Category Archives: Children’s Books

Happy Birthday to the Most Irritating Houseguest Charles Dickens Ever Had

Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark, on the second of April, 1805. As a small child, Andersen’s father read to him Arabian Nights - thus introducing the young child to both classic literature and what one might deem a “fairy tale”. At the age of 14, he moved to the capital to become an actor – and though he was accepted into the Royal Danish Theatre… once his voice changed the school advised him to focus instead on becoming a poet… a suggestion that he later turned into authorship.

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Fairytales seemed to be part of Andersen’s literary journey from the beginning, as several of his early stories revolved around tales he heard as a child himself. By the age of 30, Andersen was already writing profusely and showing his work. In fact, in 1833 at the age of 28 he had already received a small travel grant from the king of Denmark to travel through Europe and log the stories he found there. And, well… write he did!

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Andersen is most well-known for his fairytale translations, no one can deny this fact. In 1835 he published the first two installments of his Fairy Tales, with the second installment arriving only two years later. Unfortunately, his collection which included tales such as The Princess and the PeaThumbelinaThe Little Mermaid, and The Emperor’s New Clothes did not sell well at first. Part of the problem was in the translations of these well-known stories. Andersen’s ability to write did not cover his lack of innate foreign language skills.

After honing his skills and continuing to publish fairy tales for ten years, Andersen finally had a breakthrough in 1845 after his translation of The Little Mermaid appeared in Bentley’s Miscellany (a periodical). Soon after, his story was published in a few volumes following its reprint, including Wonderful Stories for Children. A review of the story was published in The Athenæum in London in February of 1846, and the review sang its praises as “a book for grandfathers no less than grandchildren, not a word of which will be skipped by those who have it once in hand.” Andersen became a king of fairytales (of sorts) and would continue translating and publishing them until 1872.

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During his heyday of publishing fairytales from around the Europe, Anderson published various travelogues that he had written during his many journeys abroad while accumulating stories for his collections. Though his travel journals do approach the subject matter in a similar way to his contemporaries’ travel journals, singularly he used his own strengths to expand the style to meet his own requirements. He combines factual evidence and graphic/detailed reports of his experiences with more reflective and meditative verse on various concerns, including his authorship, the issue of timelessness,  and the essence of works of fiction in the travel writing genre. His travelogue In Sweden even contains local fairy tales! (The man just didn’t know how to take a break…)

In 1847 a most happy occurrence happened for Andersen – he traveled to England for the first time and enjoyed resounding success among his fairytale fans. Andersen was able to meet one of his idols, one Charles Dickens, at one of the many parties of a Countess of Blessington. Both authors resonated on certain levels – they were both immensely popular (though Dickens more so, of course), and both took the time to portray citizens of the lower classes in their works. A decade later, Andersen visited Dickens at Gads Hill Place, Dickens’ home – a visit which unfortunately turned into an over-extended stay of over five weeks. Dickens and his family were dismayed that their Victorian politeness allowed a man, even one as highly respected and liked as Andersen, to overstay their welcome by so long. (Read our blog on the extended stay here.) Eventually Andersen had to be asked to leave, and Dickens stopped communication with the author, much to Andersen’s confusion.

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When Andersen turned 67, he took a tumble out of bed and unfortunately was never able to recover from his injuries. Andersen developed liver cancer shortly thereafter and died surrounded by friends (having never married). He was internationally esteemed at the time of his death, and to this day his name immediately recalls international fairytale stories to all of our minds! Happy Birthday to the king of fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen!

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New Acquisitions for Your Viewing Pleasure

The recent fairs have given us a fair amount (pun intended) of new inventory! As we haven’t posted one in a while we thought it might be nice to give you an in-depth look at some of our latest and greatest… though there are many more ready to go home with their new owners! Check out our website’s categories for more info on these and other awesome titles.

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We would be remiss in sending our hometown book fairs love without beginning this blog with one of our favorite local finds! DeWitt’s Guide to San Francisco was published in 1900, and is illustrated by nearly 20 engravings! The city guidebook lists tourist sights, hotels, restaurants, banks, businesses, churches, clubs, schools, etc. Love San Francisco? Perhaps you should see what has changed in the last 118 years! See it here.

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This cabinet card photograph depicts three young girls, most likely of the Utes tribe, where they resided in the southern end of Colorado. The photograph itself is circa 1890s, when the town of Rouse, Colorado (now a ghost town) was home to, what was in 1888, the largest coal mine in the state. View this amazing piece of 19th century photographical history here.

