Favorite Childhood Books No One Else Knew (Picture Book Edition)

Elizabeth Bluemle -- March 17th, 2010

You know those obscure picture books you read as a child over and over again? The ones that delighted or haunted you, that stayed with you over the years, that helped form you as a person—but that no one else has ever heard of? It’s a little weird and a little cool, as though maybe ten copies were ever printed and you were the only person outside the author’s family who managed to find one. Over the years, I’ve managed to save and/or collect most of these books, and occasionally I’ll pull them down from the shelves and enjoy my Proust’s madeleine experience and go back in time.

Princesses TressesOne of my favorite no-one-else books was Princesses’ Tresses by Luciana Roselli. This book was an early 70’s confection of (three?)-color art in sherbet hues, drawn with a fanciful, sentimental line. The story was simple, about a little girl with very short hair who yearned for long princess hair, oodles and miles and spaghetti swirls of it — until she realized how much of a pain that much hair would actually be, and she settles for trusting that her hair will grow to a pretty, manageable length and will be just fine and dandy, thank you. Why did I love this book so very much? I can’t even begin to tell you. Perhaps it was partly the fact that my mother gave it to me especially because of my very thick, impossible hair, and partly that the little girl’s name was Elisabeth (that elegant variation of my own very common name). I know it had something to do with the images that went with phrases like, ‘It would take seven handmaidens to wash it, seven suns to dry it…’ [paraphrased; I can’t find my beloved copy]. I was entranced by the improbably elaborate hairdos necessary to contain all that mass: for instance, hair parted and braided and fashioned into, say, a large garden trellis. The consequences of incredible tresses became increasingly absurd, ending, I think, with a prince or two getting lost in there. (Put Dr. Freud back on the shelf; this book was too sprightly to have engaged in metaphor.)

The writing was actually lyrical, but it was also simple and clear and comfortingly matter-of-fact, like a good fairy tale. I don’t know how and where my mother found that book, and I’m sure she never would have imagined I’d read it almost as often as I read Where the Wild Things Are, but there you are. In all my years of loving and living with books, I’ve never met another person familiar with that one.

Minnie the Mump

Herman German MeasleMinnie the Mump and Other Stories by Paul Tripp. This 1960 book about health and doctors’ visits and illnesses for kids was published by a drug company, of all things: Ross Laboratories in Columbus, Ohio. Its full title, in fact, is preceded by “The Vi_Daylin® book of….” Turns out that Vi-Daylin® was “the Ross Laboratories brand of vitamin supplement.” What I loved about this book were the illustrations: personified illnesses like CLARA the COLD, CHARLIE CHICKEN POX, HERMAN GERMAN MEASLES, MOLLY MEASLES, SCARLET FEVER (“She is a STREPTOCOCCUS which is not a nice thing to be”). They were suitably nasty creatures, but in a friendly sort of way — not an easy duality to carry off. Do you know it wasn’t until I pulled this one from the shelf tonight that I realized the artist was Trina Hyman (no Schart back then)?! No wonder I loved the illustrations!

Tiger FlowerTiger Flower detail yellowTiger Flower detail redI’ve always loved miniature things, so when my mother brought home a book featuring a tiny tiger nestled in flowers, I was enchanted. Tiger Flower, “a tale by Robert Vavra around paintings by Fleur Cowles with a preface by Yehudi Menuhin,” was an odd book that didn’t tell a story so much as present a lot of lovely paintings of a topsy-turvy natural world where mushrooms were the size of trees and lions and tigers balanced on blades of grass, no longer hunting zebras but, rather, flowers for bouquets. I’ve never met anyone else who encountered it as a child, and in fact, it’s the kind of arty, slightly distant book that perhaps has more adult than child appeal. (I’ll bet my mom found it at an art gallery or museum in Phoenix somewhere.) Still, though I didn’t connect strongly to the words, the idea of a miniature tiger—a tiger small enough to run around in the palm of my hand, or to be blanketed by a rose petal—brought me back again and again to the pages of that book.

