Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks - Part 4

Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks - Beginner Books

Top 100 Collectible Picturebooks - Overview

A series of articles to select the Top 100 Collectible Children’s Picturebooks, providing the rationale for each book’s inclusion, with an objective of providing readers with the context for valuing first editions within the genre.

Within the hobby value is a combination of scarcity and collectibility: very scarce and very desirable lead to very valuable. Scarcity is a function of the number of copies in the first printings and the subsequent attrition over time due to natural causes. Collectibility is more elusive, outlined heretofore as a complex intermingling of eight rated factors.

A Quick Recap

In the previous articles in this series sixty of the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks have been selected. As a recap, books have been selected grouped along the following three areas:

  • The Marquis 25, or no-brainers, representing twenty-five of the classics within the picturebook genre
  • The Nearly No-Brainers; books which almost made it into the Marquis 25
  • Twelve key Caldecott Medal winning books

Today's article adds nine Beginner Books to the mix.

Beginner Books' Beginnings

First Edition Caldecott Medal Up until the mid-1950s, there was a degree of separation between illustrated educational books and illustrated picturebooks. That all changed, dramatically and with much national fanfare, with the 1957 publication of Dr. Seuss’s The Cat In The Hat. Here was an early reader, full of 220 madly rhyming words, which made its way into our elementary school classrooms.

The Cat In The Hat is a tremendously important book. Not just an important picturebook or an important children’s book, but an important book without any qualifiers! The publication of the book in 1957 forever changed the way in which children would learn to read and be educated. Reading COULD be fun!

Random House published The Cat In The Hat. However, because of its success, Beginner Books was formed as an independent publishing company, with Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, as the president and editor. Beginner Books was chartered as a series of books oriented toward various stages of early reading development. The second book in the series was nearly as popular, The Cat In The Hat Comes Back, published in 1958.

Springing from this series of beginning readers were such standards as A Fly Went By (1958), Put Me In The Zoo (1958), Green Eggs and Ham (1960), Go, Dog. Go! (1961), Hop On Pop (1963), and Fox in Socks (1965), each a monument in the picturebook industry, and also significant in the historical development of early readers. All are still in print and remain very popular nearly fifty years after their initial publication.

Creators in the Beginner Book series were such luminaries as Jan & Stan Berenstain, P. D. Eastman, Roy McKie, and Helen Palmer (Mr. Geisel’s wife). The Beginner Books dominated the children’s picturebook market of the 1960’s, and still play a significant role today within the phases of students’ reading development.

Should Beginner Books Be In The Top 100 Picturebooks?

Experienced booksellers might ask, "So What?", regarding Beginner Books contribution to student reading development. Is this sufficient to qualify them to land into the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks? Certainly a justifiable question.

One key factor contributing to the collectibility of a book is the total number of copies sold in the primary market (i.e. new books) relative to the number of first editions originally printed (for more, see 'Rating The Copies Sold', below). Children's picturebooks are no different.

In 2001 Publisher's Weekly (PW) created their list of the All-Time Bestselling Children's Books.  Among the list were 189 hardcover children's books with over 750,000 copies sold.  Incredibly, twenty Beginner Books made the list and eleven were in the top 50.  The following lists those 20 Beginner Books in PW's list of All-Time Bestselling Children's hardcover books, sorted from highest-to-lowest copies sold:


The public's embrace for Beginner Books over the course of fifty years lends high credibility to their consideration in the Top 100 Collectible Picturebooks. One could make a strong argument for each of the twenty Beginner Books (above), and even more so for the fourteen authored by Dr. Seuss. We have previously selected two of the Beginner Books, Green Eggs and Ham and Cat In The Hat, as each was included in the Marquis 25.

In addition to Green Eggs and Ham and Cat In The Hat, I selected nine additional Beginner Books for the Top 100 Collectible Picturebooks. Seven are from PW's list of All-Time Bestselling Children's books.  Recognizing the importance of the franchise, I rationalized the inclusion of two other Beginner Books, The Big Honey Hunt, the first of three hundred books in the Berenstain Bears franchise, and A Fish Out Of Water, a book authored by Helen Palmer, however which originated from a story previouisly published by her husband, Theodor Seuss Geisel.

