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My Book House, edited by Olive Beaupré Miller: a treasure trove of children’s literature.

My Book House

All Ages

Edited by Olive Beaupré Miller

DSC01796

12 Volume Set

Originally published 1920

The Book House for Children

Out of print

 

In the “About Me” section of this blog I mention how much I loved this series growing up. This may surprise readers, considering I obviously read and love books now, but there were not a lot of books in my home growing up, and I was not much of a reader. Loving to read didn’t really come until I was an adult. However, my family did have a complete set of the My Book House books and I loved them. In fact, we all loved them.

Olive Beaupré Miller was a fascinating woman and ahead of her time. Though there’s not a lot of material written about her, this biographical note contains some amazing highlights. A graduate of Smith College, she began writing rhymes and stories to entertain her young daughter (in addition to editing My Book House Miller also wrote many of the entries). After publishing three books, she founded The Book House for Children publishing company with her husband in 1919; in 1920 the first volume of My Book House (titled In the Nursery) was published.

My Book House was the first collection of children’s literature specifically arranged to meet the developing needs and abilities of children at different ages. Each entry had to meet the following three criteria (taken from Miller’s introduction):

“First, To be well equipped for life, to have ideas and the ability to express them, the child needs a broad background of familiarity with the best in literature.

Second, His stories and rhymes must be selected with care that he may absorb no distorted view of life and its actual values, but may grow up to be mentally clear about values and emotionally impelled to seek what is truly desirable and worthwhile in human living.

Third, The stories and rhymes selected must be graded to the child’s understanding at different periods of his growth, graded as to vocabulary, as to subject matter and as to complexity of structure and plot.”

And these books still fulfill that mission today. While some stories are admittedly dated—at the very least, some characters of color should be included in the art—most of the material is still worthy of attention and much of the material is still important to current American and European culture.

The first set of My Book House books consisted of six black, cloth-covered books that were published between 1920 and 1922. Later the black cloth was changed to green and three storybooks were added—Tales Told in Holland, Little Pictures of Japan, and Nursery Friends from France. Occasionally these sets can be found inside a custom wooden house that was created for promotional purposes in the mid-1930s. We had one such set for sale while I was working at Books of Wonder and it was beautiful.

Around 1930 the six-volume set was expanded to twelve. The content was mostly unchanged (some tales from the three storybooks were incorporated) and the concept remained the same: the books were meant to “grow” with the children with early volumes containing nursery rhymes and simple stories and later volumes containing Chaucer and Shakespeare. There were updated versions in 1937 and again in 1971 (in later printings at least two stories, Little Black Sambo and The Tar Baby, were replaced with less racist material). The whole set went out of print in the early 70s.

There were different cover designs over the years; the set that I grew up with—which my mother purchased from a door-to-door salesman—consisted of twelve books and was printed in the 1950s. The first book in the series was covered in light green cloth, the last in light blue; the color of the books in between ranged between the two hues, like a rainbow of greens & blues. Each volume had a gorgeously illustrated color-plate affixed to the front cover; Volume 9’s cover art is by N. C. Wyeth.

All twelve volumes are beautifully illustrated throughout with color and black and white art. The wide variety of artists includes Milo Winter (famous for his art in Aesop’s Fables for Children), Maud and Miska Petersham (1946 Caldecott Medal winners), Palmer Cox (creator of The Brownies), Johnny Gruelle (creator of Raggedy Anne and Andy), Garth Williams (illustrator of many books including Charlotte’s Web), W.W. Denslow (illustrator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) and many other important and recognizable names.

The highly varied literary material is of the highest caliber. Authors include Rudyard Kipling (author of The Jungle Book), Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women), the English poets Robert Browning, William Wordsworth and William Blake, Lewis Carroll (author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), Robert Lewis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island), and countless others.

 

Vol1Volume 1, In the Nursery, is heavily illustrated with art on every page and begins with Mother Goose and English nursery rhymes. It moves on to poems and rhymes from around the world, and ends with what are referred to as “experience stories,” which are basically simple tales of everyday life. For instance, a story titled “What the Children Do in Summer” by Pearl S. Buck, outlines how five different children like to spend their summer days.