Arm in Arm

Arm in Arm by Remy Charlip might have been written just for me: a child who got lost in funny words and skewed ideas and pictures that asked questions. An unorthodox picture book, it was a collection of jokes and wordplay and skits and mini-stories poetry and very-1970s doodly playful rainbow-colored illustrations and hand-lettered text that spiraled around in shapes to follow along the page. Arm in Arm pageThe subtitle alone was delicious: A Collection of Connections, Endless Tales, Reiterations, and Other Echolalia. (Try getting THAT past Acquisitions today.) It was the very essence of imaginative art, full of funny little touches and bright spirit. It even sneaked in some  philosophy. I can’t tell you the number of hours I spent inside this book, pondering the concepts and poring over the art, the fine lines and miniature drawings and bursts of color. Incidentally, Arm in Arm also gave me my favorite childhood joke: “Ask me if I’m a boat.” “Are you a boat?” “Yes. Now ask me if I’m an airplane.” “Are you an airplane?” “No, silly, I’m a boat.” I still have my old copy, inscribed by my mom in 1973: “…a silly fun book because you are fun to be silly with.” (Inscriptions are practically a lost art, and I miss them.) Although Remy Charlip wasn’t and isn’t an obscure author, I was the only kid I knew who had that book. It was unique in format and freedom, and it was a touchstone for me.

Magic Friend MakerAnother no-one-else picture book was The Magic Friend Maker by Gladys Baker Bond, illustrated by Stina Nagel. It’s the story of Beth, a shy “one-girl,”an only child with no best friend. Then she meets Jean, a new girl in the neighborhood who befriends Beth by showing her a special, egg-sized rock. I loved that rock and its mysterious colors: “It looked very old. Its brownness was streaked with one color that looked like rust on old iron, and another color that looked like a policeman’s coat on a smoggy morning.” It  turns wonderful colors when submerged in water, “… like melted candy, streaked with red, yellow, and shadowy blue.” Brought together by the stone, two girls become best best best best friends. Rock in HandBut all good things must come to an end, and one day, Jean announces she has to move. Beth is despondent, but then a new girl moves in, and Beth — I know this will shock you — befriends her with the rock Jean gave to Beth as she was leaving. “It was just a rock until it was shared. Then it became a magic friend-maker.” I don’t know why I liked this simple story so much. I wasn’t a “one-girl;” I had a sibling and little friends to play with. But man, I loved that rock. I still gather a stone or two when visiting a new place, or going back to an old one, and I know that my habit of rinsing stones to see what they look like wet is due to The Magic Friend Maker.

Want to Touch My Rock?Recently, my entire understanding of this book was called into question by a friend who facetiously found a wildly lesbian subtext in the friendship; she quoted lines like “Touch it …. My rock gets warm when you hold it,” with an exaggerated leer, making me both laugh hysterically and hate her a teeny bit for forever besmirching my inner five-year-old’s delight at the friendly faces, innocent hand-holding, and happy teeter-totters, wild swings, and cute sparrows in the park. “Want to touch my rock?” It’ll never be the same.

This is why perhaps some of these no-one-else books deserve their place in solo memory, so you can keep your rocks rocks and your cigars cigars. But in case you want to share, I’m really curious: what are YOUR no-one-else books?

100 thoughts on “Favorite Childhood Books No One Else Knew (Picture Book Edition)

  1. Toyia Martin

    I loved the bookl Scat, Scat by Sally R. Francis . I read it many times as a child. I can remember the soft feel of the pages of the book. There were two pages together but they made a sleeve in the middle. I always felt sorry for the poor kitty, yet elated at the end when it was found by it ‘s new owner at the end. I would just preceed to read it over again. I believe the book was given to me as a Christmas gift during my childhood in the early 60’s. I did find the book on-line at cost ranging from $40.00 or more. I really wanted to get some pictures images, which I am still in the process of doing. Just the picture of the cover caused me to light up with joy and remember the line of the story that went something like “from the top of his head to head or his nose down to h is pink little toes” or ” from his pink little nose to his pink little toes”. I did love that book. The picture images are still burned in my head. The cat running in and the lady with the broom, the girl finding him sleeping in the window flowerbed. I really adorned this book. I hope to purchase one of the better “upkept” ones on line in the near future.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share.

    1. Gail Boshart

      I don’t know if it is the same book, but I thought it was kind of pink on the outside cover with a lady with a broom kind of brushing the kitty away.
      I really don’t even remember the story now I am 75. But I wanted to find it for my great grand kids.
      I did not know the author and am trying to find copies of it. That was my favorite one that I remember.
      I sure would love to hear if it was the same one.
      Thanks so much.
      Gail Boshart
      Seattle WA

  2. DeeDee

    I, too, loved Princesses Tresses. Recently, I won an ebay auction for that book! I never owned one before. In 2nd through 5th grade, I must have checked it out every week because each year when the Librarian saw that I filled up the ‘sign out’ card with my own name, week after week, she told me I needed to give someone else a chance to read it. I was devastated, but eventually grew out of wanting to read it daily. I remember telling my daughter about it and looking for it at the public library, to no avail. Now my daughter is 24, and I can’t wait to show her my book!
    As SOON as I got the book, dust jacket and all, I was transported to that time of my life where the idea of long, beautiful hair and princesses and princes getting married was paramount!

