October 7, 2006

The Tall Book of Make Believe

One of my favorite childhood books was a hand me down from my mom titled the 'Tall Book of Make Believe'. The inscription on the front page read "Greetings from Santa Claus, 1951" followed by mom mom's name written in her 6 year old hand. My guess is she wrote her name on that very Christmas day — her 'e's are rendered backwards. I knew the book was something special even as a kid. The worn corners of the cardboard cover and taped up back gave it the patina of love and I always kept it in a place of importance by my bed. When she died it was one of the first things I took from the house.

The text, mainly poetry, was a bit archaic even in 1955 with lines like "Their wings were blue and they sang 'Tilly-hoo!' Till away they flew." There are poems by well known authors like Robert Lewis Stevenson and Carl Sandberg as well as authors you've probably never heard of like Midred Plew Meigs, but the reason I loved the book (and the reason my mom loved it) were the illustrations by Garth Williams.

You might know Williams from his illustrations of Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, or Little House on the Prairie but the illustrations in the Tall Book of Make Believe are dreamier and occasionally scarier than anything you would find in those other books. Here the man in the moon looks like a sorcerer pulling clouds through the sky, rogue shadows follow wary bunnies through the fields, bad elephants are forced to eat coal, and teddy bears come to life to make mischief. This is just-about-to-fall-asleep—flashlight-under-the-covers reading at it's best. Today's children's books are too often filled with practical lessons about sharing, or diversity, or going to the potty. I prefer tales of an uninvited lions who lives under the table and out of control lollipop growth any day.

The Tall Book of Make Believe is highly sought after by collectors. There was a short run reissue in the early 90's but otherwise the only copies to be had are vintage and are hard to find at a reasonable price. The best place to look is Amazon where sellers will occasionally post copies in the $80 range (mint copies fetch up to $600). Less hard to find, but another great book for toddlers is The Tall Book of Nursery Tales".

posted at 03:14 AM by raul

Filed under: personal history

TAGS: childhood (5) children's books (12) garth williams (2) tall book of make believe (1)


10/07/06 10:30 PM

Great illustration? Any chance I you could post a big version? I looked for the book online and all the copies were over $100.


11/02/06 12:59 AM

It's so ironic that your post was made just a few weeks ago. I also grew up reading The Tall Book of Make Believe, the wonderful illustrations fueling my imagination. I read it to all of my daughters who also love it and am now reading it to my six-month-old grandson who stares at the pictures and listens raptly to the poetry (I swear). A search for extra copies for all of my kids lead me here. I enjoyed reading about your love for this great book.

04/12/07 04:44 PM

Just thinking the very same thing ...

07/26/07 03:37 PM

I had no idea that this book was called "The Tall Book of Make Believe even though I grew up loving it. It was a hand-me-down book and had no covers when I got it. I loved Bad Mousie, and as I was the sickly child in the family I could understand the boy in the "Land of Counterpane" very well. Thanks for giving me a title and hopefully I will someday be able to afford (!) a copy of my very own.

08/09/07 04:15 AM

I am looking at my copy right now! I remember going to the book store with my mother when I was 5 years old. She told me I could pick out any book I wanted and The Tall Book of Make Believe was the one I chose. I am an artist and I believe that this book was a huge influence and inspiration all my life. As a matter of fact, I have a line of dolls (faeries) that I make and interestingly enough, they look like the little faeries on the inside cover of the book. I am 54 and my children loved it and now my grandchildren. I wish someone would reprint it so future generations could enjoy it.

09/25/07 08:02 PM

I was asked to bring my favorite childern's book as a baby shower gift. I could not remember the name except tall book. Thanks to Google, I was led here. Oh, my joy to see the title and "The Land of Counterpane". I spent hours with that book even as a teenager rereading and looking at those pictures. Those beautiful pictures. And oh, how disappointed I was to find that it is no longer in print. The copy that rapt my attention was at my grandmother's home and through her moves has been lost to me. Oh I remember the Bad Mouse and the Never ending Lollipop and the Gingham Dog and Callico Cat. If the prices were not so high I would enjoy it again. At least the memories are clear.

12/05/07 03:37 AM

I am so happy to learn of others who grew up loving this book! I nearly wore it out myself, and I read it to all three of my children, and now my first grandchild has arrived... and I need a copy for him. Alas, mine has fallen completely apart. By the way, the "counterpaine" illustration is one of my very favorite. This book has inspired my creativity and art all of my life!

12/05/07 03:37 AM

I am so happy to learn of others who grew up loving this book! I nearly wore it out myself, and I read it to all three of my children, and now my first grandchild has arrived... and I need a copy for him. Alas, mine has fallen completely apart. By the way, the "counterpaine" illustration is one of my very favorite. This book has inspired my creativity and art all of my life!

