Since I started Building a Library, I’ve probably gotten the most questions from friends and family about how to find great used books for their kids’ home library. Because finding new books is relatively easy. There are magazine reviews and display racks at Target and cartoon/toy tie-ins that can usually point you towards at least some new children’s titles and, often times, those titles might even be halfway decent. Bookstore employees and librarians, in particular, pride themselves on highlighting great new children’s titles that have recently landed on their radar, and they’re definitely amazing resources that parents need to take advantage of more often. Simply put, new books have a lot of advocates in their corner.
Finding advocates for used books, on the other hand, is a trickier issue all together. Because the definition of used books can be pretty broad. When you say “used books”, are you just talking finding already-read versions of popular titles that you can buy for cheaper-than-sticker-price? That’s a valid definition, but, usually, when I’m looking for “used books”, I’m looking for books that I can’t find new. Books that are out-of-print, unheralded classics, or even just weird little titles that you would never see at a Barnes & Noble. A good example of this is my well-documented love for the Sesame Street Book Club titles, books that you can only now find via eBay, flea markets, or used bookstores.
And it’s these kinds of used titles where you really have to struggle to find good recommendations. There are a few decent websites that can point you towards cool older books – Vintage Kids’ Books My Kids Loves is a particular favorite of mine – but, otherwise, you’re mostly just going to be relying on old book reviews, bookstore browsing, and vague memories of books that you used to read as a kid. I’m always hunting around for used finds to add to my daughter’s library, so I thought, every now and again, I’d highlight certain titles that I discovered in the universe of used books.
This week, I’m particularly proud of finding a very, very cool 1978 edition of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: A Studio Book, an interesting story book/movie art book/coffee-table book hybrid that I found in the stacks at John K. King Books in Detroit.
I know a lot of parents instinctively shudder at the mention of anything Disney, but, as with anything, I really think that you have to judge things on an individual level. While there is a very earned sense of oppressive corporate menace surrounding the Disney Corporation, it’s also a company that employs a very large stable of talented artists whom, even in the work-for-hire environment, sometimes produce bona fide works of art. (Pixar is a great example of this. Another would be Disney’s gorgeous retelling of Alice in Wonderland by Jon Scieszka and Mary Blair.)
And, while Disney publishes a lot of really, really disposable kids books, Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: A Studio Book is not one of them. It’s a giant 225-page, coffee table-sized tome that presents a storybook-retelling of the Snow White story illustrated by a staggering collection of production art from Walt Disney’s 1937 animated classic. According to the book’s back matter: “The works of art reproduced in this book are over four hundred of the original drawings, sketches, and paintings used for concept and design in the preparation of Walt Disney’s 1937 film.” The jacket copy goes on to tell us that, “Most of these works of art have never been published before, nor have they been seen by anyone besides Disney and his key people at the Studio.” And, if that’s not all, for you film scholars out there, there are two longer essays in the back of the book about the making of the movie.
Is it a super-accessible read-along for 3-year-olds? Heck no. But it is a wonderful art book – keep in mind my long-standing love of coffee-table books – that your child can browse through over and over again. The storybook retelling is nicely dark and complete, captured in a flowery font that looks like it comes from an ancient manuscript, so it’s not the easiest text for beginning readers, but this is a book that works on many levels for young readers. For starters, the artwork is amazing and I think young kids, particularly ones who have seen the movie, will love pouring over the level of detail that went into the production sketches that eventually brought the film to life. When those same children are older, they can read the storybook sections and compare the experience with watching the film. And, then, as they mature, they can dive even deeper into the book and read about how Walt Disney brought the book to life on-screen.
Even though Snow White has never been my daughter’s favorite princess movie, I think she’s really going to get a kick out of exploring this book. It’s always nice watching a young kid discovering a museum-quality art book that has such accessible and engaging subject matter for their interest level. In my experience, they almost always treat the book with the respect it deserves – it’s like they feel responsible for being entrusted with something that was so obvious meant for adults – and, if they don’t rise to the occasion and wreck the book… eh, it was used anyway. Hopefully you didn’t overpay for it.
Speaking of that, here’s the really best part about Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: A Studio Book – get ready to yell at me for burying the lead – I bought this book for five dollars.
Yep. FIVE BUCKS. And it’s in beautiful condition. The dust jacket has a little yellowing, but that’s it. The rest of the book is pristine. Apparently, John K. King Books somehow came into possession of a large quantity of these books (I have no idea how), but they had a TON of copies available. So many, in fact, that they were actually selling them for five bucks a pop OR three for ten bucks. So, if you have a child who’s a Disney fan and you live in the Detroit area, I strongly recommend that you take a drive down to Michigan’s largest used bookstore and pick up a copy. (Even if you’re not a Disney fan, the store is AMAZING. If you live in the area, plan a holiday shopping trip now.)