  3. Danielle

    I also loved The Magic Friend Maker. I only came across your message as I googled the title, to see if I could get another copy. I have 3 sisters and I have the only copy that I smuggled away from my parents house so I could read it to my two little girls!
    I read it to my class of 5 year olds too once and brought in a special rock of mine to share with them. Something about this book really moved me as a child and looking at the pictures takes me back to myself as a little girl!
    Another story I always loved was out of a book of collected stories called Modern Fairy stories – Princess Nobody was my favourite one. My sister nabbed the family copy of that so I will have to google that next. The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde always made me cry as I read it. This one of course is easy to find!

  4. Michelle

    I have been looking for others who loved or even knew Scat, Scat, Go, Away little cat. It was the first book I ever read by myself and even the first book I printed my name in! My mother had saved it for me but unfortunately she had a house fire and it was lost. I am still trying to find another copy! It is so nice to know other people remember and loved that book as well!

    1. Amy

      I love that book! My mother actually named me after the little girl in the original story, so it was natural that she would read it to me over and over again. I’m so sorry to hear that your copy of it was lost. I hope you’re able to find another to read to your little ones.

      1. Kiersten

        I have this book! It is one of my all-time favorites. I love the pictures of the cat when she gets dirty, the iced layer cake, and the pigtails on Rosie Runabout! I have no idea where to get another copy but I will keep an eye out.

    2. maureen

      I also have fond memories of sitting with my mother while she read Scat, Scat…. Our book was blue fabric with a paper color picture on the cover and the book’s pages were folded over and “slick”, so it was a feast of visual, audible and tactile comfort. How nice to hear others shared in that lovely experience.

      1. Jon

        I also still have the “Scat, Scat” book. I think it was probably my first book as a kid, and it was old then. (I am in my mid-40s!)

        1. Holly T.

          I, too, had “Scat Scat, Go Away Little Cat!” I was hoping to find the book through a google search when I stumbled upon this site. Does anyone remember the Sweet Pickles books?

    3. Anna

      OMG! SCAT SCAT….. Go Away Little Cat! I won this book for my homemade costume at my elementary school party, held in the gym on Halloween night. I was 4 years old, & in kindergarten. The year was 1953. It was my very 1st book ever, & it was read to me by my mother, but I quickly learned it, & read it over & over a kazillion times, until I wore it out. Mine was a medium green, hardcover. How I loved this book, & wish could find a copy too!

      1. Susan

        I loved that book, my great grandmother had it and it was by far my favorite book. I don’t know what ever happened to it but I’d love to have a copy and so far have been unsuccessful in finding it.

  5. Brooke

    I just came across your post searching for Princesses Tresses and found it weird that my 2 favourite childhood books are listed here – Princesses Tresses and The Magic Friend Maker. Unfortunately I only have my copy of The Magic Friend Maker and not the other.

      1. kate

        i just found this post/comment after googling “the princesses’ tresses”. it was my very favorite book growing up, and i was hoping to find an affordable copy for my niece. i still have my copy of it AND my copy of “the magic friend maker”, another favorite. i didn’t think anyone else ever heard of those books! thanks for posting and commenting, ladies 🙂

  6. Pingback: A Surprise Blast from the Past « Shelf Talker

  7. Shelftalker Elizabeth

    Elisa! What an incredible delight to come across your comment this morning. I never imagined as a little girl that the Elisabeth from my beloved book would someday come to life and say hello when I was grown up. That’s the true magic of the internet.

    I’m sorry to have gotten the publication date wrong; your mother certainly was ahead of her time! And that uncle — I hope he has apologized profusely since then. TERRIBLE joke to play on a girl.

    Perhaps someday I’ll have an excuse to go to Parma for a longer look at your mother’s artwork. I’ll go in search of THE POLKA DOT CHILD, as well. Thank you so much for writing!

    Note: the book covers seem to have vanished from this post during the PW switchover. I’ll try to fix that this weekend.

