or remind people of amazing kids' books from the recent (or distant) past that have been overlooked for whatever reason, seeking out writing and illustrations that appeal to me and hopefully to other parents looking to feed their childrens' imaginations.  I feel like I have sometimes drifted from my mission - working at a bookstore, the call of the new (especially when it arrives on my doorstep in the form of a review copy...) is hard to resist.  My shelves continue to overflow with piles of older books I want to read and review since I can't help buying and swapping them whenever I can.

As the tagline for her blog, which she started in 2007, attests, Ms Streetman is a tireless hunter, "obsessively seeking children's books of old to share with my son."  Thrift shops, library sales, bookstores and websites are where she finds her treasures.  As often happens when you discover a book you fall in love with, it leads to another book and another.  Besides the excellent service of always recommending three books similar to the one she is reviewing, Ms Streetman is a fabulous detective and always provides a wealth of background information on the books she features.  I was especially excited to read her post from 2009 on Best in Children's Books, a series that featured collections of children's literature illustrated by the likes of Andy Warhol, Barbara Cooney, Ezra Jack Keats, Peter Spier, Richard Scarry and Remy Charlip, to name just a few.  The series of collections were published from 1957 to 1961 with a total 42 volumes, the contents of which can be viewed at the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection website.  Besides just being a great collection of writing for children that includes fiction, non-fiction and poetry - the likes of which are rarely seen on the shelves at bookstores today - it is interesting to note that these collections often pair classic stories with illustrators other than those that they are known for today.  I was shocked to see that a story from Betty MacDonald's superb Mrs Piggle Wiggle books, three of which were illustrated by Hilary Knight of ELOISE fame, and one book illustrated by Maurice Sendak, credited with illustrations by an artist I had never heard of.  This occurs occasionally throughout the series and it's exciting to me to think about seeing these stories in new ways thanks to a different illustrator.  The best surprise of all, learning that Maurice Sendak illustrated the classic story by Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit!  Thanks to Ms Streetman for sharing the illustrations from this story, which appears in Volume 35 (1960.)

I was also extremely thrilled to see the lovefest for Mercer Mayer - old school Mayer - at Streetman's blog.  Sendak's Where the Wild Things are and the complete cannon of Richard Scarry books formed the foundation of my childhood picture book collection with Mercer Mayer's books completing the triad. Most people know his Little Critter books, but Mayer's earlier work is as detailed as anything Richard Scarry has ever done (see Little Monster at Work) and as painterly and dramatic as Sendak's work, as evidenced in illustrations for a picture book adaptation of Beauty and the Beast (still in print and in paperback) written by Mayer's fist wife, Marianna, and The Bird of Time (out of print), written by the prolific, award winning Jane Yolen.  For a look at more of Mercer Mayer's art, both personal and for picture books, visit his online gallery where you can purchase prints!

Beauty and the Beast Print 0045
from Beauty and the Beast

from Little Critter at Work

And, of course there are Mayer's Frog books, which, while still in print, really should be put in a collection like his three nightmare books.  Streetman reviews One Frog Too Many on her blog.  I still have my tattered childhood copy of Frog Goes to Dinner in which I was convinced there was a rendering of Barbra Streisand...
One of the reasons I will always love my husband is the collection of children's books he brought to our marriage, including Mayer's monster books which are eternal favorites with my three kids.  One Monster After Another and Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo showcase Mayer's wealth of imagination and ability to deliver exactly what (I think) most little kids want - weird monsters with funny names.  As the illustration from Professor Wormbog below shows, Mayer created a monster and an appropriate accompanying name for every letter of the alphabet.


Creatures for every letter of the alphabet!

illustration from One Monster After Another

Ms Streetman is also a great resource for publishers and places to locate vintage books.  I was so excited to learn that,  Purple House Press is a publishing house dedicated to bringing vintage children's books back into print.  I was over the moon to learn that Twig by Susan Orton Jones, author of Big Susan, is back in print!  

So, enough of my giddy walk down memory lane, let's hear from Ms Streetman herself about her journey and where it is taking her!

Interview with Burgin Streetman, author of the blogs Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves and Scribbling in San Antonio :

I know that you shop at library sales, used bookstores and thrift stores for vintage kid's books.  Can you describe your shopping experience - 

How often do you shop for vintage books...

I have anywhere between one and five regular stores I hit in any given week, though my interest goes in waves. Sometimes I'll go weeks without book shopping at all, only to turn around and hit every spot on one day. I'm not as good with estate sales and yard sales because you never know if you'll come up totally empty handed and the weekends are really for family time. As for library sales, we only have a handful worth going to every year and I try not to miss them.

What is your criteria for choosing a book and featuring it on your blog?

Beyond only featuring books that are at least 20 years old, I really have no criteria except either my son or I have to adore it. Though sometimes I'll give props to a book we dislike just because I know it deserves it whether it fits our taste or not. My tastes usually fall in the 1960s and 70s, and my son will really read anything as long as it's not totally awful. A triple plus if it features a bird or animals.

