When Elmore Leonard died recently, I read his biography and was surprised to learn that he had enjoyed My Book House Books when he was growing up.
My mother bought the set of twelve books from a traveling salesman when I had two sisters: my twin Evelyn and our older sister Nancy. She was nine years old, and we were five. Dad was in the Army, and the books became our constant companions as we followed him to various bases and posts.
The books traveled with us from Waco, Texas to Tachikawa, Japan; Yokohama, Japan; back to Waco; then to Tokyo; back to Waco; then to San Antonio, Texas; then Lawton, Oklahoma; then Fort Richardson, Alaska; then Thornton, Texas; then Groesbeck, Texas; and back to Waco, Texas.
The set of books survived five more siblings: Susan, Sherrie, twins Bill and Phil, and Corliss. After my parents died, the books in the set were distributed among the children and grandchildren. Three of us have bought our own set in various states of disrepair. I was fortunate enough to find one that looked as though it had never been read. I gave it to my daughter.
Last week, I sat between my grandchildren and read stories from one of the books to them. I grew misty-eyed as I thought about the memories these books held for me.
Curious, I decided to research the background of the books and discovered that the first volume was published in 1920. Olive Beaupre Miller was a writer who became so wrapped up in her novel one day that she left her little girl, who was only a few months old, on the front porch in her carriage for two hours past her feeding time. Olive was so upset with herself that she gave up writing and burned the manuscript.
Later on, she found that she was unable to find many works appropriate for her to read to her child, she wrote Sunny Rhymes for Happy Children. The book was an immediate success, so Olive followed it with two more books of poetry for children.
As the daughter grew older, Olive found very little worth reading aloud. Many stories were unsuitable, and the ones that were appropriate were difficult to find because they were scattered and difficult to collect.
Her husband, Harry, had been a salesman for many years, and he suggested that she compile stories into a collection, beginning with stories for toddlers and continuing as the children grew older. Their daughter was six years old at the time.
Harry and Olive set up their own company to publish the books. In 1920 the first book was published, with the title In the Nursery, with black and gold binding. It contained stories and rhymes along with full-color illustrations. In 1921 the sixth volume was completed, and salespeople started going door to door. Olive traveled to Holland, France, Russia, Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, Mexico, Guatemala, the Yucatan, Yugoslavia, Austria, German, and Japan to collect folk tales. She continued working for the company from 1920 until 1962, when she retired. She died in 1968.
The books are still in print, and now the set has twelve volumes. If you click the link below, you can see how wonderful the set is. I’m not selling anything, by the way. I am certainly keeping ours.