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This 1890 edition of The Care of the Sick has a beautiful gilt illustrated binding – and is a solid Very Good copy of this handbook for Nurses, detailing care for the ill both at home and in the hospital. You love nursing material as much as we do? Check it out here!

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We also have a pretty spectacular collection of children’s series books – Nancy Drews, Tom Swifts… Hardy Boys? All can be found on our website and on our shelves! Some series books are not quite so well known as these, however… like this copy of The Bobcat of Jump Mountain. Part of the Boys’ Big Game Series, this title was published in 1920 and our copy still has its original dust jacket! Did we mention it is signed and inscribed by the author, the year of publication? See it here.

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Now this may look like nothing special, but in fact these two volumes make up a first US edition of Oliver Twist… and we would be remiss Dickens specialists indeed if we did not include one of his titles in this list! Now certainly Oliver Twist needs no description to provide its storyline or enforce its importance… so let’s just say that this rare set is not often offered in the trade. See it here.

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Kind of a strange leap from our classic main man, but here offered as well is a 1941 1st edition of rogue author Henry Miller’s The World of Sex. Bibliographers Shifreen & Jackson have speculated that the 3 states of the first [ours given priority] runs of this work may each have had a run of 250 copies. This first state binding is increasinly uncommon, especially in its original jacket – as ours is! Expand your horizons here.

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And while we’re on the subject, here is another fun find from the fairs! We almost feel like the mid 20th century Gilbert Vitalator requires no explanation except for their own marketing! With this vibrator attached to your fingers… “…you’re ready for the thrill of your life. Press your fingers against your body on the spot you wish to massage, and flip the switch. Things happen quickly here, but they can be explained slowly. The Vitalator sets up a vibration which travels to your finger tips and flows through them to your body. But it is not merely a vibration. If you had a pencil in your fingers, set to paper, it would be tracing tiny ovals with lightning rapidity. This rotary movement – this “Swedish massage” action – in the secret of Vitalators superior benefits.” Woohoo! Can be used by men and women, apparently. See this funny body massager here

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This poem, Dickens in Camp was written by Bret Harte shortly after Dickens’ death in the 1870s. Published in a fine press edition in 1923 by John Henry Nash in a run of only 250 copies… and it is signed by the famous publisher! Check out this wonderful tribute to our main man here.

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This Red Cross WWII campaign promotion poster advertises Toys for Kiddies – an initiative where patients in military hospitals designed and created handmade toys for children in homes and orphanages at Christmastime. With the materials provided by the Red Cross, apparently the men spent months making and competing to produce the most creative children’s toy of the season. See this 1940s broadside here.

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Last but not least, we offer as a tribute to the wonderful OZ themed California fair just a couple weeks ago this beautiful 1st edition, 1st printing of Frank L. Baum’s The Woggle – Bug Book, inscribed by the author to one Ruth Bailey Ingersoll in 1905 – the year of its publication. Said by bibliographer Bienvenue to be “remarkably difficult for collectors to find, particularly in good condition. … the large book is one of the most delicate and ephemeral of all Baum’s publications”, we are lucky enough to offer a very pleasing Very Good copy of this unusual early Baum title here at Tavistock Books! Check it out here.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief list of some fun new items on our shelves! Stay tuned throughout the rest of book fair season to see more of them.

 

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The World’s Most Beloved (and Criticized) Family of Bears

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If you are a 90s child like myself (or a 70s child, or an 80s child, or a 2000s child…or even a 2010s child), I can guarantee that you know a family of bears… that live in (pretty much) the coolest treehouse ever… and whose sister and brother magically (almost) always get along. I grew up envying this small family and their adventures in pumpkin patches and at school. (So get to the point, you say?) Well today we thought we’d do a short feature on our favorite (fictional) family of bears… the Berenstain Bears, in honor of Jan’s birthday anniversary!

The Berenstain Bear family and franchise was created by Jan and Stan Berenstain in 1962, and has since become a series of over 300 titles. Since 2002, Jan and Stan’s son Mike continues the tradition by authoring the titles. A full family project, in a sense! Let’s see how it all came about…

bears5In 1941, Janice Grant and Stanley Berenstain met on their first day at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art and became close very quickly. At the onset of World War II, they took up different war effort posts (as a medical illustrator and riveter), but were eventually reunited and married in 1946. They found work as art teachers, then eventually became co-illustrators, publishing works like the Berenstain’s Baby Book in 1951 followed by many more (including, but not limited to Marital Blitz, How To Teach Your Children About Sex Without Making A Complete Fool of Yourself and Have A Baby, My Wife Just Had A Cigar). In the early 1960s the Berentain’s first “Berenstain Bears” book made it to a very important colleague and publisher – Theodore Geisel – or, as some of you may remember from our somewhat recent blog, Dr. Seuss! 

