I was dismayed a few weeks ago when I discovered that our copy of King of the Golden River by John Ruskin was missing. One of my favorite children’s books, I had purchased a copy of it from alibris, a site for rare books. While our version did not have Iassen Ghiuselev’s charming illustrations, Ruskin’s exquisite telling of this fairy tale lent itself to reading aloud. He begins with the story of three brothers: two relentlessly cruel , the third, (Gluck) magnanimous by nature. Like Cinderella, Gluck works tirelessly for his overbearing brothers. He is not, however, interested in glass slippers and gowns, but rather the needs of the disadvantaged and the spiritual well-being of his selfish brothers. In the end, total self-sacrifice gains him a fortune. Feeling I had lost a fortune of sorts, I searched the house to no avail. The book was gone.
This got me thinking about all the books I have stumbled across in my wanderings that are nearly irreplaceable because they are out of print. I frequent book sales at local libraries in search of these treasures and am often amazed what librarians discard. Occasionally, I ask why a particular volume is being sold. Usually it has to do with an out-of-date cover that no longer appeals to young readers. Often, books are simply donated by patrons. One man’s loss is another man’s gain. Recently I found a well-seasoned paperback copy of Betsy Haynes’ Spies on the Devil’s Belt. In this engaging story, fourteen year old Jonathan carries messages for George Washington’s officers across the Long Island Sound. Even the grammar school aged boys for whom the book was written could not help but discern the importance of loyalty and obedience in small details that war time requires.
I do sometimes look for books currently being published. Last year I obtained a pristine copy of Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, a book I am sure is destined to become a classic. Still, I prefer to purchase books I cannot borrow from the library. Although my shelf space is woefully limited, I hope to find some of Stephen Meader’s adventures. A big fan of historical fiction, I discovered Meader while reading Guns for the Saratoga to my son. He was delighted to hear about events of the American War for Independence that transpired in our home state, New Jersey. Meader’s books involve various historical periods, and their young fictional heroes appeal to the daring nature of the young male mind. What better way to bring history to life?
Some books manage to find their way back into publishing houses. Anyone who has seen Peter Collington’s A Small Miracle will be happy to learn that a paperback version of this picture book will be released in September. After years of exile, Collington’s nativity set will come back to life in his detailed illustrations and once again save the kind gypsy woman. The true charm in this book lies in the fact that there is no text, and even pre-school aged children can read the story that each life-like picture contains. I have never seen this book at a used book sale. I came across our own copy while searching for King of the Golden River, which only served to strengthen my resolve to find the lost book.
I started to call anyone to whom I had ever lent a book and asked, in what I hoped was not an accusing tone, if he or she had borrowed it. No luck. In desperation, I checked Amazon, to see if any copies still existed. I was elated to see that it is indeed back in print. Ever the optimist, though, I checked my shelves one more time. Of course I found it, exactly on the shelf where I had last seen it.
Jennifer Minicus is a teacher currently living in Ridgewood, NJ.