Holly, Jolly Holiday Tomes

Celebrate the season with two new books that offer a quirky look at our favorite time of year.

The History of the Snowman by Bob Eckstein (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, $15). They sit ever so quietly on front lawns. They grace holiday cards. They ask for nothing. They're snowmen. Humor writer Bob Eckstein is finally giving the snowman his due. Packed with cartoons, loads of info you didn't know you'd want to know (but, trust us, you do), and wonderful old pictures, The History of the Snowman is one of the quirkiest and most charming history books to come along in years. You'll never nonchalantly stick a carrot in an unsuspecting snowman's face again.

How to Spell Chanukah … and Other Holiday Dilemmas, edited by Emily Franklin (Algonquin, $19). Whether you spell the Jewish holiday Chanukah or Hanukkah or Hanukah or you don't have any idea how to spell it at all, you'll find plenty of "that happens in my family, too" in this book. The Festival of Lights is the jumping-point for a collection of essays with everything from an obsession with Christmas to how to handle parents' tchotchkes when they them to you because they're downsizing to a condo. - J.S.




Kids' Books Comeback

A Kentucky publishing company is giving new life to lost children's classics.

By Kristin Baird Rattini

There is no shortage of children's books on the market. Indeed, when you think of all the kids' books being written by celebrity authors, it might seem like there are far too many children's books around these days. So how do you get a book noticed in a crowded market? A savvy entrepreneur finds a way to sell something that already has name recognition - something, in fact, that people are willing to pay a premium to get. Something like Mr. Pine's Purple House or Mr. Bear Squash-You-All-Flat.

Yes. Squash-You-All-Flat. Maybe you didn't read it growing up, but a lot of people did. And now they want to pass it, and books like it, on to the latest crop of child readers. That's where Jill Morgan comes in. In 2000, Morgan, a used-book dealer based in rural Cynthiana, Kentucky, founded Purple House Press with a simple goal: to revive well-loved children's books from decades past that had fallen out of print. Since then, she's had more than simple results. Purple House Press has sold more than 250,000 copies of the books it has revived.

With Purple House Press's 33rd title - Three Little Horses by Piet Worm - set to hit bookstores in January, Morgan told us what it takes to unearth these buried treasures.

How did you get into the business of republishing out-of-print children's books?
"I used to sell out-of-print books. A lot of people requested Mr. Pine's Purple House by Leonard Kessler. It was a favorite of mine too. When I first started, it sold for $25 online. But as demand for the book increased, the price rose to $300. I thought that was outrageous. I decided to see if the author would let me reprint it. For the company, that's the greatest reward - knowing that people have been looking for these books for so, so long. Now that they're back in print, they can get as many copies as they want, and the books don't cost a fortune."

Mr. Pine was first printed in 1965. Was Kessler shocked when you contacted him?
"He was surprised that people remembered Mr. Pine so fondly, because it had been 30 years since he had done the book and it had since gone out of print. He decided to trust me. It worked out well. He has designed the two logos for our company. He's also become kind of like a surrogate grandfather for me. I never thought when I was three years old that I would meet the author of my favorite book."

Is it always that easy to find the authors or their estates?
"No. Usually I end up plugging away on the Internet, searching for them. For Three Little Horses, the author lived in the Netherlands. I found the name of the little town where he was born. I wrote an e-mail to a museum in his town. They gave me someone else to contact, who then gave me someone else. Finally, I got a contact for the family."

For those who missed it the first time around, what's 'Three Little Horses' about?
"It's about little horses that dress up as people and go into town. It has princesses and horses - every girl's dream."

How do books come to your attention?
"A lot of books we've done are those that I remember from when I was a kid and now have trouble finding. Others were requested by my customers when I sold out-of-print books."

In that case, you probably hear a lot of, "There's this really great book …"
"Yes. Sometimes people bring me a book to look at. We've actually found a few books that way. I've had quite a few people ask me for Miss Suzy by Miriam Young and Miss Twiggley's Tree by Dorothea Warren Fox, and it's great to be able to tell them that we have it already. Miss Suzy is one of our bestselling books."