 

Vol2Volume 2, Story Time, is also heavily illustrated but slightly less so than Volume 1; this volume tends to have only one or two pieces of art per page. It begins with short, repetitive and rhythmic stories and moves onto slightly longer, and highly recognizable stories such as Beatrix Potter’s “A Tale of Peter Rabbit,” Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling” and Fables by Aesop.

It was this volume that contained “Little Black Sambo,” (the stand-alone book is actually titled The Story of Little Black Sambo) which was later replaced; the set I own contains this story. Interestingly, the illustrations feature distinctly Indian characters as opposed to Bannerman’s own art featured in the stand-alone book, which was stereotypical of the time, and racist.

 

Vol3Volume 3, Up One Pair of Stairs, introduces readers to simple fairy tales, more complex poetry and ends with an excerpt from Charles Kingsley’s “Water Babies.” I remember this last story making a strong impression on me as a child and I read it again and again.

This volume is also heavily illustrated and we begin to see art by some of the most influential illustrators for children: Kate Greenaway, Randolph Caldecott and Walter Crane.

 

Vol4Volume 4, Through the Gate, contains more fairy tales, including “Cinderella” and “Snow White and Rose Red,” and popular American folktales, such as “Pecos Bill” and “Old Johnny Appleseed.” This volume is still heavily illustrated but the art becomes sparser, befitting of material for this age group, with occasional spreads featuring only text.

 

 

Vol5Volume 5, Over The Hills, continues with folktales but also includes stories of important inventions (for example, the use of steam in trains and boats) and highlights of American history and historical figures, as well as excerpts from “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White and “Winnie-the-Pooh” by A.A. Milne.

 

 

 

Vol6Volume 6, Through Fairy Halls, is best described by Miller herself:

“[These stories] relate music, art and science to literature in the period when boys and girls are of an age to wander freely in any sort of Wonderland.”

One of the most interesting entries may be “The Fairyland of Science,” which is a story of Jean-Henri Fabre whom is considered to be the father of modern entomology.

 

Vol7Volume 7, The Magic Garden, contains more complex folktales and fairy tales and includes the first known “Cinderella” story, an Egyptian tale titled “Rhodopis and Her Gilded Sandals.” As discussed in my review of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version, every culture has its own collection of tales passed from generation to generation and many tales have sister stories in other cultures—Cinderella is one such story.

This book also includes a poem by Edgar Allen Poe, and excerpts of works by William Shakespeare and Nathaniel Hawthorne. By this volume art appears every few pages; this frequency of illustrations remains the same through the rest of the series.

 

Vol8Volume 8, Flying Sails, turns from fairy tales to stories of adventure, both real—“The Adventures of General Tom Thumb” by Phineas T. Barnham, and imagined—“Gulliver’s Travels to Lilliput” by Jonathan Swift.

 

 

 

 

Vol9Volume 9, The Treasure Chest, is more of the same kind of stories that appeared in Volume 8. Among other true stories in this book, we have “Exploring the Wilderness,” the story of Daniel Boone and “The Adventures of Alexander Selkirk,” the shipwrecked sailor whose story inspired Daniel Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

Included with other fictional stories are two Greek myths, two Norse myths, a story from the bible and “Hiawatha’s Fasting” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

 

Vol10Volume 10, From the Tower Window, is comprised of heroic and romantic adventures taken from Russian, French, Spanish or Roman epics, as well as stories about Joan of Arc, Robert Bruce, and The Children’s Crusade.

 

 

 

Vol11Volume 11, In Shining Armor, continues the themes of Volume 10 with bits from German and Yugoslavian epics, along with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, a story of Robert E. Lee, and a tale of Old New York by Washington Irving titled “Wolfert Webber, or Golden Dreams.”

 

 

 

Vol12Volume 12, Halls of Fame, concludes the series with stories about the lives of thirty-five (primarily American or English) authors. It also includes “The Story of Faust,” “An Interesting History of Old Mother Goose,” and “The World’s Greatest Epics.”

 

 

 

Each volume contains a preface (explaining how to best use that particular volume), and footnotes (though not interesting to a small child, they may be of great interest to older children and adult readers). Volume 1 also contains a forward that explains Miller’s reasons for creating such a set of books and Volume 12 contains three different indexes—“Authors, Titles and Leading Characters,” “Special Subjects” and “Character Building: A Guide for parents.”