bears2Geisel traded ideas with the Berenstains for over a year – until he finally felt like they had a marketable product for the American public. In 1962, The Big Honey Hunt hit shelves across the USA. The Berenstains were working on their next book – featuring penguins – when Geisel got in touch to say another bear book was needed by demand, as The Big Honey Hunt was selling so undeniably well. Two years later The Bike Lesson came out… which began a waterfall of publications… at least one a year since then, but typically more than a few. A record 25 Berenstain Bears books were published in 1993 alone! Six titles have already been published in 2018. The immediate success of the Berenstain Bears lead to a situation not unlike the popular Hardy Boys series or Nancy Drew’s popularity – only for a younger age range and with a somewhat different tone. Not to mention all written and illustrated by the same authors, at least until Mike Berenstain took over the franchise in 2002. Jan and Stan were quite a busy pair for a number of years!

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Jan and her son Mike, the now author of the series.

Now why were the bears as successful as they were? Though some criticism has fallen on the books over the decades for its “formulaic” and “syrupy” tone, the books have also seen 35 titles in the Publishers Weekly top 250 titles of all time, and 15 titles in the top 100 Children’s Paperbacks. As an educational series (each title dealing with a somewhat moral or educational lesson for youngsters) it has received many accolades. However, as stated the series has also received criticism for being outdated and perpetuating stereotypes from its beginning. That being said, I do not believe that anyone, even those critical of the texts, can deny the obvious influence they have had on children and families… for decades! The bears provided a learning ground for warm and cuddly (if only mildly didactic) lessons for young children in the United States.

And the rest of the world. Because it has been translated into 23 languages. 

Happy Birthday to Jan Berenstain and the family of Berenstain (NOT “Berenstein”) Bears – Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister and Honey!

(…How come Honey gets an actual name?)

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Jan & Stan working in their studio with sons Leo and Mike. One big happy family!

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To Neverland… and Beyond!

“Life is a long lesson in humility.”

Would you imagine that the person who wrote this somewhat jarring quote above also once wrote,

“‘Wendy,’ Peter Pan continued in a voice that no woman has ever yet been able to resist, ‘Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys.’”?

Well you might be surprised to find out that indeed it was the very same author. J.M. Barrie was a man of many talents (not least of which being so obviously a feminist before his time)!

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James Matthew Barrie was born on May 9th, 1860, the ninth of ten children born to Margaret Ogilvy and David Barrie, a weaver in Kirriemuir, Scotland. James had a happy childhood until he was 6, when his elder brother died in a skating accident just before his 14th birthday. His mother was confined to her bedroom for months on end, ill with grief. Barrie tried to cheer her up by dressing in David’s clothes and walking around as him. Though by doing so he scared his mother out of her wits, their relationship was eventually strengthened by it. For the next couple years, before James was sent away to school, he and his mother shared a love of literature – reading aloud works like Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe, and poems by Walter Scott. 

Throughout his youth Barrie remained a voracious reader – and even formed a drama group with his friends during his teenage years. He left school wanting to become an author, and despite pressure from his family to join the religious order, he was able to attend university and study literature! After graduating the University of Edinburgh he worked for over a year as a journalist at the Nottingham Journal, and then returned home to his mother in Kirriemuir and began writing her childhood stories into a series eventually named “Thrums”. The editor of the St. James’s Gazette in London liked the series so much that he commissioned and published these stories. Though now not Barrie’s most popular work, these stories made him a well-known figure in the literary world and allowed him to begin writing plays – as he wanted.

barrie5Barrie wrote several successful plays (and a couple flukes), but his third script brought him into contact with a young actress of the day – Mary Ansell – who would later, in 1894, become Barrie’s wife. For their union Barrie gifted Mary a St. Bernard puppy – who would become the inspiration for “Nana” in later years. They settled in London but kept a country home in Farnham, Surrey. In 1897 Barrie became acquainted with a nearby family – the Llewelyn Davies family.  Barrie spent most of his free time with the family – and despite this relationship being depicted in movies and tv these days, it was a bit different than we see! Barrie met the family when the father Arthur was still alive, and was there for the five sons through the death of their father and eventually their mother, prematurely. Around this time Barrie unfortunately found his 10-year marriage falling apart. Amid rumors that their marriage was never consummated, Barrie’s wife took a lover twenty years her junior – Gilbert Cannan – an acquaintance of Barrie’s through theatrical politics. Barrie and Ansell’s marriage ended in divorce, though Barrie continued to support Mary throughout her subsequent marriage to Cannan and for the rest of her life. 

