On the Road with the Cotsen Library: or, Some Independent Bookstores Are Alive and Well

My father used to talk about taking a “busman’s holiday” –that is, doing pretty much the same thing on vacation that he did at work (and no, he wasn’t a busman himself, but rather someone who worked in an office).  A great phrase, as I hope you’ll agree!

With that in mind, have you ever wondered what a bibliophile or a librarian who is interested in children’s books does while on vacation?  Well, some of us like to look at bookstores and libraries (along with doing other things too, I hasten to add!).

Thus, the recent ALA Annual Conference and Rare Books & Manuscripts “Preconference” in San Francisco and Oakland, respectively, provided a jumping-off point for later sight-seeing — and, in the process, happening upon some amazing small bookshops, run by real book-lovers, by pure serendipity.  (For all the great aspects of having the world of books accessible via online shopping, nothing quite compares to just stumbling upon a bookstore or catching a glimpse of an attractive book cover or dust-jacket you’ve never seen before, does it?)

First, there was Village Books, in Ukiah, California, about 100 miles North of San Francisco.  We spotted this small shop across the street from our lunchtime retreat from 100+ degree heat.  As soon as we entered, I knew we’d found a great bookstore!  Even the check-out counter was covered with books, as you can see:


Village Books, Ukiah, California

That introductory “prologue” was certainly borne out by another look around:



Books from floor-to-ceiling, convenient reading spaces throughout… a bibliophile’s delight… mostly used books, but some new ones too.

Of particular interest to me were the sections with children’s (and young adult) books, packed almost to the rafters:







And especially eye-catching was a dedicated children’s reading area, clearly meant to welcome young readers into a comfortable setting and encourage them to sit and read books of all sorts:





But this is a bookstore after all, not a library, so what did we buy?


Upper cover of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, with color-printed paper onlay (Harper & Bros., 1911) author’s collection

To name just a few, some nice French-language children’s books (for a YA reader learning French), a vintage copy of Lord of the Flies (bought by an adult for aforementioned YA reader, since Lord of the Flies seems to have fallen off the assigned list of books for middle schoolers), and a very nicely illustrated 1911 edition of Tom Brown’s School Days, with artwork by Louis Rhead, and a paper onlay on the upper cover that reminds us reminded me just how much work went into late 19th- and early 20th-century publisher’s bindings.

Tom Brown’s School Days (1857) is one of those “children’s classics,” hugely-influential and once widely read, but seldom read by child readers any more.  (Actually, a surprising number of “children’s classics” fall into the category of well-known but not much read now.)  It’s a landmark example of a “school story,” fiction focusing on children or adolescents within a school context (usually a boarding school), a genre especially popular in England from the mid- to late-1700s through the mid-1940s.  Some other prominent examples include: Sarah Fielding’s The Governess (1749) and Kipling’s Stalky & Co. (1899).

Think school stories are utterly passé?  Well, think again… J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels drew heavily on the genre — Hogwarts, focal point of the action, is, after all, a school, and most of the main characters are students or masters there — and many critics have discussed how Rowling both made use of and extended the school story genre.  Like Tom Brown, Harry Potter comes somewhat timidly to a new school, has to learn the ropes, and undergoes various trials and bullying in the course of making moral choices, learning about himself, and growing up.


As that venerable and learned poet…says


Poor old Benjy!

Although Tom Brown is set in Thomas Arnold’s reform-oriented Rugby School of the 1840s, the story details quite a bit of unruly hijinks by the boys, as well as a lot of fighting and some harrowing bullying — all of which no doubt fascinated boy readers, at whom the book seems clearly aimed. Rhead’s full-page illustrations in  this edition compellingly depicted many of these events, and in addition, he provided small historiated letters at the beginning of chapters, which I particularly like. A real window onto another era.










But time to move on… How about continuing our bibliographic travelogue and moving from Northern California to Seattle … and from school stories to Wonderland?

Again, serendipity plays a major role in the story — sometimes you find bookstores where you would least expect to find them, as was the case for us in Seattle.  Seattle’s Pike Place Market is famous: the usual tourist souvenirs, fresh fruit and veggies, and lots and lots of fresh fish, including “flying fish,” tossed around by energetic fishmongers! (This fish-tossing is so renowned that it serves as the subject of a movie titled “FISH!,” which is about improving customer service, workplace morale, and motivating workers. If you don’t believe me, do a quick online search!)








A fun place to visit — but hardly a place you’d expect to find a bookstore…  But tucked away in a downstairs corridor, around the corner from a cookie shop, a coffee bar, and a take-out food place, we happened to see a brightly-colored bookstore wedged into a space not much more than ten or fifteen feet wide: Lamplight Books.


A glimpse inside the shop…


Lamplight Books, Seattle Market.