My Book House is an encyclopedia of important writing from beginning to end. Miller says this in her preface to Volume 12:

“From the first volume of My BOOK HOUSE through this last one, a real attempt has been made to give the child a large acquaintance with the best in literature, presented to him in understandable form for his age at a given period, and we have constantly progressed with him as he grows until in “Halls of Fame” he is ready for this glimpse of literature as a whole.”

And I must say, Ms. Miller could not have been more right, for, while books did not surround me as a child, I had this gold mine at my fingertips. Long after I had “outgrown” the series I would still return to it to peruse the art or reread favorite stories. Having looked carefully through each volume while writing this post I realized how much of my literary knowledge (prior to my bookstore years) came from these twelve volumes. My Book House laid the foundation for what eventually became my passion for books and my love of reading.

 

Find used copies on Amazon.

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TurtleAndRobot’s 15 Favorite Picture Books about Spring

I am a BunnyBunnyCover

Board

Birth-3 years old

By Olé Risom

Illustrated by Richard Scarry

26 pages

Golden Books

Reprint edition: 2004

(Originally published in 1963)

 

Richard Scarry is a pillar in the hall of children’s books. His Busytown books should be in every home library. The illustrations in I am a Bunny are richer than his usual style, though they evoke the same joyous feelings that all his books share.

“I am a bunny. My name is Nicholas. I live in a hollow tree.”

Thus begins the perfectly simple story, which follows Nicholas the bunny through each of the four seasons; Scarry’s palette changes to match the seasons but is consistently luminous.

In the winter Nicholas curls up in his hollow tree and dreams of spring. And when spring arrives he likes to pick flowers and chase butterflies.

 

 

Spring is Herespring-is-here-board-book-by-taro-gomi

Board Book

Ages Birth-4

By Taro Gomi

34 pages

Chronicle

1999

 

Taro Gomi has created many wonderful books for children; I especially love his activity books, including Scribbles and Doodles. (Some readers may know him for his wildly popular book, Everyone Poops.) 

Using bright, simple illustrations and minimal text, this book focuses on all four seasons.

It opens in the spring, with a bold illustration of a fresh young calf; the bright white baby cow is set against a hot pink background.

Soon the calf’s black spots begin to appear, and the background becomes a warm, mellow orange. The seasons change, the calf grows, and soon it is spring again!

 

 

It’s Springits-spring

Board Book

Ages 2-5

By Samantha Berger & Pamela Chanko

Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

32 pages

Cartwheel

2001

 

Just looking at the cover of this book makes me want to skip through an open field.

All the animals are excited about the impending arrival of spring! Word spreads through the community from bird, to rabbit, to deer and to duck, and they all welcome the lovely new season.

 

 

The PuddleThePuddle

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

By David McPhail

32 pages

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

1998

Out of print

 

David McPhail has had a lengthy career in children’s books and he continues to create wonderful stories and pleasing illustrations.

On a rainy day, a young boy asks his mother if he can go outside and play in the puddles.

“Okay, but you stay out of the puddles.”

The boy dons his coat and boots, grabs his toy sailboat and heads outside in search of the largest puddle. Once he’s found it, he sets his boat to sail.

Soon a frog comes by and jumps on the boy’s boat. Then a turtle happens by for teatime. More and more animals join the fun creating a wild and unbelievable adventure.

Eventually the sun dries up the puddle and the animals and the boy return to their respective homes.

 

 

The Happy DayHappyDay-001

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

By Ruth Krauss

Illustrated by Marc Simont

36 pages

HarperCollins

1949

1950 Caldecott Honor Book

 

This book made TurtleAndRobot’s Top 20 Books about Snow as well, but it’s also about spring and it’s a really wonderful book.

It begins under the cover of snow with all the animals sleeping. Soon they are waking up and sniffing. What is it they smell?

They emerge from their burrows and start running and sniffing. They stop, and laugh, and dance! There, in the midst of all the snow and white and cold, a burst of color appears in the form of a beautiful yellow flower.

The delicious, buttery yellow of the flower is the only bit of color in this otherwise black and white picture book.