barrie2Inspired largely by the stories he told to the Llewelyn Davies family, Barrie began to formulate a story of a boy who wouldn’t grow up, who flew around and had adventures. Not unlike Charles Dodgson’s Alice a century before, Barrie began to write his story into a play and once debuted in 1904, the play Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up was an immediate success. George Bernard Shaw said of the performance, “ostensibly a holiday entertainment for children, but really a play for grown-up people” – a wonderful description of the meanings and metaphors found in Peter Pan. Though children may see the adventure story on the outside, the adults in the audience could see what was really at play (pun intended) – Barrie’s social commentary on the adult’s fear of time and growing old and losing their childish innocence and fun, to name just a few.

After Sylvia’s death in  1910, she named Barrie as co-guardian of the boys, along with her mother. Barrie remained close to the boys all their lives (though tragically two of the elder sons died young and Barrie seemed to suffer the trauma of losing a child). In 1911 Barrie wrote the novel Peter and Wendy as a follow up to the play, and in 1929 he donated all the proceeds from Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London – which the hospital still holds to this day. 

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Barrie continued to write several plays until his death in 1937 – though to hear the names of them, you wouldn’t think to associate them with the author of Peter Pan! Titles like Pantaloon (1905), Half an Hour (1913), A Kiss for Cinderella (1916), Shakespeare’s Legacy (1916), Mary Rose (1920), Cricket (1926), and The Boy David (1936) are some of the few that stand out, but are among dozens. He passed away in 1937 at the age of 77 from pneumonia in a London nursing home.

To the author of (arguably) the most beloved children’s story of all time (that wasn’t really intended for children), we have one thing to say to you on your birthday…

we hope that second star to the right is everything you imagined for all of us! 

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Celebrating Women Authors on Maya Angelou’s Birthday

We recently saw an interesting article online, detailing the “Best Female Authors” of all time. On this, what would be Dr. Maya Angelou’s 90th birthday, we would like to channel her inner strength and power as a leading poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist and honor some of the most famous female authors of all time.

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Top Twenty-Five Female Authors of All Time in One Sentence or Less

Followed by the First Sentence or So Found about these Powerful Ladies on the Internet (A Rather Fascinating Social Experiment, No?)

(Obviously Debatable, but these names are based on Book Sales and those found to be Classics Today)

Jane Austen:an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century.”

Virginia Woolf:an English writer, who is considered one of the foremost modernist authors of the 20th century and a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.”

Charlotte Bronte:is one of the most famous Victorian women writers, only two of her poems are widely read today, and these are not her best or most interesting poems.”

Agatha Christie:Lady Mallowan, DBE was an English writer. She is known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, particularly those revolving around her fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.”

Mary Shelley:an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818).”

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Louisa May Alcott:was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania on November 29, 1832. She and her sisters Anna, Elizabeth, and [Abba] May were educated by their father, teacher/philosopher A. Bronson Alcott, and raised on the practical Christianity of their mother, Abigail May.”

J.K. Rowling:is the creator of the Harry Potter fantasy series, one of the most popular book and film franchises in history.”

George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans):was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era.”

Emily Dickinson:is one of America’s greatest and most original poets of all time.”

Sylvia Plath:was one of the most dynamic and admired poets of the 20th century.”

Toni Morrison:American writer noted for her examination of black experience (particularly black female experience) within the black community.”

Margaret Atwood:is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor, and environmental activist.”

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Elizabeth Gaskell:often referred to as Mrs Gaskell, was an English novelist, biographer, and short story writer.”

Willa Cather:established a reputation for giving breath to the landscape of her fiction.”

Dorothy Parker:was an American poet, writer, critic, and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.”

Gertrude Stein:was an American author and poet best known for her modernist writings, extensive art collecting and literary salon in 1920s Paris.”

Ursula Le Guin: an “immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’” 

Isabel Allende:s a Chilean-American writer. Allende, whose works sometimes contain aspects of the genre of “magical realism,” is famous for novels such as The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espíritus, 1982) and City of the Beasts (La ciudad de las bestias, 2002), which have been commercially successful.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay:received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923, the third woman to win the award for poetry, and was also known for her feminist activism.”

