F or those of us who are mad for books, that love most likely first struck in childhood.
Whether it was a picture book lovingly (and repeatedly) read to us by parents or the first books we read ourselves that expanded our minds into other times, places and lives (for me: Little Women and Jane Eyre), the beloved books of our childhood can have memorable and lasting impact.
The power of our first love for words in print is the theme of the 33rd annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair — Children's Literature: Pages of Wonder.
Starting March 14, more than 100 antiquarian booksellers from around the United States will be part of the three-day fair at St. Petersburg's Coliseum. They'll be selling books of every age and subject matter, antique maps, prints, autographs, ephemera and more, but this year's emphasis is on children's books.
Mike Slicker, who owns Lighthouse Books in St. Petersburg, has been involved in the fair from the beginning and is chairman of this year's event. "Thirty-three years ago I volunteered, and I'm still here," he says. "It's been a fun ride."
One of the specialties at Slicker's book shop is Floridiana, and several of the books he'll have for sale at the fair dovetail that and the children's lit theme. Notable among them is a copy of When the Whippoorwill, a 1940 short story collection by Florida icon Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling, Cross Creek and other books.
Slicker says the collection is his favorite among Rawlings' books; stories such as Gal Young'un and Jacob's Ladder are "some of her best writing." What makes this copy special is that it bears the ownership signature of another author, Lois Lenski. "It was published right around the time Lenski would have been doing her homework for Strawberry Girl," her 1945 Newbery Medal-winning children's book about Florida Cracker families in the early 20th century.
Slicker will also be offering a first edition of Rawlings' The Yearling with the original illustrations by Edward Shenton. "Later on N.C. Wyeth illustrated it, and most people remember that," Slicker says. He'll also have for sale a copy of a small edition of that version signed by both Rawlings and Wyeth.
One of Slicker's most striking offerings is a copy of a 1969 special limited edition of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with illustrations by Salvador Dalí. Only 2,500 copies were printed, with full-color lithographs. "It's quite colorful, and just bizarre," he says, noting that Dalí signed the work.
Robb Versandi is another Pinellas County bookseller who will have a booth at the fair. He operates his online business, Art Around the Clock, from his Tierra Verde home, specializing in antique and collectible toys and kids' books. "It's so much fun," he says. "We're all just kids at heart."
"When I heard the theme" for this year's fair, Versandi says, "I thought, all arrows point to my booth." Among his offerings will be first-edition novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. He'll also have original cels from several animated movies, including Disney's Robin Hood and Pinocchio and Ralph Bakshi's 1978 version of The Lord of the Rings.
Although some of the items for sale at the fair can be pricey — a first-edition, first-printing copy of Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat is priced at $1,500, and some books are much more — many sport lower price tags. Versandi says his highest-priced items will be animation cels at $200 or less, "and you'll be able to buy things at my booth for $5."
The book fair may be antiquarian, but organizers turn to contemporary means to promote it, including Facebook, a website and a blog. Sarah Smith, who has been the manager of the fair for seven years, says people interested in the fair can go to floridabookfair.blogspot.com to see entries on "Treasures We're Bringing," which are specific items that will be featured by booksellers, as well as short videos with authors, booksellers and local residents talking about their own beloved childhood books.
You can also submit your own video. "We're passionate about the book fair, and we're passionate about the community," Smith says. "This is a way of letting people participate."
The Florida Antiquarian Book Fair is the longest-running fair of its kind in the Southeast and the fourth largest in the country, she says.
"We're in the big leagues with New York, San Francisco, Boston. This is something for St. Petersburg to be proud of."
Colette Bancroft can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435.