Monday, August 31, 2009

A Cover Curiosity

Along with the forthcoming release of the film adaptation of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are comes this book by Dave Eggers. The accompanying story says that this version is loosely based on the original picture book; the story/screenplay has been expanded for film. The article also quotes Eggers's (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) somewhat offhanded reference to some old kids' book from "the sixties" with a real fur cover which sat moldering in a warehouse.

You may know the book he means. I did. It's Margaret Wise Brown's Little Fur Family and it's from the forties, not the sixties. It is indeed a curiosity.
They don't make 'em like this anymore.

Harper & Brothers introduced Margaret Wise Brown's Little Fur Family, illustrated by Garth Williams (The Wilder Little House books guy), in 1946. I remember reading in Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon, Leonard Marcus's biography of Brown, one of the most beloved American children's authors, that it was a HUGE deal to her that the cover be made of real fur. Rabbit fur. Many bunnies sacrificed their lives so that children in 1946 could feel the Little Fur Family and experience the "Here and Now" philosophy put forth by the Bank Street School.

You can get your own original Little Fur Family on eBay, if you act now. It's yours for one easy payment of $937.50 USD.

Or here, for $1,500 USD.

Gosh, it's weird, isn't it? I mean, look at it. As far as I can tell, this first edition came in a cardboard box that made up the actual outer cover, with a hole cut in it so that people could feel the fur before making their decision. Inside that box lies the actual book, with fur stretched across boards. Then inside that, the pages, of course, with Garth Williams's appealingly non-threatening, bear-like (or badger-like? or . . . woodchuck-like?) images inside. It must have cost a ton to produce--and I wouldn't have wanted to be the guy who had to cut and fit all those pelts in place. I've read that children were afraid of the cover. I wonder how many they sold, especially just after the war--can't seem to ferret out what the original price was. It's only 3x4-1/2 inches--makes me wonder how many copies they got out of each rabbit.

The book is charming, and it is still available new, 'though with a boring (but better) fake fur cover instead of the real stuff. Here's a sample, from the HarperCollins site. If you buy a first edition, can I borrow it?

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