Cover of Through the Looking-Glass (Dodge & Co., 1909?) author’s collection


Sightseeing again took a back-seat to book-browsing, as we went through the hidden garden gate or down the rabbit hole into another magical world of books…

Among the books we discovered was a hard-cover second printing of one of Durrell’s Alexandra Quartet novels, well-read but still with its original dust-jacket — and still cheaper than a new paperback edition elsewhere — and an even more well-read 1909 edition of Through the Looking Glass by American publisher Dodge & Co., which interested me for several reasons.

First, the illustrations by Bessie Pease Guttmann present Alice as a dark-haired girl — quite unlike Tenniel’s depiction, but much like Carroll’s own artwork in his original Alice manuscript edition — with the Queen of Hearts as the blondie — and one looking very much like Tenniel’s chess piece depiction in Looking Glass, not a playing card or Queen Victoria parody a la Alice in Wonderland.









But even more arresting were the unique markings and colorings in this copy of the book, presumably made by a child-reader. As we see on the pictorial endpapers, printed in a blue-outlined pattern, an apparently quite young reader has “embellished” things!  (I’d say she/he was young, based on the roughness of the coloring.)


Blue-printed patterned endpapers colored by child reader.

And this embellishment continues throughout the book, whose blue-printed outline borders were apparently irresistible to the reader.  Sometimes, the child embellisher fully colored the illustrations on an entire page, and sometimes he/she has focused in only on details apparently of particular interest to him or her, as we can see in the instances below:


Instances of selective coloring by child reader

This is pattern of varied “levels” of markings in children’s books is something I’ve observed before and discussed here on the Cotsen blog.  Was the reader of this book simply focusing on things of particular interest to her/him, or responding to the story and somehow trying to foreground characters and aspects discussed on particular pages by coloring them in there — in effect providing a reader’s commentary of sorts?  Of course, there’s no way to be sure. But since identifying agency by child-readers and making sense of reader-response is certainly a topic of considerable interest to those analyzing child readership today, I wonder if patterns of marking like those found in this book might conceivably shed some light on these areas of inquiry?

This copy of Through the Looking Glass also manifests evidence of another possible  sort of reader “appetite” on quite a number of pages, as we can see on the example below:







It’s a little hard to tell what these are? Bite-marks?  If so, made by a child?  By several different children?  By the family dog?  Or just marks of rough handling?  They certainly look like bite marks to me!  And if so, what might this suggest to us about the reader(s) of this book or child readers, in general?  Along with the markings, this definitely suggests that this copy of Through the Looking Glass did indeed “find its reader” who extensively handled and “interacted with” the book in several ways, even if we can’t be sure that he/she necessarily read the text on the pages.

I think the signs of book use here also underscore an important aspect of children’s use of books; it’s frequently unpredictable — often spontaneous and unplanned — and thus it can be hard to “interpret” what this “evidence” means, as well as dangerous to read too much into this by adults who are coming along later and trying to investigate child reading.  Child readers leave a lot of clues, but how can we be sure that we’re “reading” them accurately from our adult critical vantage-point?  There’s always an element of speculation in this critical approach, isn’t there?

Apart from an opportunity to think about children’s marks in books and talk about a couple of interesting editions of children’s “classics,” I guess the broader “moral” of my story here is really to highlight that independent bookstores — and great ones too! — can still be found out there, sometimes when and where you least expect them.  There’s real pleasure to be had in browsing them with no particular book or aim in sight, especially if you’re a book-lover. Sometimes you find amazing things that you had no idea you were looking for! There can be real serendipitous pleasure in simple serendipity…

Where is the Land of Green Ginger?

Nowhere, of course, because it doesn’t exist.

Except in the mind of Beatrix Potter.

In the land of Green Ginger there is a town called Marmalade, which is exclusively inhabited by guinea-pigs.

They are of all colours and of two sorts–the common ordinary smooth-haired guinea-pigs who run errands and keep green grocers shops–and the kind that call themselves Abyssinian Cavies–who wear ringlets and walk upon their toes.

And the short-haired guinea-pigs admire and envy the curls of the long-haired guinea-pigs.

Both kinds of the guinea-pigs go to the Barber especially on Saturdays.

Beatrix Potter

Hucksterism in the Land of Green Ginger in Beatrix Potter’s The Fairy Caravan
(Cotsen 21522)

Beatrix Potter

The barber and his victim in Potter’s The Tale of Tuppenny illustrated by Marie Angel (Cotsen 11853)

If you want to find out about what happened when the bald guinea pig Tuppenny tried three treatments of Quintessence of Abyssinian Artichokes, the hair wash invented (and untruthfully promoted) by the barber, you’ll have to find a copy of The Tale of Tuppenny (1971) with illustrations by Marie Angel or  The Fairy Caravan (1929), where Potter first published it.