Mary Wollstonecraft: “an English writer and passionate advocate of educational and social equality for women.”

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Alice Walker:is a Pulitzer Prize-winning, African-American novelist and poet most famous for authoring ‘The Color Purple.’”

Maya Angelou:an impactful civil rights leader who collaborated with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X during the Civil Rights movement. “

Judy Blume:spent her childhood in Elizabeth, NJ, making up stories inside her head. She has spent her adult years in many places, doing the same thing, only now she writes her stories down on paper.”

Betty Friedan: “a leading figure in the women’s movement in the United States, her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique is often credited with sparking the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century.”

Thank you to these powerful, courageous and wonderful writers for their influence on female empowerment!

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Celebrating Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week… with an Antiquarian Spin

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By Margueritte Peterson

February 1st marks the beginning of Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week! Now, we’ve written several blogs on some of our favorite children’s book authors, but what we haven’t done in a while is take a look at some of our most popular antiquarian children’s literature items! We thought we’d take a little tour through some of our inventory and see how we can celebrate this week of Children’s literature with some… antiquarian flair!

Screen Shot 2017-01-31 at 11.00.11 AMThe beginning of what we know today as Children’s Literature is commonly attributed to authors around the mid to late 19th century, with authors like Charles Dodgson, Edward Lear and Rudyard Kipling paving the way for fantastical and nonsensical Children’s Literature – more often than not written for the pure enjoyment of children. However, before true “Children’s Literature” existed, the writing for the young was more didactic in nature, always teaching a skill or a moral lesson (sometimes with even an implied punishment for failure to learn the lesson provided). This 1806 “Young Child’s A-B-C or First Book” is a Children’s chapbook teaching the A-B-C’s in Hornbook style – with images of items beginning with the letter in question. It is a first printing of this chapbook, rare in the trade and in fairly nice condition for its age! See it here.

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Almanacks began to appear in the 1800s as well, with one popular type being Kate Greenaway’s yearly ones for Children. Though these continued to have a sense of didacticism in them, as they were a fount of knowledge and information, fun colored hand-drawn images of small children in fashionable clothing made these little books a bit different from their earlier counterparts. Our 1886 Almanack (published in 1885) is a clear representation of the Kate Greenaway publications, with a scarcely seen 19th century dust jacket still intact. See it here.

Screen Shot 2017-01-31 at 11.02.11 AMIn the 1900s we begin to see more and more child-oriented literature, such as naturalist and animal illustrator Cecil Aldin’s “The White Puppy Book”. This book in particular contains 25 illustrations (a clear distinction of the rise of literature for the children’s enjoyment), of which 12 are full-page illustrations. This illustrator used his skills to bring enjoyment to children with this book, with humorous images of a white puppy. See it here

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Skipping ahead to 1955, we see the popular Children’s Series books at peak demand. Edward Stratemeyer had formed his syndicate in 1905, and series books like Tom Swift, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys had been favored by the young for decades. One of our favorite series that doesn’t (in our humble opinion) receive enough acclaim for its creativity and individuality are the Freddy books! Our 1st edition of “Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars” is one – the Freddy series including stories of a fun-loving pig that tries desperately to go on many different adventures. They are illustrated intertextually with brightly colored and humorous Dust Jackets. See this item here

Screen Shot 2017-01-31 at 11.02.35 AMAlmost every adult in the United States knows the Dick and Jane series to help teach children to read with humorous lines and repetition. The series was iconically illustrated by artists such as Eleanor Campbell and Robert Childress, and though first appearing in the 1930s remained popular ever since, even being reissued in 2003. The iconic phrase “See Spot Run!” comes from this series! A set of 16 scarce reading cards from 1962 can be found here

So how else can you celebrate Children’s Author and Illustrator week without splurging on a neat antiquarian item? Well, whether you are a parent, a teacher, a bookseller or a librarian, here are a few ideas!

TALK with a librarian or a local children’s bookseller. They can recommend the perfect books for yours and your children’s age or interests!

READ with friends and family. Reading together is fun and helps create enthusiastic, strong readers. It’s never too late to become a reader!

VISIT independent bookstores and children’s specialty bookstores and learn about a new (or long gone, in our case) children’s author today!

And visit the Children’s Author’s Network for more ideas on spreading the Kid Lit love this year! 

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Happy Birthday to our Favorite Children’s Book Serialist… Mr. Edward L. Stratemeyer!