 

 

Rabbit’s Good Newsrabbitgood

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

By Ruth Lercher Bornstein

32 pages

Clarion

1995

Out of print

 

Ruth Bornstein is the author and illustrator of Little Gorilla, which is an adorable picture book. She uses warm pastel colors in her luminescent art.

A baby rabbit and her family are snuggled in a burrow deep underground. Everyone else is asleep but Rabbit is awake, so she peeks outside. There’s something in the air, something calling to Rabbit, something with a “soft green sound.”

Rabbit leaves the hole to investigate and experience some of the amazing events of spring: green grass, a blooming flower and a bird hatching from an egg.

She returns home to share the good news with her family, “Spring is here.”

 

 

Little White RabbitLittleWhiteRabbit-hc-c

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

By Kevin Henkes

40 pages

Greenwillow

2011

 

Kevin Henkes has published dozens of books for children, from board books to novels. His stories are funny, compassionate, relevant and timeless. His artistic style ranges from soft and subtle to vibrant and active and is always impressive and enticing.

Little White Rabbit is not technically about spring but the soft art and verdant palette embody the feelings of spring.

The little white rabbit hops through grass and wonders what it’s like to be green; soon his whole world is bathed in emerald. He hops past trees and wonders what it’s like to be tall; soon he is peeking out over the tops of the tallest pine. He hops over a rock and tries to imagine staying perfectly still and slowly turning to stone.

In the end, he hops all the way back home to rejoin his loving family.

 

Countdown to Spring: An Animal Counting BookCountdown-to-spring

Picture Book

Ages 2-8

By Janet Schulman

Illustrated by Meilo So

32 pages

Knopf

2002

Out of print

 

Meilo So’s spare, deft watercolors are luscious. Wildflowers bloom in the background as playful animals flutter, crawl, scurry and frolic across the page.

This counting book celebrates spring, starting with one bountiful Easter basket and ending with ten ladybugs crawling; there are also chicks, ducks, squirrels and foxes along the way. 

 

 

And Then It’s SpringAndThenItsSpring

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Julie Fogliano

Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2012

 

And Then It’s Spring, Julie Fogliano’s first book, won her the Ezra Jack Keat’s New Writer Award. This was Erin E. Stead’s second book to be published; her first, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, won her the Caldecott Medal.

“First you have brown, all around you have brown.”

The book opens on a vast, brown landscape. A young boy, with his dog close behind, plants some seeds. And then he must wait. And wait. While he’s waiting he must also keep those seeds safe from birds and careless bears.

Soon the brown starts to whisper and hum about the coming green. And then it’s spring.

Fogliano’s spare and poetic text, coupled with Stead’s finely detailed, delicate, beguiling art produce a book that perfectly portrays both the long wait between the end of winter and the beginning of spring, and all the joy that comes with spotting those first green shoots of the season of renewal.

This pair has another spectacular book, If You Want to See a Whale, due out in May.

 

 

Bear Wants MoreBearWantsMore

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Karma Wilson

Illustrated by Jane Chapman

40 pages

Margaret K. McElderry Books

2003

 

This author and illustrator have created several books together about the downright adorable Bear and his friends. The simple, rhyming text flows smoothly and Chapman’s bright art has a fresh, velvety appearance.

At the end of a long winter, Bear wakes up from his hibernation and he is very hungry. He nibbles on some grass, but Bear wants more. He meets up with his friend Mouse and they visit a strawberry patch. Bear eats and eats, but still wants more.

After eating his way through the day, Bear arrives home. His friends have arranged a party for him but he can’t fit through his own door! All of Bear’s friends must work together to dislodge him from the entrance to his den.

When he’s finally freed, Bear eats a little more and goes back to sleep.

 

 

Planting a Rainbowplanting rainbow

Picture Book

Ages 3-9

By Lois Ehlert

40 pages

Sandpiper

1992

 

Ehlert’s vibrant, bold collage art and simple, informative text make this a great book for aspiring gardeners and flower lovers. From planting bulbs in the fall, to ordering seeds in the winter, to waiting for sprouts in the spring until finally a rainbow of colors and a mélange of shapes all come together to form a beautiful garden.

