The books of my childhood

I was a voracious reader as a child, but my access to books was limited. For many years I didn’t live near any large public libraries, never mind any real bookstores, so the school library was my primary source of reading material. I liked science fiction, fantasy, and of course nonfiction about things like space, submarines, and dinosaurs. It didn’t take long to run all the way through some of the shelves and have to start over. I remember some favorite books where my name was the only one on the library card in the back of the book, over and over again.

Years later, when I tried to locate my own copies of my old favorites, I was amazed to find out how many were out of print, and only available as used books, often expensive. These weren’t obscure books either. They were classics in their time.

Why did these get left behind? I don’t know. Most of the authors have passed on, and maybe their estates aren’t that enthusiastic about the books. Maybe it’s the publishers.

One good example (of many) would be Eleanor Cameron’s Mushroom Planet books. There were five of them:

  • The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, illustrated by Robert Henneberger.
  • Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet, illustrated by Robert Henneberger.
  • Mr. Bass’s Planetoid, illustrated by Louis Darling (who illustrated many of my favorite childhood books).
  • A Mystery for Mr. Bass, illustrated by Leonard Shortall.
  • Time and Mr. Bass, illustrated by Fred Meise.

Of these, only the first book is still in print, and that edition has no illustrations at all inside.

Over the years, I managed to scrounge up all the rest in their older editions (except for A Mystery for Mr. Bass, still on my wait list). But why aren’t these great old books still being printed, illustrations and all?

I don’t have an answer. Even if publishers think printing new paper copies is too expensive for the return, why not produce e-books of the original works? Heck, I could do it myself with a scanner if I had the time and incentive, but I couldn’t sell them. How hard would it be for a publisher to assign a few people to do it properly?

I’m keeping my eyes open. I’ve seen a few old favorites get picked up by small specialty publishers, and maybe the Mushroom Planet books will be noticed by one of them. Until then, there’s always the libraries, and the musty old books on my own shelves.

Katie and Zach pushed open the library door and went in. The building was new, but if you came into the library with your eyes closed and took a deep breath, you might visualize an ancient room with lacquered wood shelves reaching far over your head, sunlight streaming through high windows with dust floating in the sunbeams, and horsehair chairs at wooden tables with old brass lamps on them. Few things smell as good as a library where many of the books are older than you are.

Castle Falcon

(Mr. Bass at work. Illustration by Robert Henneberger)

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