The value and collectibility of individual books are greatly affected if they cross over into popular culture. In many cases, this single factor can inflate the value of a book more than any other single factor, since the hobby is primarily driven by the demand for a particular book or illustrator's books. It makes common sense that high public popularity will increase the demand for the first edition of the particular book, while the supply remains fixed from the original print run.
In many cases, the popularity of the book transcends the popularity of the illustrator. For example, more people in the general population know of the Magic School Bus series, than know that Bruce Degan illustrates them. Another example of this is the highly popular Harry Potter series, with covers illustrated by Mary Grandpre. She brought Harry to life with her spirited cover illustrations in the American printings of the series, although most people do not know of her illustrated children's picturebooks. As more people become aware of this in the future, there is a good likelihood of Grandpre's picturebooks increasing in collectibility, of course enabled by the high aesthetic appeal of her creative work.
The most common means of moving into pop culture is by a book being made into a successful movie or long running cartoon. The Grinch That Stole Christmas, Curious George, The Cat In The Hat, Jumanji, Polar Express, and Zathura come to mind as prominent examples of books being made into major motion pictures. There are many other examples.
William Joyce's Rolie Polie Olie and Maurice Sendak's Little Bear are two examples of books that crossed over into children's animated TV programs. In these cases, not only do the particular books have greatly enhanced collectibility, but the illustrator's other books are positively affected because of the increased popularity and demand side exposure.
Another means of increased pop culture exposure is via high emphasis in the area of education or child development skills. The Cat in the Hat quickly comes to mind, as does the entire series of Beginner Books, including both the Seuss and non-Seuss books, such classics as Go, Dog. Go, Have You Seen My Mother?, A Fly Went By, and Put Me In The Zoo, Mercer Mayer's Little Critter series of books also fit within this category, as does Richard Scarry's entire sequence of easy readers, and the “I Can Read” series by Harper & Row.
The collectibility and value of an illustrated children's picturebook is much more positively enhanced if the book was published first, prior to cross-over into an alternative media. In other words, the book's collectibility is increased if the supply side has been constrained relative to the enhanced demand due to the cross-over into pop culture. Such is the case for Jumanji, or “the Grinch.” But, the first printings of the Disney books that accompany their animated feature films are printed in such high numbers that there is not a large opportunity for the demand base to greatly exceed the supply base. In this example, the supply base plays a larger influence on the collectibility of the book.
Another example of this are Berkeley Breathed's books, which are immensely entertaining, extremely well illustrated, and gems of children's literature. However these books do not have a huge collectibility upside due to the immense popularity of Mr. Breathed's work, which is a result of the Bloom County cartoon strip that ran successfully in newspapers for years and years. Because of this high popularity, the first printings of his books are printed in very large numbers, which is great for Mr. Breathed and his publisher, but maybe not so great in terms of enhancing his books' collectibility.
Having said this, we feel the book A Wish For Wings That Work is one of our top ten contemporary books that a collector should have in their picturebook library. In addition to being Breathed's first original book after retiring from the Bloom County strip, it is a wonderful Christmas story and a modern classic. We can only hope that he continues to produce at least one book a year hereafter.
The collectible contemporary children's book market is evolving and maturing, although the hobby has not yet reached adolescence. The factors that affect a book's value and collectibility are not solidified within the hobby. The current state is Caldecott and Seuss-centric, synchronous with 'mainstream' collectible books, in that every bookseller KNOWS they have value. However I believe the hobby will mature into something significantly different.
With this in mind, we've identified six factors which affect the collectibility and value of a contemporary children's picturebook. The six factors are a starting point for dialogue within the hobby, which will create some controversy and discourse. Over time, this collaborative tension will lead to evaluation and evolution of the factors generally accepted to affect a book's value and collectibility. Eventually these factors will become solidified within the hobby.
The six factors are intimately connected, so it is difficult to individually describe one without intermingling the description with the other factors. One factor will invariably impact other factors. Not one to retreat from a challenge, we will try nonetheless.
Stan Zielinski, author of the Children's Picturebook Price Guide, is a serious collector having fun with fun books.
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