With clear labels and color-coding, it’s easy to follow the steps and teach children about colors, shapes, planting, flowers, gardening and seasons, all with this one beautifully simple book.

 

The Gardenergardener

Picture Book

Ages 3-9

By Sarah Stewart

Illustrated by David Small

40 pages

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

1997

1998 Caldecott Honor Book

 

Young Lydia Grace is moving to the city to help her uncle, who owns a bakery. Lydia Grace does not know anything about baking but she knows everything about gardening and her happy, generous spirit is just what her grumpy uncle needs (even if he doesn’t know it yet).

She immediately sets to work planting everything she can in anything she can, including broken teacups and bent cake pans. One day she finds a secret place and makes great plans for it. Meanwhile, the world around her is blooming and brightening from all her planting.

In a perfect and grand reveal, readers discover that the secret place is a rooftop, now gloriously transformed into a majestic garden by Lydia Grace—who now goes by “The Gardener.”

Told in a series of increasingly jubilant letters from Lydia Grace to her family back home and paired with exquisite art that radiates life, The Gardener possesses all the beauty that comes with spring.

 

 

The Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Springboy who didn't believe in spring

Picture Book

Ages 3-9

By Lucille Clifton

Illustrated by Brinton Turkle

32 Pages

Puffin

Reprint edition: 1992

 

This book was originally published in 1973 (the cover sort of gives that away) and is a distinctly urban-centric story.

King Shabazz doesn’t understand what everyone means when they say spring is just around the corner. He’s never seen this “spring” and he’s sick of everyone talking about it. He wants to find spring for himself, and enlists his friend Tony Polito to help. The two boys explore outside their usual neighborhood to investigate new sounds and smells; they’ve never been past the end of their street before.

Eventually they come across an abandoned car, emitting unfamiliar noises, in an empty lot. As the boys are approaching the car they see a patch of yellow flowers growing amidst the litter in the lot. Once they reach the vehicle they learn that the unfamiliar noise is a mama bird protecting her nest of eggs, prompting the boys to declare, “Man, it’s spring!”

 

 

Home for a BunnyHomeforBunny

Picture Book

Ages 3-9

By Margaret Wise Brown

Illustrated by Garth Williams

32 pages

Golden Books

Reprint edition: 2003

(Originally published in 1956)

 

Margaret Wise Brown is best known for penning Goodnight Moon. Her simple text in this story is rhythmic and lyrical.

Garth Williams has illustrated some of the world’s most beloved books, including Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, Bedtime for Frances and The Gingerbread Rabbit. His detailed, lush and comforting art is absolutely exquisite.

Bunny is in search of a home. During his search, he encounters many other animals and learns about the kinds of homes they live in.

When he meets a mother robin and learns about nests, Bunny declares, “Not for me, I would fall out of a nest. I would fall on the ground.”

‘”Where is your home?” he asked the frog. “Wog, wog, wog,” sang the frog. “Wog, wog, wog, Under the water, Down in the bog.”’

Under the water would not be a good place for a bunny to make his home either.

Before long Bunny meets a lovely white rabbit whose home is under a rock and she invites Bunny to stay. It’s a perfect home.

 

 

Bently and Eggbently

Picture Book

Ages 4-10

By William Joyce

32 pages

HarperCollins

1992

Out of print

 

William Joyce’s career spans children’s books, animated films (Rise of the Guardians) and television (Rolie Polie Olie). His intricate and detailed illustrations are stylistically unique and incredibly beautiful.

Bently Hopperton is a young, artistic frog. When his duck friend Kack Kack needs someone to watch over her egg while she visits her sister’s new ducklings, Bently is left to watch over the precious package.

Bently doesn’t like the egg even though all the other animals are quite excited about the joyous turn of events in the recently widowed duck’s life. He decides to spruce up the dull shell by painting it, but a young boy wanders by and takes it, certain it’s been left by the Easter Bunny.

Bently must find the boy who took the egg and shepherd it to safety without it coming to harm, and without his beloved friend discovering. Thus begins a wild adventure. Happily, Bently recovers the egg and gets it back to its mother just in time for the beautiful baby duck to hatch. Kack Kack decides to name her new son Ben, after her hero Bently.

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