A love for black children’s books
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    Little story books that fit in a child’s hands

    I could hold the books quite easily in my open hand, they were that small. They were obviously made for children based on their tininess and the familiar characters on the covers:

    The Three Pigs

    The Gingerbread Boy

    Little Red Riding Hood

    Beauty and the Beast

    It was as if the publisher was telling kids, “These were made special for your little hands.” To be honest, I was drawn to them for their size, too, which was their most appealable state. It wasn’t easy trying to thumb through the books with my oversized hands, though. I did so very carefully to keep from tearing the pages.

    little books

    A group of little books by author Thornton W. Burgess and published by John H. Eggers Co.

    Several of the books were written by author Thornton W. Burgess. The one titled “The Discontent of Peter Rabbit” was published first in 1914 and later in 1922 by the John H. Eggers Co., and I figured the rest of the Burgess books were from the same time period.

    Googling, I could find very little information about Eggers or his company, but I did find that he created a number of little books of his own, published by the Sage Allen and Co. in 1916 and 1917. He apparently also wrote a series on bird-watching in 1941, published by yet another company, the Samuel Lowe Co.

    Most of the little books released by Eggers’ company were Burgess’ works, many of which were published during the era of World War I and after. In a 1922 ad in Printers Ink Monthly, the company promoted its “booklets” and touted its relationship with Burgess:

    “Friendly little booklets no bigger than your thumb, others larger. They build good-will out of all proportion to their size and cost. We have exclusive booklet publication rights of Thornton W. Burgess stories with illustrations by Harrison Cady and much other high-power material. We originate and specialize in ideas and unique lines.”

    little books

    The name of the publisher, John H. Eggers, along with information about the author.

    Burgess was a major children’s book author, newspaper columnist, radio personality and conservationist. Over more than 50 years, he wrote more than 170 books and 15,000 newspaper articles. Here’s a list of his books, some of which were called Quaddy books, a name he gave the animals he created in his forests and meadows.

    Eggers seemed to have been one of the major publishers of little books. In the ad, the company dubbed itself “The House of Little Books,” and was based in Times Square in New York. I found books ranging in sizes near 3″, the cutoff for those considered miniatures. I did find one at 3 1/8″, and another two times as large. The books at auction were near the 3″ size. Around 1932, the Whitman Publishing Co. began releasing its Big Little Book Series, but these were a bit larger (4″ tall) with many more pages (up to 400).

    Little books were not the only things the Eggers company published. I found two World War I propaganda posters credited to it: a 1917 recruitment poster seeking 25,000 student nurses by artist Milton Bancroft and a men-at-war poster titled “Nothing stops these men: let nothing stop you” by artist Howard Giles.

    little books

    Little books with familiar characters and titles.

    Some companies apparently used little books as giveaways to customers. One being sold on eBay bore an ad for Butter-Nut Milk Bread from 1922. It was written and illustrated by Grace Drayton, creator of the Campbell Soup Kids, who wrote several little books. Eggers himself created an Aladdin book as a premium for S&H Green Stamps in 1916.

    Eggers published some of Thornton’s books for the Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper in 1922. They came with this inscription on the back cover: “A New Bed Time Story similar to this one appears every evening in The Bulletin, Philadelphia.”

    Another of Egger’s little books was Burgess’ Peter Rabbit, the name of a character that had already appeared in a book by the British writer Beatrix Potter in 1900. Burgess was enamored with the story of the rabbit, which he read to his son, and a decade later, created his own version with the same name in the book “’Old Mother West Wind,” along with other characters that would appear in subsequent books. There is some debate about whether he purloined Potter’s character.

    Little books

    An image inside “Little Red Riding Hood.”

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