Sam’s Mission: A Story of Jubilee Year, by Beatrice Marshall

This lovely little children’s book published in 1892 is set in Long Leatham, England, at the time of Jubilee Day, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne.

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Sam is a young boy about eight or nine years old who one day goes to church and hears a traveling missionary say that however weak or insignificant you may be, you may do great things for God if you earnestly desire it. However difficult and impossible that may seem at first, God will make it possible if you ask him with all your heart. He will show you the way. (Yes! I’m inspired! Even a children’s book can get these truths out.)

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To Sam’s mind, that meant that even the youngest could be going out into the world to tell people about the love of Jesus. Although Sam is normally a quiet inactive child, he thinks about it, and takes it very deeply to heart. Soon, he wants to do that so badly that he actually tells his sister his secret and makes a plan to leave home with his tiny little rucksack and go to a particular city to find this traveling pastor.

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Sam’s sister tries to talk him out of it but he will not change his mind. So she agrees to go with him and they secretly pack up some things for their trip and set up very early the next morning in the dark. The sister believes that she can persuade her brother to come back home so she assumes that they will be home by nightfall.

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But she is wrong and they come across a lot of troubles that they didn’t expect and some unsavory people that robbed them. In the end they are brought home and sadly, the boy dies.  (Sniff sniff!)  His sister and family however believe that he ultimately accomplished his goal. All the people that found out about his determination to tell people about the love of Jesus make his story go public, far and wide, and many children are inspired by that story.

I do not like unhappy endings, on the other hand I do like realistic books, and what happened to this little boy was realistic. I love the idea that with determination, and a passion for doing good and to love others and to bring glory to the Lord, there are so many ways for that to be accomplished.  We don’t have to rely on our human ingenuity or strength or wisdom.

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I also thoroughly enjoyed the beautifully developed characters of the other children, and references to actual historic events. It was taking place during the Jubilee celebration of Queen Victoria, and throughout the little book there were references to other events going on in history, as well as details about life at that time.

A rather exciting and unique thing about this book is that although this book was written by Beatrice Marshall, who seems to have been a fairly famous author at that time–I could not find any place online where it was for sale, or any cover image.

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What I did find was that it appears in online copies of something called the Publishers Circular. It is listed in the October 1st 1892 edition and in the “Monthly Package for July to December 1892”. It says Beatrice Marshal is the author of Dolly’s Charge.  But I looked all over the internet and that is all I could find about this book.

So it sort of makes me excited to think, what if I have the only copy of this book, wouldn’t that be extraordinary?

Sam’s Mission was illustrated by C. Manning, published in 1892 by James Nisbet & Company Ltd, London; on the back page is typed: “Lorimer and Chalmers, Printers, Edinburgh”.

Little Grain’s Big Adventure by Jacqueline Price

How very exciting! An adorable children’s book, with quality writing, unique and exotic locales and wildlife, gorgeous artwork and beautiful lyrical language!
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Little Grain is bored with his hum-drum life tumbling in the surf among all the other grains of sand, and asks his friend Little Bird to take him to see the sights of Hawaii.  He ventures even farther, all the way to the Gulf of Alaska, and a strong wind strands him on an iceberg.  Now poor Little Grain is scared, cold, and homesick for his family and his warm sandy bay.  If only he could get some help!

This book is full of exotic plants, fascinating land forms, and unusual animals of the ocean, land and air, each in turn the most beautiful thing Little Grain has ever seen.  And THIS BOOK is one of the most beautiful things I’VE ever seen!

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The lyrical and alliterative words make Little Grain’s Big Adventure a joy-filled reading experience, and on each page we can find our tiny main character making comments in little white speech bubbles.  I am drawn in, re-reading it over and over, savoring the unique, calming imagery in the language.

This story of a little grain of sand was inspired by the author’s family trip to Napili Bay in Maui, and is enhanced with brilliant, bold illustrations. As a librarian at an elementary school, Jacquie discovered a talented fifth-grade boy who agreed to illustrate her book, and brought to life all the marvels Little Grain encounters from Hawaii to Vancouver Island and Alaska, and back.  After admiring the art, I could hardly believe that the illustrator was not a professional artist.  (Yet!)

