out of print

7 Highly Giftable Vintage Children’s Books From the Depths of Amazon

If you don’t mind an old library-card pocket.

Out of Print is a series of gift posts we’ll be running this month and next, where we’ll be digging through the dark recesses of Amazon and finding the best-looking versions of the best books that make the best gifts.

I don’t love shopping online – I like to touch things before I buy them and I’m terrible about returning stuff on time. But the ability to locate and purchase just about any out-of-print book has been a true boon for this book nerd. And since becoming a parent, I now hunt for great (and cheap) out-of-print books for my kid. What follows is a list of some recent favorites. Some are truly vintage, others are more recent—all are out of print. If you don’t mind owning an old library book (complete with the card pocket in the back) you can buy most of these titles on Amazon for the cost of shipping. And most importantly, you’ll be able to read them over and over again without wanting to gouge your eyes out.

Jill Krementz’s iconic A Very Young series is, shockingly, entirely out of print. Her photography books follow real kids with serious vocations — a gymnast, a competitive horse rider, an ice skater, even a circus performer — and stoke the daydreams of many a wannabe star. A Very Young Dancer follows the lovely Stephanie through tryouts and rehearsals for the role of Clara in the New York City Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. (Did your inner 8-year-old girl just sigh with envy? Because mine did.) Krementz’s black-and-white photographs catch the glamorous onstage moments as well as more quiet scenes (mending ballet slippers, doing homework with a tutor). The photos were taken nearly 40 years ago, but they have a timeless quality — I guess kids just look like kids, whatever the decade. (Note: this one is pretty text heavy. If it’s the end of a long day, just stick to looking at the pictures.)

Bursting with huge, bright illustrations of the Big Five (fire engines, trains, boats, trucks, and airplanes), my cars-and-trucks-obsessed son cannot get enough. Of course, throwback style gets you throwback stereotypes, so feel free to editorialize — it’ll be a while before my toddler catches on that the comely young woman serving drinks on the airplane isn’t really “the pilot on a break.”

Clement Hurd, the illustrator of Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny, strikes out on his own with this story of a dog and cat on the loose, and the mayhem that ensues. His illustrations are rich with bright, saturated colors, the text is minimal, and the energy high — perfect for the “one last book” portion of the night. Originally published in 1941, it was reissued in 2005 and has since fallen out of print again.

Prepare your child for a life as “the kid with the weird mom” with this short, breezy tale about a boy whose mom is an unapologetic, black pointy hat–wearing, broomstick-riding witch. She brings cupcakes filled with bugs to the school bake sale and turns judge-y parents into toads. The book is British and the kids look wonderfully punk with their scruffy early-’80s haircuts and short-pant school uniforms

If your kid is into orphans (and what kid isn’t), get them a copy of Tomi Ungerer’s weird and wonderful retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Little Match Girl.” Tomi Ungerer doesn’t pull any punches — it’s a dark story and his illustrations can veer a bit into the grotesque — but unlike Andersen, he lets his poor little match girl live. Allumette is about to die of starvation when a magical thunderstorm rolls in and rains down everything she’s ever wished for: dozens of whole roast turkeys, baby dolls, wedges of Swiss cheese, a snazzy purple coverlet. Overwhelmed by her new fortune, she turns her energy to helping the cold and the hungry. Despite its earnest message, the book is unapologetically macabre — there’s a bloody battlefield scene, bread lines for the crippled and maimed, and monstrous-looking evil plutocrats with huge pinkie rings. In other words, lots to enjoy for the moody overthinker in your life.

(If you’re looking for lighter Ungerer fare, might I recommend the delightful Crictor and Adelaide, both still in print.)

The Buffy-Porson ranks as one of my best finds to date — a delightful book that harkens back to the good-old days when 10-year-olds were allowed to use saws and drills and careen down hills in handmade wheeled contraptions with nothing but a flimsy rope to break their speed. This surprisingly witty how-to includes step-by-step instructions and photographs for building your very own derby car. Your kid will be insanely jealous and beg to build one of his or her own, allowing you to smile indulgently and say “We’ll see,” a mom-phrase that makes me feel like an omnipotent goddess.

This wordless book follows one family through the busy days leading up to Christmas. Spier’s holiday scenes are cozily mundane: loading up the station wagon with groceries; waiting on line at the bank (remember that!?); dragging the boxes of ornaments from a crowded, dusty attic. His people have a soft, rumpled quality, like they just rolled out of a toasty warm bed, and his spaces are filled to the brim with familiar domestic clutter — lost mittens, a crushed ornament, a sink piled high with dishes. There’s something new to discover with each reading.

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7 Highly Giftable Vintage Children’s Books from Amazon