  8. Elisa Roselli

    I am very moved to hear that you loved PRINCESSES’ TRESSES. It was written and illustrated by my mother, and I was the little girl in the story!
    I desperately wanted long hair, but when I was about 5 or so and trying to grow it, a nasty uncle cut a great chunk of it off. That was his idea of a joke. They had to cut the rest of my hair to even it up and I think it was one of the great traumatic experiences of my childhood. My mother wrote the book to comfort me. A year earlier, she had written a book called THE POLKA DOT CHILD to help me deal with the experience of chicken pox!
    You’re wrong about the date though. It was 1963. My mother was well ahead of her time and it’s not surprising that you estimate the style of her drawing at a decade later than it was.
    She had an international career as an illustrator and designer and died in 1986. The full collection of her works was bequeathed to the Centro Studi e Archivio della Communicazione in Parma,Italy.

    1. Di

      Hi Elisa:

      Thanks for sharing about your mother’s kind-hearted and loving gesture toward a traumatized daughter. I appreciate knowing what happened to her, and where her work is now located. What great memories.

  9. Bonnie

    A Big Ball of String by Marian Holland
    After reading this delightful book, I began collecting string. I didn’t even come close to making a big ball of string.

  10. Erica S. Perl

    LOVED Arm in Arm (note Pete and Repete reference in my new book, DOTTY). Another favorite “forgotten” book is The Sheep of the Lal Bagh, by David Mark, illustrated by Lionel Khalish. I’m happy to say that it is enjoying a renaissance in our house. It is, IMHO, a perfect picture book.

  11. Tamar

    The Fire Cat is still a Harper I Can Read title. My favorite was the wonderfully absurd There is a Dragon in My Bed and Other Useful Phrases in French and English. It was by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Irene Haas.

  12. shelftalker elizabeth

    Oh my gosh, what a cute book! I just read The Large and Growly Bear by J.P. Miller to Josie and we loved it. A perfect picture book — lots of repetition, some lovely language that isn’t at all precious, humor, a good twist and a satisfying ending. So glad you mentioned it. I’m not sure how I feel about reproducing entire books online, even OP ones; but I love getting the chance to read and share them. I wonder how to reconcile this.

  13. Cindy

    The Large and Growly Bear by Gertrude Crampton, ilustrated by J.P. Miller (Golden Books, 1961). It was the first book I could read by myself. It’s about a bear who wants to scare someone with his growl (a fun-to-say “Grrrrr”), but the animals in the forest are not impressed. I read it to my kindergarten teacher, who was so impressed that I could read with expression (it was that Grrrrr!) that she promoted me to the first grade halfway through the year. Thanks to this blog, I just looked it up and found it reprinted in its entirety on a blog called goldengems.blogspot.com. It’s just as wonderful as I remembered!

  14. Carola

    I had two “Tall Books” but not the one of Make Believe…think they were the Tall Book of Nursery Tales and the Tall Book of Mother Goose. The illustrations were rather scary in a way but I remember reading them over and over–at that age they seemed filled with so much in the way of both stories and pictures.

    1. Shelley Sutherland

      Ohmigosh the TallBook of Make Believe was magic to me. I still have a beaten up copy that I read to my kids. Also the King’s Wish by Benjamin Elkin. He was the principal at Rogers School where I spent my first 9 years of school. A fellow librarian unearthed a copy of that in her house and gave it to me just a few weeks ago!

  15. Kandy

    Andrew Henry’s Meadow was a favorite of mine! I spent hours looking at the illustrations and trying to decide which house I liked best. It is in print again, and I was able to buy a shiny new copy for my son.

  16. Mary Quattlebaum

    I *loved* reading about everyone’s favorites. I loved Jane’s Blanket (playwright Henry Miller’s only children’s book) but my whole family (7 kids) loved The Little Brute Family and The Stone Doll of Sister Brute (both by Russell Hoban). And I also love this little gem of a quiet book, Bear By Himself by Geoffrey Hayes (with restful black-and-white-and-greenish illustrations). A smaller, shorter versions with colored pics came out in 1998 but all the colors seem to work against the quiet, reflective tone of the text.

  17. Bina

    “Born at sea in the teeth of a gale, the sailor was a dog, and Scuppers was his name.” So starts the Sailor Dog by Margaret Wise Brown, illus by Garth Williams. A family fav. and when I gave a copy to my then fortyish brother, he actually had a tear in his usually cynical eye.
    Cheerful by Palmer Brown, a small in size book about a mouse who gets lost in a white sugar Easter Egg. Another huge favorite is Friendship Valley by Wolo about a group of animals who flee a forest fire on a raft made from the door to one of their homes. Mr. Meedlepoo the frog is a great name. A lost kitten joins them with one bicky berry blue mitten. Peter the Pack Rat eventually finds her mother who has the other mitten. The animals build a great little “village” in a huge old tree and in its roots. Loved it! Lasrly Percy, Polly and Pete by Claire Bishop (I think) about three little kittens.