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I fell in love with this story years ago when Jacquie sent it to our children’s writers group for our feedback. How wonderful to find out she was doing a book signing at our local Chapters Indigo bookstore in Calgary!

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This book is such a treasure.  I highly recommend it!

You can purchase a copy of Little Grain’s Big Adventure at the author’s website, www.jacquelinedprice.com.

What a beautiful present it would make for a child’s birthday or a holiday gift.  (And…..psssst!   Jacquie has another book coming out soon!)

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Happy 100th Birthday Beverly Cleary!

I don`t normally forward a link to a news article, but I just found this and can`t resist.

I just adore Beverly Cleary. On April 12, 2016 she turned 100 years old–can you believe it!

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Whenever someone learns my name is Ramona, they ask if I read the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. I tell them that I am pretty sure they were based on me. In the 60`s, my mom read Henry and the Clubhouse, Ramona the Pest and Henry and Ribsy to my brother and me each night, with our huge collie in bed with us.  I was very confused: how did this author I`d never met know me so well, and why did she write a whole book about me!  The illustrator, Louis Darling, even captured my unruly hair and untied shoes.

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Look, I still have them on my book shelf!

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Thank you, Beverly Cleary, for years and years of joy and laughter!

You can read a great article about her on Today Parents, here.  And if you haven`t already read one of her books, it doesn`t matter what your age, treat yourself to any one of them (especially the three above), and experience the warmth and feel-good humor of this dear author.

Also, check out my review of Beezus and Ramona (originally posted at Best Children`s Books)!

Review of The Little Hunchback Zia by Frances Hodgson Burnett

“And it came to pass nigh upon nineteen hundred and sixteen years ago”

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This begins Frances Hodgson Burnett’s little book published in 1916 about a rejected, deformed orphan boy who is sent to beg for the cruel woman who keeps him.

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One day, hiding in the brush near the road to Bethlehem, he watches a surprising number of families and animals pass by on the road, playful and happy. But Zia falls asleep sobbing in unbearable loneliness.

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Yet in the night Zia awakens smiling, feeling an unexplainable calm, without and within. Soon he sees one part of the sky growing lighter, and the sheep nearby suddenly attentive. In the darkness, a weary man walks slowly up the road, leading a donkey which carries a woman. A radiance surrounds her.

 

The Little Hunchback ZiaAlthough he thinks he is dreaming, Zia nevertheless feels compelled to follow them. And as the crippled and diseased boy climbs the steep hill toward Bethlehem, he does not waver or stumble.

Whatever had led Zia to Bethlehem now leads him to find the radiant woman and her husband in the mangers of the cave. The woman invites him to come near to the new born baby.

But he refuses, warning her that he is an unclean leper. Yet she insists. “Draw nigh,” the woman says, “and let his hand rest upon thee!”

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Zia obeys. He bows his head to the Holy child and feels the feather light touch of his tiny fingers. Soon Zia is healthy and standing upright for the first time in his life.

Frances Hodgson Burnett, the well-known author of The Secret Garden, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and many other books, writes in a way that immediately engages and grips her reader. Every page of this little book seemed to draw me deeper into Zia’s experiences and emotions. Even though the story is based on the well-known events in the Bible, and the ending is predictable, every compassionate word of this beautiful story is precious.

The intricately drawn illustrations were done by Spencer Baird Nichols and W.T. Benda. I always love it when a book has a beautifully hand-written presentation in the front pages, and this brand-new book was a gift to a Sunday School student for faithful attendance during 1916.

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You can buy a printed copy of this sweet book on Amazon, read the Kindle version for free on Amazon, and various versions for free on www.gutenberg.org, www.childrenslibrary.org, and http://www.online-literature.com/burnett/3042/ .

A Summer Full of Kids’ Books

I’m back working at school and this summer is officially over tomorrow morning, so this is a good time for a round-up of what I’ve been reading during the long, lazy days of the holiday.