The Key Beginner Books

The following chart provides a single line summary of the rationale for the book’s selection, along with the estimated market price. The market price is for the first edition book with the corresponding first edition dust jacket, both in Very Good or VG+ condition. The list is sorted in chronological order.

Top 100 First Edition Childrens Books 

The first edition books are relatively affordable, but many are difficult to find. Ironically, the Dr. Seuss first editions are comparably easier to find in the secondary market since they are known collectibles by both the children's book specialists and also general booksellers. The five non-Seuss books are more difficult to acquire.

First Edition Caldecott Medal Some comments on specific books:

  • All four of the Dr. Seuss books, The Cat In The Hat Comes Back (1958), One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (1960), Hop On Pop (1963), and Dr. Seuss's ABC (1963), were on the Publisher's Weekly list of All-Time Bestselling Children's books.
  • Put Me In The Zoo (1960), Are You My Mother?, and Go, Dog, Go! also made the Publisher's Weekly list of All-Time Bestselling Children's books. Each has a Seuss-like aura about them, molded while Geisel was President and Editor at Beginner Books during their time of publication.
  • The Big Honey Hunt (1962) introduces the Berenstain Bears. The follow-up book came two years later with The Bike Lesson (1964), then The Bears' Picnic (1966). Since then, nearly three hundred Berenstain Bear books have been published, one of the most successful children's book franchises ever!
  • The authorship of the Fish Out Of Water (1961) is credited to Geisel's wife, Helen Palmer. Actually, the story first appeared a decade earlier, as a Dr. Seuss story Gustav The Goldfish in the July 1950 Redbook Magazine. From the Morgan's excellent biography Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel:
    “[Seuss] gave Helen formal permission to write a Beginner Book from “Gustav the Goldfish,” which he had written in 1950 in his long-running series of children’s stories for Redbook. “you have the right to use any of the situations of any of the words from the original story that your little heart desires. You must, however, comply with all the necessary steps in protecting my original copyright.”

The Key Beginner Books, Take Two

Referring to the original article in this series, I rated each book across eight different, but related factors. The chart, above, provides a single line summary of the rational for the book’s selection of the 'Nearly No Brainers', a simple topline synthesis of the ratings.

The following chart provides the 1-to-10 rating I gave each book along each factor. The market price is for the first edition book with the corresponding first edition dust jacket, both in Very Good or VG+ condition. The list is sorted in chronological order.

Top 100 First Edition Childrens Books 

In the above (and for similar ratings grid provided in previous articles in the series), a '10' was given to the 'Copies Sold' factor if the book made the Publisher's Weekly list of All-Time Bestselling Children's Hardcover Books. For the other 'Top 100' books not on the PW list, a relative rating was given for the 'Copies Sold' factor since the publication data is not readily available.

Rating The 'Copies Sold'

First Edition Caldecott MedalThe number of copies sold is an important factor in determining the Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks. It is a measure of the public's embrace of the book, and is an amalgamation of the other factors affecting a book's collectibility:

  • If the story is embraced by the public then more copies of the book will be sold.
  • If the author or illustrator is popular with the public then more copies of the book will be sold.
  • If the book wins an award, or is adapted into a feature film, or it is part of a franchise, then more copies of the book will be sold

Because it is such a good barometer of the acceptance by the reading public and is a synthesis of the other factors, I weight the 'Copies Sold' factor quite highly.

A book's collectibility is enhanced when the first printing of the book is small relative to the number of copies sold over time. In most instances, the book's popularity was not originally anticipated by the publisher. Therefore the book goes through many printings to meet the public's demand, often in the early years of its publication history. For example Ferdinand, first published in September 1936, had two additional printings in 1936!

All of the books in the Top 100 have had multiple print runs to meet the consistent demand of new readers, a demand which often spans decades. In all cases the original first print run was small relative to the total number of copies sold to date.

The next article in the series will continue to build the list of Top 100 Collectible American Picturebooks.

© Stan Zielinski
A serious collector having fun with fun books.


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