When do you decide to pursue a book through services such as ebay, alibris, etc.?  

I only pay online prices for books when it's something I really, really want and am too impatient to wait for it to find me. 

Could you please talk about your Etsy store and explain it for those who are new to the site?

I opened my Etsy shop because in the beginning of collecting, I was buying so much stuff, I almost couldn't stop myself. I soon realized I had a surplus of books I didn't really want with doubles and triples of the ones I did. Now, I use the shop to clean off our shelves periodically, like when they start to get two or three books deep... though I currently buy less and less because I know exactly what I want and what I'm looking for.

What grabbed your imagination when you were a child reading or looking at picture books?

A hard question to find one answer for, but most importantly was the sense of wonder. The being transported to a magical place far beyond my everyday.

You and your son are great fans of Mercer Mayer.  Did you have any of Mercer Mayer's early books when you were a kid?

I only owned twio little critter books Just For You and Just Me and My Dad, but he was my favorite author to check out from the library.

Have you found an online (or real) community of collectors of vintage kid's books?

My audience is made up of people who are either looking for a specific long-lost book, artists and illustrators looking for inspiration, readers who love vintage children's books, and parents like myself who are out looking for treasures beyond their local bookstores shelves. It's a great group of people to be affiliated with. All the places I've gone from link backs and looking at readers sites is wonderful. I think they've inspired me more than the other way around.

Do you see your passion for vintage children's books taking you anywhere beyond your status as a (very popular) blogger? 

I worked in publishing for a decade back in New York, and have been writing both professionally and creatively for the last six years. My focus now is trying to sell some of my own children's books.

Clearly you are a patron of your local library - do non-vintage picture books make it into your house, and if yes, will you share some of your son's (and your) favorites with us?
While their are a wide range of styles, the illustrations style employed today in the world of picture books is very different from that of 30+ years ago.  Are there any illustrators today who's work you enjoy?

Our favorite contemporary picture book authors and illustrators are pretty obvious choices. We LOVE Eric Rohmann at our house. My Friend Rabbit was my son's first favorite book. David Weisner... William Joyce... Mo Willems... It's a Book by Lane Smith was the first book my son read by himself, out loud all the way through, so it will always have a special place in my heart.

Can you speak to the differences between the content of the stories and writing style in vintage books compared to what is new on the shelves today - specifically, is there any topic or style of writing that you find glaringly absent in picture books today? 

I hate gross out humor. However, I do think there is a time and place for it in children's literature, but too often today's writers lean on that sort of thing. Like they assume children aren't sophisticated enough to get a laugh out of anything else. I love books that really highlight the poetry and magic of life, thankful, there will always be great writers and illustrators that believe in that too.

I think that you are never too old to read (or have read to you) a picture book, however, your son is in kindergarten now and will soon be reading on his own.  What do you read together now in the way of chapter books?  Do you have any childhood favorites in terms of chapter books that you look forward to sharing with your son?

During the day time, I stick to either reading my son picture books or letting him listen to longer books on audio. At bedtime, we hit the harder stuff. As far as new books are concerned, of course, my son is wild about Harry Potter... and I mean wild crazy... He's listened to all the books multiple times on audio, and now my husband is rereading them to him at night. They are almost finished with book seven. My son's heard them all so many times, he'll correct you if you skip a word. He loves the Series of Unfortunate Events books... Cowell's How To Train Your Dragon series... He just finished The Spiderwick Chronicles on audio and currently can't quit talking about those. And as for potty humor, one series that I think gets that absolutely right is Captain Underpants. My son is nuts about those, too. As for vintage, he LOVES the Narnia series. We are currently listening to the final book, The Last Battle, on audio and when Harry Potter is done, my husband plans to begin rereading them aloud. Other favorites are the My Father's Dragon series, all of EB White's books, and any and all Roald Dahl. He loves Peter Pan and The Little Prince, though both always make him cry. Obviously, he doesn't go in for realism with the exception of natural history books on animals, birds and dinosaurs.... along with books, those three things are his passion. We have a ton of vintage and contemporary books on birds, and if we are at a bookstore, he will always pick a book with the bird on the cover. ALWAYS. He originally began asking me to read him the Harry Potter books because his pediatrician has a life-size poster in her office and he would always say... "Momma, who is that boy with the snowy white owl?"

Wow!  Love it.  You son sounds like he was born to be a book lover and you and your husband are obviously doing a fabulous job feeding his appetite!  Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions here and thank you SO MUCH for the valuable work you are doing with Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves!

Popular posts from this blog

Fox + Chick: The Sleepover and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier

Be a Tree! by Maria Gianferrari illustrated by Felicita Sala

Reading Levels: A Quick Guide to Determining if a Book Is Right for Your Reader