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Lately, I have been reading and writing about old books, serious books. But browsing through the library feeling the full freedom of being on vacation inspired me to indulge myself in piles and piles of kids’ books! I found award winners, picked up some surprises in Grab Bags, found some brand new titles and authors, and revisited old ones.  Here are the best:

Clouds bks 009 Clouds bks 001Pippi Goes on Board by Astrid Lindgren

No wonder the Pippi books stayed in my mind all these forty-some years! Pippi lives my own childhood fantasies of having exotic animals, traveling the world, living in dangerous jungles, spending most of the time outdoors, and enjoying complete independence. Her thoughts have no logical order but are creative and free, and Pippi—thanks to a supply of gold coins—can give gifts to everyone she meets. She talks to her hat, loves stepping in full gutters, and makes up “facts” out of her wild imagination. This story sails along with nothing but spontaneity, surprises, and laughter, until Pippi’s pirate-dad returns from the sea to take her back with him. But will her love of the tossing waves make up for the loss of her friends?

Dewey: There’s a Cat in the Library by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter, illustrated by Steve James

I’m so glad there is a children’s version of the adult book that is so precious. It’s uncanny how much Dewey the cat’s habits and personality are so much like my cat Ginger’s. The illustrator provided perfect drawings to endear kids to the story of the famous library pet.

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Caldecott award winner The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes

There is something gentle, rhythmical, predictable and comforting about poems with cumulative patterns. This book takes us through a dark but friendly and peaceful journey out the window, all around and back again. I was in awe when I read that all the intricate drawings were done on scratchboard. According to the author’s fascinating note at the end, the inspiration for this book came from a 1955 nursery rhyme book.

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Caldecott award winner A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

The whimsical drawings in this book set the tone, and they pleasantly remind me of many of the books I read as a child in the 1960’s. With one look at his ever-present grin, we are drawn into Amos’s simple daily life as he cares for animals of all personalities who have needs we wouldn’t have noticed unless we were as observant and considerate as he is.

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Jennifer and Josephine written and illustrated by Bill Peet

I barely missed Bill Peet growing up, but my own sons were lucky enough to enjoy him and requested his first book, Hubert’s Hair-Raising Adventure, over and over. In this one, the two main characters are an old, abandoned car and a scrawny homeless cat, whose many emotions are perfectly depicted in the author’s illustrations. Bill Peet worked for Walt Disney as a sketch artist, helping to produce early films such as Fantasia, 101 Dalmations and Peter Pan.

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Robert Munsch

Clouds bks 021 Clouds bks 024During the extra-busy weeks at the end of my school year, one of my co-workers sent out a link where we could wish Robert Munsch a Happy 50th Birthday. That inspired me to catch up on all of his books I’ve missed since my kids stopped reading them. The illustrations by Michael Martchenko made me laugh almost as much as the words!

 

I love how the Robert Munsch picks up ideas as he travels to schools all around North America, talking to his young readers and finding out what makes them happy, mad, or frustrated, and then dedicates the book to them!

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It was so much fun spending several weeks with kids’ books!   If you’re looking for some smiles and heart-warmers to brighten your child’s—or your—reading times, you could start with these!

 

Louisa May Alcott’s First Novel, The Inheritance

Written in 1849, first discovered in 1988 and published in 1997, The Inheritance, as expected, is a breath of fresh air. This is no surprise, considering the era in which it was written, when writers consistently wrote with dignity, delicacy, insight, and restraint. It is considered Alcott’s first novel, written when she was only seventeen years old.

 

My first reaction, as the plot unfolded, was that this story reminded me of MansfieldPark, by Jane Austin. In both stories, the heroine, a poor girl of low status with the highest of character, is indebted to the unkind head of the household, but is befriended and defended by the hero, a rich, honorable authority in the household. The ending was a bit common and predictable, but the details, reactions and the uprightness of her characters were not.