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By Margueritte Peterson

On October 4th, 1862, a children’s literature tycoon was born. With his humble beginnings, of course, no one ever would have suspected that a talented writer and publisher was in their midst. Stratemeyer was born the youngest of six children in Elizabeth, New Jersey to a young tobacconist and his wife. Both of Edward’s parents had immigrated from Hanover, Germany in 1837, and yet Stratemeyer’s main language was English growing up. 

As a child, Stratemeyer read Horatio Alger often, enjoying his rags-to-riches tales immensely. He later was said to have remarked on how much Alger’s stories influenced him as a young man, and gave him some of the confidence he later used to begin his career. It looks as though even as a teenager Stratemeyer had some idea of what he wanted to do as an adult, as he opened his own amateur printing press in the basement of his father’s tobacco store. He printed local & homemade flyers and pamphlets, and a few short stories such as The Newsboy’s Adventure and The Tale of a Lumberman. After graduating high school, Stratemeyer worked daily in his father’s shop, and kept up printing a few items here and there. It wasn’t until he turned 26 that he sold his first story to popular children’s periodical Golden Days, and received $76 for his contribution (a fact that the helpful internet informs us was over six times the average weekly paycheck for the average US citizen at the time). 

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-11-20-45-amAfter experiencing this hint of fame and riches, the young writer moved to the larger city of Newark (NJ) and opened a paper shop. He continued to write while earning his daily bread, and penned stories in many different genre’s – short westerns, serials for New England periodicals, dime novels, detective fiction… you name it, he wrote it (well, perhaps except for romances. But I digress). In 1893, just three short years after moving to Newark, Stratemeyer was hired by well-known dime-novel author Gilbert Patten to write for the Street & Smith periodical popular with young boys & men at the time, Good News. Stratemeyer was a popular editor & author at the magazine. 

Just a year later in 1894, Stratemeyer began publishing some of his stories as hardcover novels, the first of which being Richard Dare’s Venture – part of the Bound to Succeed series. Though his first four novels sold reasonably well, the publisher of the stories, Merriam, was unable to publish any further stories due to an economic depression that struck the United States in the late 1890s. Stratemeyer wouldn’t be sad for long, however, as shortly thereafter publisher W. L. Allison picked up his books and published twelve of his titles, and in 1899 an amazing thing happened to young Stratemeyer… he was asked to finish writing for two of his childhood heroes! 

Our affordable copy of The Rover Boys on the River, one of the series known to be Stratemeyer's favorite!

Our affordable copy of The Rover Boys on the River, one of the series known to be Stratemeyer’s favorite! See it here>

First Stratemeyer was asked by Lee & Shepard to pen the last book in a series begun by “Oliver Optic”, of William T. Adams. Adams had passed away before being able to complete the series, and the fans were left with baited breath. Around the same time, author Horatio Alger’s health was declining and he was also unable to finish his writings. Stratemeyer began work on Alger’s stories shortly before Alger’s death in 1899. Alger’s sister Olive negotiated with Stratemeyer to complete some of Alger’s stories that remained as notes or early chapters but that were never finished, and publish them under Alger’s name. The first popular series that Stratemeyer wrote was known as The Rover Boys – an instant success and a series that achieved immense popularity. Stratemeyer is even said to have mentioned that this series was his favorite throughout the years of authorship and publication!

In 1905, just a few short years later, Stratemeyer formed the Stratemeyer Literary Syndicate and began hiring journalists and other writers to pen stories based on his plot ideas. Stratemeyer paid each author a flat rate for the books they submitted, and then kept all of the copyrights to the novels themselves. The journalists wrote under pen names, which also allowed different authors to publish books in the same series. In this vein, printer, author and publisher Stratemeyer was now acting as a “literary agent” for ghostwriters in a way. 

Through the Syndicate, Stratemeyer would be the imagination behind quite a few immensely popular series books, including the Tom Swift series, the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, and the Nancy Drew books. Though there are many more titles and series under the Syndicate’s name, these are the most well-remembered today. After Stratemeyer’s death in 1930 at the age of 67, the ownership of the Syndicate was passed on to his two daughters, Harriet and Edna. At first, the sisters thought to sell the Syndicate, but quickly realized that they preferred to keep their father’s business alive. They went on the keep the Syndicate running for twelve years together, and then Harriet kept the Syndicate together until her death in 1982. 

Today, Edward Stratemeyer’s books are largely considered some of the most beloved and well-known children’s series books in the business. They certainly opened a door for series books, and gave many authors the ability to write a be published (even if it wasn’t under their name and they had no rights to their work… but regardless). Happy Birthday to Edward L. Stratemeyer!

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