Forgotten Treasures:
Scholastic Book Club Editions

The only “real” books we had in our house was a small selec­tion of adult nov­els from the Dou­ble­day Book Club. Mid-cen­tu­ry titles such as Panther’s Moon, Lost Hori­zon, and Wake of the Red Witch piqued my eight-year-old inter­est until I opened them, dis­mayed by the tiny print and lack­lus­ter dia­log. I had a shelf of Gold­en Books which I’d out­grown. The only chap­ter books and non­fic­tion I had access to came from our school library.Scholastic Book Club catalog

One day in sixth grade, we received a four-page brochure fea­tur­ing inex­pen­sive paper­backs from Scholas­tic Book Ser­vices. Priced between 35 to 50 cents, we could buy teen nov­els, mid­dle-grade fic­tion, and non­fic­tion. I scoured every syl­la­ble of the brochure. After much delib­er­at­ing, I chose what I call a “strange old lady” book (sort of a sub-cat­e­go­ry pop­u­lar in the 1950s): Miss Pick­erell Goes to Mars (35 cents). I think every boomer kid in Amer­i­ca had that book.

strange old lady books

Strange old lady” books fell into two groups: feisty, nosy old ladies, and old ladies who dab­bled in mag­ic. Miss Pick­erell Goes to the Moon, Miss Pick­erell and the Geiger Counter, Mrs. Coverlet’s Magi­cians, While Mrs. Cov­er­let Was Away, The Pecu­liar Miss Pick­ett, Mrs. Pig­gle-Wig­gle, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Mag­ic, Hel­lo, Mrs. Pig­gle-Wig­gle, and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm … you get the idea.

When our teacher deliv­ered our books a few weeks lat­er, I could hard­ly stand it. I wasn’t worth a flit the rest of the day, sneak-read­ing my new book instead of doing arith­metic. New brochures arrived the begin­ning of the month. I pored over them as if try­ing to pass the bar exam. I’d check off an alarm­ing num­ber of books, then try to add the total, not easy since I was usu­al­ly read­ing dur­ing arith­metic lessons. My moth­er told me we couldn’t afford $8.50 worth of books. I could buy one, that was all. Book-order­ing day became an approach-avoid­ance event. When the books were deliv­ered, I shot the stink eye at kids who’d ordered four or five books.

Scholastic Book Services books

In a recent inter­view in the New York Times Book Review, Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, admit­ted that her expe­ri­ence with books from her child­hood was “one of long­ing.” She too received SBS brochures in ele­men­tary school. “I’d study those cat­a­logs for hours and metic­u­lous­ly filled out the order form on the back, as if I could buy then. But I couldn’t, I nev­er turned in the form because my fam­i­ly was too poor to pay for the books. It’s such a vis­cer­al mem­o­ry, aching for those books!” I can iden­ti­fy with her. It was so hard to choose a sin­gle book when I want­ed so many.

black spaniel mystery and other books

Aside from Miss Pick­erell Goes to Mars, three oth­er SBS books stand out in my mind. I read print off my copy of Bet­ty Cavanna’s The Black Spaniel Mys­tery, enticed by the back cov­er tags: “Two lost thor­ough­bred COCKERS, Deter­mined TEEN-AGERS, A fad­ed old SNAPSHOT, A mys­te­ri­ous LETTER, A dar­ing RESCUE, a sur­prise WINNER.” Who could resist?

Not long ago, I found Clarence the TV Dog in a used book­store. I’d for­got­ten I once had this book, but instant­ly rec­og­nized the orange and blue cov­er. An SBS book I’ve nev­er for­got­ten is The House of the Sev­en Gables. The brochure described a gloomy haunt­ed man­sion, witch­craft, and mur­der. I thought the sev­en gables were tow­ers or hid­den rooms. When the book came, I tore the cov­er back … and real­ized Nathaniel Hawthorne was a crook. I couldn’t read a sin­gle page of that musty sto­ry. And I’ve nev­er read a word by Hawthorne since.

The Silvery PastYears passed. I grew up to be a children’s book writer. My first books were pub­lished by Scholas­tic as orig­i­nal paper­backs. They were sold in Walden­books and B. Dal­ton book­stores and they were offered in Scholas­tic Book Clubs. My proud­est moment came hold­ing a club edi­tion of my first book, The Sil­very Past, a YA mys­tery that should have blared on the back cov­er: A town with a SECRET, An ancient, desert­ed CAROUSEL, three teenagers at ODDS, A hid­den TREASURE, An amaz­ing DISCOVERY.

Peo­ple online say they remem­bered some of their old books. Most were giv­en away or thrown away. I res­cue all the SBS books from my era at tag sales, used book­stores, and antique shops. Inex­pen­sive trea­sures back then. Price­less now.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 years ago

I real­ly enjoyed this – I have dis­cov­ered these vin­tage books recent­ly, with their stun­ning min­i­mal cov­ers and acid-drenched paper, and I’ve fall­en in love. I total­ly remem­ber each of the roller­coast­er stages of excite­ment about Scholas­tic cam­paigns, and still have some of the 1970s books I bought. I’d be excit­ed to know if there was any inter­net com­mu­ni­ty around Scholas­tic book col­lect­ing. So great that you fixed on this and shared!