 

It’s a lovely book, but not perfect. I wouldn’t usually be excited about reading a novel that began with a detailed description of a house and its landscape, yet the opening sentences show that this type of flowery description must have been popular in that time:

 

“In a green park, where troops of bright-eyed deer lay sleeping under drooping trees and a clear lake mirrored in its bosom the flowers that grew upon its edge, there stood Lord Hamilton’s stately home, half castle and half mansion. Here and there rose a gray old tower or ivy-covered arch, while the blooming gardens that lay around it and the light balconies added grace and beauty to the old, decaying castle, making it a fair and pleasant home. The setting sun shone warmly…”

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During the first third of the book I was actually impatient, because we were seeing scene after scene which demonstrated with exaggeration just how good and sweet and self-sacrificing Edith Adelon is, how much the same is Lord Percy, and how much he loves Edith from the start. It’s a little too much for me, when a man reacts so decidedly, so quickly, toward a woman. And it is always hard to get into one of these eighteenth or nineteenth century stories about people who sit around all day, looking for ways to amuse themselves, because none of them has any kind of job or responsibilities to speak of. (Even if they are rich, don’t they have some contribution to make to the household or society?)

 

Again, the author shows her mastery of suspense. As soon as the conversations start, and we find out something tragic happened to the awaited Lord Percy, and we start to see the envy and evil in Ida, it is impossible to put down. The good and evil are sharpened, and go to extremes as the story goes on, and the reader can hardly believe (in a good sense!) how rotten some characters can be and how angelic and suffering Edith can be.

 

A little mystery is added with the arrival of an unidentified elderly man, and soon after Edith burns all chances of ever having any financial security or standing in life. We are in awe of her complete lack of selfishness, and frightened at such a level of undeserved trust.

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I enjoyed every page of this high quality book. But what makes it so extraordinary?

 

First, the focus of the heroine is different from that of a typical contemporary book: instead of seeking love, security, power, respect, revenge, or any other “worthy” goal (by some standards), Edith seeks the good of others. She seeks to serve and to sacrifice, and she is grateful, humble, gentle, truthful, and disciplined. How uplifting.

 

Second, she admires a man with the same qualities as her. Most contemporary heroines admire a man who has wealth, power, prestige, and good looks, but rarely does the heroine know much about his moral character and inner strength and convictions. Edith respects a man who respects her. The concept of “love” in this period of books is also different. Love in The Inheritance is based on what is inside, instead of what is on the outside.

 

Third, the expression of love is in good deeds and kindnesses in this novel, whereas contemporary fiction usually shows love expressed in sensual physical contact.

 

The fourth extraordinary quality relates to my pet peeve with fiction, a lack of believability. Although it is certainly made up of idealistic, romantic characters, I found the dialogue, plot and events realistic and natural.

 

This widely available book is a treasure, ideal for a young girl. An A+.

 

An interesting note: according to the scholars who found the manuscript in Harvard’s Houghton Library in 1988, The Inheritance is the novel Jo March writes in Little Women. To read an interesting article about the discovery of this manuscript, click here.

I Love Old Books! (Part 4)

Even though I don’t necessarily need to read all the gems that I find at the book sales—it’s enough to surround myself with them—I do read them.  Now, to be honest, if a book is more than 50 or 100 years old, after quickly thumbing through it to touch and smell the pages, I generally don’t feel excited enough to sit down and read it on the spot.  I confess that I expect to find it dry, pedantic, colorless or irrelevant.  But I am almost always wrong.

I find surprisingly relevant, valuable words, stories and messages written by authors with extraordinary depth, thoughtfulness, insight, and wholesomeness, and a different internal perspective than many contemporary authors.  Their attitudes and perspectives very often inspire and elevate my own.

Some antique books are actually difficult to read because they are visually and verbally dense, but they are well worth the effort.  An example is R.D. Blackmoor’s Lorna Doone, written in 1869.  The first time I ever saw this book was at a library in Sylvan Lake, Alberta, where we were camping.  I had an afternoon to relax so I decided to see what kind of love stories people in the ­­­­19th century wrote.  But the “old” definition of romance is not focused entirely on a love story.  I was surprised and at first disappointed that the Romance of Exmoor was not the kind of romance that Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer wrote.