The Land of the Green Ginger

The djinn. Noel Langley, The Land of the Green Ginger illustrated by Edward Ardizzone (author’s copy).

I don’t know if  Noel Langley (1911-1980) learned about the Land of Green Ginger from Beatrix Potter’s Fairy Caravan.   Perhaps not, because there are no guinea-pigs, just a djinn of the lamp, three suitors competing for the hand of lovely princess Silverbud, a feisty mouse, Omar Khayyam the tent maker, a flying carpet, and a dragon with a heliotrope tongue who likes his donkey with lettuce salad, tomatoes sliced thin.  Everything necessary for a sequel to the story of Aladdin.

And who was Noel Langley?  Born and educated in Durban, South Africa, he wrote and illustrated for children The Tale of the Land of Green Ginger (1937), which helped get him a seven-year contract with MGM.  His Hollywood writing credits include The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1939), Scrooge (1951), Ivanhoe (1952), and Snow White and The Three Stooges (1961).

Poster for The Wizard of Oz

Poster for the Wizard of Oz screenplay with Langley’s name at the head of the list of writers.

Langley also turned out plays, short stories and novels, but what he is remembered for besides the screenplay for The Wizard of Oz is his over-the-top pseudo-Oriental fantasy, The Land of Green Ginger, which he rewrote in 1966 and 1975, both accompanied by the illustrations of Edward Ardizzone.

The hero of The Land of Green Ginger, Prince Abu Ali, is not the likeliest of lads.

He was too amiable; too good-natured; too kindly; too honest, and too-fair-minded.

He was far too considerate of other people’s feelings.

He laughed too easily, and he was much too sympathetic.

He was deeply fond of both of his parents.

He was never lazy, impudent, or ill-mannered.

He could never raise his voice in foolish rage, or be a tattle-tale behind your back.

He was, in fact, quite hopeless.

Any sensible person would put their money on the other two suitors, Wicked Prince Tintac Ping Foo or Wicked Prince Rubdub Ben Thud of Arabia.  Of the two, tall, skinny, mercenary Prince Tintac Ping Foo has the edge because of his way with words.  Here is a conversation with his father, the Shah of Persia, in which it is revealed that Rubdub Ben Thud has stolen a march on Tintac Ping Foo.

“What?  Rubdub Ben Thud?” shrilled the Wicked Prince in fiercest ire.  “That balloon-faced butterball?  Do you dare to tell me he has the silly sauce to pit himself against a paragon of loveable manly virtues like me?”

“I’m afraid so.  Yes,” said the Shah of Persia.

“Oh har! Oh har! Oh, har!” scoffed Tintac Ping Foo scornfully.  “I’d like to be there when they throw him out on his ear; but it’s far too far beneath my delicate dignity!”

“I quite agree,” agreed his father insincerely, “and I’d laugh as loudly as you my son; except that my spies inform me that Sulkpot Ben Nagnag looks with favor on his suit, and has invited him to lunch.”

The Wicked Prince Tintac Ping Foo went as purple in the face as a stick of jealous rhubarb, and shook his fists toward the sky.

“Then woe betide Rubdub Ben Thud!” he vowed vindictively. “He’ll rue the day he crossed my path! Ho there, Slaves! My camels! My retinue! My magic sword! My jellybeans! I leave at once for Samarkand.”

And what is more, gentle reader, he meant it and he did.

Tale of the Land of the Green Ginger (Cotsen 10198)

The author’s illustration of the wicked prince. Langley, The Tale of the Land of the Green Ginger (1937) (Cotsen 10198)

Land of Green Ginger: Ardizzone ill.

Prince Abu Ali and Silverbud united at last as illustrated by Ardizzone. The Land of Green Ginger (author’s copy)

But The Land of Green Ginger is a fractured fairy tale, so virtue will out, no matter which of the three versions you read.  If you crave more of the rhodomontade quoted above, pass by  the first edition and run, do not walk, to the 1975 version which is available in a handsome paperback from David R. Godine.   Sometimes it is just too humid and hot to tackle the volumes like War and Peace, Infinite Jest, or 1Q84 on a summer reading list, whereas something light and frivolous like The Land of Green Ginger goes down like a scoop of coconut sorbet.

Perhaps, patient and forbearing reader, a small sigh has escaped your lips because this magical realm cannot be found on Google Maps.  Actually, if you go to the East Riding of Yorkshire and find the bottom of Whitefriargate in Hull upon Kingston, you can visit the Land of Green Ginger.  Or you can read the books.  Take your pick.

Hull's version of the Land of Green Ginger

The Land of Green Ginger in Hull.