I’ve made a lot of mistakes while trying to build a library for my daughter. I bought a lot of “classics” that I’d never read before, only to discover that neither my daughter nor I particularly enjoyed them. I purchased a big stack of 300-page Disney storybook collections from an outdoor Borders’ bargain table, thinking I was getting a deal, only to discover that being forced to read a barely literate retelling of Beauty and the Beast20 times in a row to a mildly-addicted 3-year-old just isn’t worth a 70% markdown. And I spent way too much time picking out titles that I personally found cheeky and clever rather than, you know, trying to figure out what a kid might actually like to read. I’ll totally admit it – mistakes were made. And I continue to make mistakes on an almost weekly basis.
But, every now and again, I lucked into making one or two tremendously awesome decisions – decisions for which I still occasionally pat myself on the back. At the top of that list is my decision to buy a whole lot of 1980s Sesame Street Book Club books on eBay.
Parents – you need to buy some of these titles for your kids. They’re perfect for children ages 2-5 (they make nice early readers for older readers too), they’re fun and engaging, they’re (for the most part) extremely well written, and, here’s the best part, they’re usually cheap. Honestly, you can normally find whole lots of Sesame Street Book Club titles on eBay at a cost of $1 to $2 per title (if not less). Any home library worth its salt is going to include some percentage of used books, and these books – both economically and creatively – are the deal of the century.
If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s probably because it’s been out-of-print for years. There isn’t a ton of information on the 1980s Sesame Street Book Club online – the best resource is this page on the Muppet Wikia, which does a fantastic job collecting information on the series. The very cool Dad Aesthetic blog also did a nice write-up of the series, summarizing it thusly:
The Sesame Street Book Club was a series of mail-order hard cover books for young readers released in the early 1980s. This collection of 62 books forms an excellent library of bedside reads for toddlers and young elementary students. The books cover a range of basic conceptual themes (The Sesame Street Circus of Opposites), vocabulary (Don’t Forget the Oatmeal!), math (The Count Counts a Party) and social skills (Molly Moves to Sesame Street). However, the observational and life-learning topics sit the best with my toddler. Those include Farley Goes to the Doctor, The Twiddlebugs’ Dream House, When I’m as Big as Freddie and The Case of the Missing Duckie.
I definitely remember some of the Sesame Street Book Club titles from my youth and was pleasantly surprised to see how well most of the titles held up, even twenty years later. The books are thin, sturdy volumes with cardboard covers – with often very fun vintage ads for the Sesame Street TV show in their back covers. The art styles are fairly consistent across the volumes, though some are much better than others – my personal favorites are Bill Williams’ illustrations in What Do I Do?: Jobs in Your Neighborhood by Emily Perl Kingsley. (Kingsley is also probably my favorite recurring author of the series.)
I came across the Sesame Street Book Club titles on eBay while looking for vintage Sesame Street toys for my soon-to-be-born daughter. (The 1970s Fisher Price Sesame Street playhouse is also, possibly, the best toy I ever bought my daughter.) Sesame Street was a powerful presence in my childhood and I wanted it to be a presence in my child’s life too, but, I’d admit, I did have a fairly big prejudice against the modern Elmo-era of Sesame Street. (After watching more recent Elmo seasons with my daughter, my position has since changed and softened considerably. Some of the most recent seasons of Sesame Street are extremely well done.)
I wanted my daughter to know Sesame Street as an urban environment, a place with some dirt and trash on the streets that resembled where I grew up in Detroit. (Let’s be honest – modern-day Sesame Street looks a little gentrified.) I wanted her to know Mr. Hooper, David, the King of Eight, the Ladybug Picnic, Frazzle, Farley, Kermit the Frog, Sesame Street News Flashes, and Mr. Snuffleupagus back when only Big Bird could see him. Yes, it’s part nostalgia, but there also was an undeniable aesthetic to the 1970s and early 80s Sesame Street world that still felt revolutionary and hopeful – like the show was actively reinventing how kids could learn through media and the Sesame Street Book Club books feel like a natural extension of those aspirational educational ideals. Plus they’re funny, beautifully illustrated, and, in my experience, kids love reading them, which – lofty ideals aside – is what really matters.
At the moment, we own 34 of the 62 Sesame Street Book Club titles, all in the original editions (some were reprinted later in the ’80s with different art and text alterations). Our titles include A My Name is Annabel, ABC Toy Chest, The Case of the Missing Duckie, The Count Counts a Party, Don’t Forget the Oatmeal, Down on the Farm with Grover, Early Bird on Sesame Street, Farley Goes to the Doctor, Follow the Leader, Grover’s Book of Cute Little Baby Animals, The House that Biff Built, I Can Do It Myself, I Have a Friend, I Like School, If I Lived Alone, The Little Red Hen, Look What I Can Do, Look What I Found, Molly Moves to Sesame Street, Sesame Street Circus of Opposites, The Sesame Street Pet Show, The Sesame Street Sun, Show and Tell, Special Delivery, Spring Cleaning, There’s No Place Like Home, The Tool Box Book, Twiddlebugs at Work, The Twiddlebugs’ Dream House, Vegetable Soup, What Did You Bring?, What Do You Do: Jobs in Your Neighborhood, and When I’m as Big as Freddie.
And, for all that, I probably paid $30 bucks total for the lot of them (minus shipping). Sesame Street Book Club titles are plentiful and cheap on eBay and, thanks to that, you can buy a lot for a little. These titles were a HUGE part of the foundation of our home children’s library and they cover such a wide spectrum of topics that it never feels like you have 33 copies of the same book. If you’re a bargain shopper, if you love vintage Sesame Street, or if you just want to expose your kids to some great books that they won’t find at your local bookstore, I can’t recommend the Sesame Street Book Club more. I’ve bought many, many used books while building this library, but grabbing these titles was probably the best decision I’ve made so far.