Lorna Doone falls under the definition of “a novel depicting heroic or marvelous deeds, pageantry, romantic exploits, etc., usually in a historical or imaginary setting.”  I muddled through the first several chapters and then realized I didn’t know what was going on with the characters or the plot.  I had to restart it about four times, but after that, something magical happened and I got into the language.  Then I couldn’t put it down!  I encourage you to give it a try, in the original or a more recent version.  It’s a story of loyalty, love, courage, heroism—and it’s not just the men who risk their lives.

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Another example is one published in 1894, Titus, a Comrade of the Cross, a book my mom gave me.  Apparently, the original publisher of this book offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who could produce a manuscript that would set a child’s heart on fire for Christ. In six weeks, the demand was so great for Florence Morse Kingsley’s book that they printed 200,000 additional copies.  Can you imagine that in 1894?

For years I was thrilled enough to just look at the unique cover and text.  But again, once I finally started reading it and got a feel for the language, I was immersed in a suspenseful adventure.  In the midst of the gripping plot, I discovered that a whole chunk of the pages was missing (don’t tell Mom!), but I just picked it up on the next available page and devoured the rest of it.  In fact, I felt such admiration and affection for one of the characters, we ended up using his name for the middle name of one of our children.

Are you a kindred old-book-loving spirit?  Leave me a comment, or a Like, so I can find you!

I Love Old Books! (Part 3)

Happy New Year!  I wonder what books 2013 holds!

I enjoy everything about old books: hunting for them, inhaling the smell of leather and studying them: their covers, publishers, inscriptions, signs of aging, and knowing that I am holding something that was on this earth in a different century. I don’t necessarily need to read all the gems that I find; it’s enough to surround myself with them. But reading them is the frosting on the cake!

In my first post on old books, I mentioned McGuffey’s Eclectic Fourth Reader, published in 1853 by Winthrop B Smith. After digging it out of storage (behind some other books), I thumbed through it and was curious to know what exactly the students were learning from those readers at that time. So I started on page one and made the commitment to read the entire book (over 300 pages of small font). It was a big commitment because I assumed that the lessons were going to be hitting-over-the-head moralizing, boring history, monotonous poetry and irrelevant essays.

But I was in for a pleasant surprise. I wish my school reading assignments (and my children’s) had been as full of such disturbing, dramatic, eye-opening fiction and non-fiction as these. They would motivate a student to read. Even the moralizing stories were great. Yes, there was tough slogging through some, but I was usually rewarded by the end of the piece.

I admit that I skipped most of the diction, articulation, pronunciation and vocabulary lessons. But from time to time, I would read those, and I found it humorous to see how the “incorrect” pronunciations were a Southern U.S. accent:

“E-spe-cial-ly, not ‘spe-cial-ly…
Gov-erns, not gov-uns…
Win-dow-blind, not win-der-bline”

As I was noting my favorite selections, I was curious to know a bit more about the authors, and found most of them well-represented on the internet. One that stood out for me was The Steamboat Trial, by Jacob Abbott, and not so easy to find online, so I’ve included the first 2 pages here, and the last 2 pages here.

Here are a few other poems, plays and essays well worth checking out: Washing Day, by Mrs. Anna Letitia Barbauld, Shylock (from The Merchant of Venice, by Shakespeare), Remarkable Preservation by Professor Wilson, and Religion the Only Basis of Society by William Ellery Channing.  Hope you find something that grabs you!

I Love Old Books!

As I mentioned in a previous post, my strategy when tackling huge used book sales is to go to the old books first. But I wonder why? What is it that makes the old books such a delight to me? It was probably my mom who instilled in me a love for old things that stand the test of time, and how I appreciate that, because otherwise I may have skipped the old for the new and missed such joys!

What really excites me is that a hundred-year-old book feels like my little piece of history; these bundles of paper have survived—with little or no aging—for a century! What else do we have that is a hundred years old? For example, can you imagine that the book you hold in your hand with the hundred-year-old copyright was ON THIS EARTH when the Titanic sank, all during World War I (did a soldier have your book in his backpack?), when the first talking movies were invented, when Alexander Fleming was discovering penicillin (could he have owned it?) and during the stock market crash of 1929?