  18. Charlotte

    What a great thread! My favorite picture book was “The Smartest Bear and his Brother Oliver” by Alice Bach and a young Steven Kellogg from 1975. The world of those twin bears and their feasting parents enchanted me. I read my paperback until it was in tatters and 30 years later got a hardcover first edition which Mr. Kellogg signed. What a treasure.

  19. Jessica Leader

    I WANT TO RUN AWAY, by Joan Hanson, published by Platt and Munk (who?) Little boy, outraged at the terrible injustices of his life, packs to run away from home–only to realize that he is taking everything with him. Rather existential, actually!
    I also laugh to find the gayish subtext in childhood favorites, though there’s a cringe factor, too. And then there’s the delightfully titled SOMETHING QUEER AT THE LIBRARY series, which is just begging for some kind of campy cabaret re-enactment.

  20. Diane Guscott

    I loved a book called “Upsey, Downsy Land” about little creatures, some of which walk on their feet and others who walk on their hands. I believe it was put out by Mattel. I still have it though it is a little crewed from one of our dogs.

  21. Camille DeBoer

    Thy Friend, Obadiah by Brinton Turkle, Henry the Explorer by Mark Taylor, Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty, and Do You Know What I’ll Do by Charlotte Zolotow with the Garth Williams illustrations were my constant reads 35 years ago.
    Andrew Henry’s Meadow was brought to my attention after I named a child Andrew Henry. It’s a fabulous read and is very much available to your local bookshops. Just Ask!

  22. Elizabeth P

    I loved Ladybird book’s Discontented Pony. It’s about a bored farm pony who runs away with the circus. The artist evoked a wonderful sunny pre-war world and I made my mum read it until she wanted to scream. I still love it and treasure it.
    No-one in my deprived little town knew about it but I have found many fans of it on the internet. Please google it and find the beautiful pictures for yourself….

  23. Rita

    One of my favorite childhood books no one else knew was “Max the Market Mouse by Robert Hass (1975). The story is about a mouse family that lives in Mr. Shultz’s market. I remember the picture of Max and his brother’s bunk beds were made out of match boxes. Max’s parents had two rules “Never go out during the day, and never leave any traces”. Max however get brave and ventures out during the day.

  24. Carin

    I loved a book called Septimus Bean and His Amazing Machine that I just found (and bought) used last month. I also for years loved a book called The Man Who Lost His HEad and I knew it was illustrated by Robert McCloskey but in the last 10 years dozens of book people told me I was crazy – there was no such book. But it just was reissued in November! Yay! Both glad to be right and glad to see it back in print. 9781590173329

  25. lizaw

    One of my favorites, and it must have belonged to my parents, was Walter the Lazy Mouse by Marjorie Flack. Another was Ant and Bee and the Doctor, by Angela Banner.

  26. Jess

    I probably checkout out “The Fire Cat” by Esther Averill from my local library over twenty consecutive times when I was first learning how to read. I loved the idea that a cat could work as a firefighter, and because this cat had big paws, “he could do big things.” No matter how many times I borrowed it from the library, I never bought it because the fact that it was on loan made it even more special!

  27. Freeman Ng

    Children in Hiding is still my favorite story about kids fending for themselves — yes, even over My Side of the Mountain and The Mixed Up Files… — despite a somewhat dated racial framework. (Which might actually have been considered advanced at the time.)

  28. Kelly

    Loved The Magic Friend Maker. Your friend needs to learn not everything has subtext. I loved a book called The Little Red Caboose That Ran Away. I knew the story by heart.

  29. Jeannine

    It’s not completely obscure, but I probably read “The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash” like 100 times. I looooooved that book, and most of the other Steven Kellogg books like “Pinkerton Behave” and “The Mysterious Tadpole”, the illustrations are so fun and cute, and I would find something new everytime.

  30. Mary

    I remember a book of black and white photos called BUTTONS AND BOWS in which 2 paper dolls had all sorts of adventures. No one has ever heard of this book, but I adored it. I also loved SCAT, SCAT, GO AWAY LITTLE CAT which was reissued in the 70’s — a sweet white kitten is chased away by many grumpy people but is finally given a home by a little girl.

    1. lise

      Wow, you are the first person I’ve met who remembers the book Scat, Scat, Go Away Little Cat. I was a very little girl in the early 60s when my parents read me that book. What a delight to find someone who remembers it.

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