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Picture This: Childrens books may fetch top dollars [Costco Connection magazine]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Costco Connection magazine, September 2006
Book Beat, page 33

THOSE PICTURE BOOKS ON YOUR child’s bookshelf may be worth a small fortune, say Salt Lake City Costco members Linda and Stan Zielinski. In their newly self-published book, The Children’s Picturebook Price Guide: Finding, Assessing, & Collecting Contemporary Illustrated Books, they estimate just how much.

“All across the country, numerous collectible picture books lie dormant on a bookseller’s shelves, or sit boxed in someone’s attic, leaving a tremendous opportunity for collectors,” explains Stan in the guide’s introduction, which provides an in-depth look into the history of children’s book publishing.

He points to several factors for today’s boom in the number of picture books being published, including the fact that the books are highly approachable for adults as well as children—and that every year a growing number of highly talented illustrators venture into the burgeoning picture-book business.

The only illustration in the Ziehnskis’ guide is the artwork on the cover (a piece by David Christiana from his 2001 book The Magical Mystical Marvelous Coat), leaving room in the 488-page, 8-1/2-by-11 inch soft back for current market prices of more than 22,000 picture books by 700 illustrators.

In the 15 years they’ve been collecting picture books, the Zielinskis have learned to do a lot of research. The sources they use to come up with the prices include antiquarian and used-book stores, antiquarian book fairs, Internet book markets, catalogs distributed by children’s booksellers and ebay auctions.

Additionally, the Zielinskis believe six factors make a picture book valuable:

• Its aesthetic quality, including its ability to tug on the heartstrings (as do Guess How Much I Love You and Rainbow Fish)

• The eminence of the illustrator (Steven Kellogg and Mercer Mayer, for instance, pop out a book a year)

• Awards the book may have won (such as a Caldecott or Golden Kite)

• Its popularity as a movie or TV show tie-in (e.g., the Magic School Bus series)

• The number of copies sold (Shel Silverstein’s 1964 classic, The Giving Tree, has sold more than 5.6 million copies)

• Whether it is part of a franchise (Madeline, Babar and Eloise books have been spun off as games and dolls)

So, how do the picture books on your shelves rate? If you have a copy of Maurice Sendak’s 1963 book Where the Wild Things Are in very good condition, the Zielinskis believe it’s worth about $10,200. A copy of Dr. Seuss’ 1937 story and to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street in very good condition would likely fetch $8,400, and Seuss’ 1940 book, Horton Hatches the Egg, could bring in about $7,400.

One contemporary book that would generate a nice chunk of change is Chris Van Allsburg’s 1981 hit Jumanji. A first-edition copy in fine condition is worth about $1,000.

In fact, $1,000 is the price point that nearly 50 picture books on the list will garner if sold on the open market today. Not bad, considering most hardback children’s books run about $20 when purchased new. The best place to try to sell that valuable book, the Zielinskis note, is online, with ebay and abebooks.com as Web sites to consider.

Of course, the trick to having a book hold its value is keeping it in pristine condition.

“Whenever you buy a new picture book, the first thing we recommend is to remove the dust jacket and put it in a safe place,” Linda explains. “Also try to keep the book away from any peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a glasses of milk that may sit beside a child’s bed. Then go ahead and enjoy reading the books with your children. After all, that’s what they are for.”

The Zielinski’s own brood-Ruby, 12; Jessica, 10; and Quintin, 4-are the beneficiaries of the collection Linda and Stan started in 1996. Back then, the couple’s favorite haunt was Books of Wonder, a renowned children’s bookstore in New York City. They befriended owner Peter Glassman, who encouraged them to start buying first-edition Caldecott Medal books. That led to more acquisitions, and today the couple’s bookshelves hold more than 4,000 titles worth upward of $400,000.

“Of course,” Stan admits, “the rarest of the bunch get stashed in a safe-deposit box.”

For more details, or to buy the book, log on to www.flyingmoosebooks.com.

Hope Katz Gibbs is a freelance writer in Clifton, Virginia. She and her husband, Michael, have been collecting children’s books since long before their babies were born. Luckily, no PB&J stains have marred the most valuable tomes on their shelves.


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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.