Who bought it first? And how did it get from its first owner to its most recent owner (me)? Did it get handed down to a relative, who loaned it to a friend, who lost it while traveling on a ship and it was eventually found by another passenger years later, who kept it safe and sound in a drawer until giving it to a library, which eventually put it on a bargain table where someone bought it for an antique-lover, who finally donated it to the Calgary Crossroads Book Sale where I bought it?

Here is the first really old book I found, McGuffey’s Eclectic Fourth Reader, published in 1853 by Winthrop B Smith. In about 1990 I was browsing around one of the wonderful used book stores on 16 Avenue NW (that is no longer there), and when I told the owner that I collected old school readers, he said he didn’t have any upstairs, but I could look around in the basement. I picked through boxes and bags of books and found this gem. I think I paid $5 for it.

The spine is in rough shape, and it shows another document under the spine and the top left corner of the front cover. If anyone knows what that practice was for, let me know.

The front cover has a name stamped on it, my best guess being “J. Bruce Smith, HC CALGARY”. It makes me wonder if the schools stamped each book with the student’s name, or if that particular student stamped his own name on it. Or is the Smith on the cover related to the publisher Smith?

Inside the cover on the first page is an inscription (I love inscriptions!). It looks like “Elias N. ___, Jan. 3rd, 1859”.

It actually looks like 1839 to me, but in the text it says it was published in 1853.

The Table of Contents is filled with “Directions for Reading” and interesting-looking Prose and Poetry Lessons, some by authors we still read today.   Here is a readable version of the Table of Contents.

In the back there is a refund notice: “Refund 2.50 if returned before June 20, 1932, A.W. ___”. It’s interesting to think that around 1932 the book was already 80 years old, so perhaps it was in the reference section of a library.

Wow, this book was around during the California Gold Rush, and in the same year the Washington Territory was created from the Oregon Territory. Maybe some of the children in the covered wagons did their schooling from my book. Vincent Van Gogh was born, in 1953, and Napoleon was married that same year. This book on my shelf was published almost 10 years BEFORE the U.S. Civil War began. Did a ten-year-old student worry about his father fighting in Gettysburg while turning these very pages?

Enough pondering. I would so love to hear about some of your favorite old books! I hope you’ll post a comment below, or even send me photos, so we can trade stories.

Used Book Sales

THANK YOU CALGARY CROSSROADS MARKET BOOK SALE (BLACKFOOT AND 26TH AVENUE) FOR HELPING TO SUPPORT SERVANTS ANONYMOUS.

Ever since the end of winter I’ve looked forward to the giant used book sales held every spring. I admit that I go for the joy of being surrounded by so many books and so many book lovers. And this year the shoppers included plenty of young girls and boys who were just as intense and excited as their parents at finding their own treasures. That was a bonus thrill.

I don’t need any more books, of course. I need less books because I’ve started to set stacks of books beside my bookcase. But I do now have a strategy when I go to these sales. I head straight for the “antique” book section, and there I focus on the old children’s books first, and then all the rest. After that, I browse quickly through the other sections, slowing down at the health, Christian and writing books, and settling in at the children’s books.

Last Friday I used some banked time to leave work 2 hours early in order to beat the weekend rush to the first weekend of the SAS sale at Crossroads Market. And the place was already packed!

Here is one of my new treasures:

     Have you ever seen anything like this?

It’s a Christmas Keepsake “book” that opens up to a collection of Christmas ornaments…

…which are small, very-condensed classic books.

It has a publication date of 2000, and is well-protected by plastic film that can be opened and closed as you look at the books.

It can be used as an advent calendar…

…you find each day’s book, read it, and then hang it on the tree. Ingenious!

I’ll be posting more of my gems soon.

Now let me ask you…

…do you have some gems that you’ve picked up while treasure-hunting? Do share!  Titles, years, photos…we want to enjoy them with you!