12/10/07 08:13 PM

It's just been driving me crazy! This and another one of the Tall Books were my absolute number 1 favorites as a child and, like many of you, even later on. A former friend (who should be shot!) says he has a couple of boxes of mine which is where I believe my copies are. Some sick impulse of his (I can only surmise) now has him withholding the boxes (I've now moved across the country); probably because I made the mistake of telling him that I believe these treasured books of mine are in them. What can we do to get the publisher to re-print them? Has anyone any thoughts on this? They sure don't make books like these anymore! I always loved all the illustrations which seemed to be so evocative of what we would imagine ourselves. Everything was so different; even the hues used in the coloration! I also had a Hans Christen Andersen book of fairy tales that was wildly illustrated and another favorite. Has any of you seen those old multi-colored "Junior Classics?" My mom has a set of those somewhere and I remember a dark story about "Hobbiyahs" which were little gremlin-like, mischief-making creatures. Those were great too!

Let's make a deal that if anyone finds copies of these that we'll post the source here!

12/10/07 11:16 PM

Re the Tall Books. The Tall Book of Make Believe was reprinted a couple of years ago but it does seem to be out of print again. If you look around on ebay or Amazon it does come up from time to time. While copies of the original book are pretty expensive the reprint usually sells for around $20.

The other Tall Books from that era are The Tall Book of Fairy Tales, The Tall Book of Mother Goose, The Tall Book of Nursery Tales, The Tall Book of Christmas, and the Tall Book of Bible Stories. The Nursery Tales book is probably the other one you are referencing... it is particulary wonderful... one of my favorite things about the book is the table of contents which shows little pictures from each story. My son loves carefully selecting which one I’ll read him each night. All kids books should have table of contents pages like this.

If you’re into Garth Williams there are some other books I’d recommend. One is called the Whispering Rabbit. There are two editions, one illustrated by Williams and put out by scholastic and one by someone else, so don’t get the wrong one. The other recommendation is a little series of books called the Tiny Nonsense Stories. They’re all a little bit weird and wonderful.

07/11/08 11:02 AM

I too have a very special place in my heart for The Tall Book of Make-Believe. Recently while cleaning out my parents attic, I found my copy that was given to me by my father in 1963. He gave it to me when I was 4 after I had a bad week with our new living room rug and an opened gallon can of oil base paint. I still remember my mother being very upset and I just felt awful for several days. My father returned from a trip and gave me this very special book with a beautiful inscription that he had written. I can't begin to tell you how comforting that book was to me. It was the perfect vessel for him to tenderly say it was OK and that he loved me more than anything. I felt that love every single time I read it. When I found it in the attic at 49, the cover was gone but the pictures and verse were like finding comfortable, dear old friends. I only hope that Jane Werner and Garth Williams realized what a treasure they created! I can't wait to share my special book with everyone!

12/04/08 12:42 AM

I have wanted to read The Tall Book of Make Believe to my grandchildren for over 21 years. I, too, can't afford the outrageous price being asked. We need to form a committee to find out how we can get the publisher to reprint. I'm sure there are enough of us out there to get their attention. Please contact me at geezerdlygeek@earthlink.net. I will be happy to work with whomever can get this done.

Sincerely, Carol Hunt

03/19/09 02:43 AM

When I was about 4 or 5 my uncle used to read me stories from The Tall Book every weekend when I stayed at my grandparents house. T
The illustrations were magical to me and I couldn't wait to hear the poems and stories over and over.
Sadly that book and most of my other favorite childhood books disappeared as I grew older.
Then, about 25 years ago, I was in a B. Dalton bookstore and there on the sale rack was The Tall Book! I couldn't believe I had found my lost book and a great part of my childhood.
The price was only $5.95.
Now I share with my granddaughter the wonderful stories my uncle shared with me nearly 60 years ago.
Michael Wren

11/15/09 04:54 PM

Seeing pictures of one of the few books I had as a child brought tears to my eyes! I read and reread this book and when researching to try and find book for my grandchildren the only story I could recall was 'The Everlasting Lollipop'. When I saw the pages of the other stories they all came back to me! Oh how I wish I could afford to spend $200 to get another. Is there a way to get this republished? In the world we live in, wouldn't it be wonderful to have our grandchildren imagine how wonderful it would be to have a lollipop so big that it could only be used for a sign outside a shop? Pam Young

01/22/10 11:33 PM

I have one of the 1950's editions that my dad bought for me and my sisters when we were young. As the youngest, I had the book last and I kept it.
I am so glad that I did. I always wanted to share the book with my children, and I have been able too.
I am shocked that the book is out of print. It is a crime that even my worn copy, which will be handed down to my children, is worth $50.
It was reissued in 1992 and those copies, in new condition can fetch $300.
Maybe someone at Harper & Row will figure out that there is a lot of pent up demand for this book and reprint it.

01/23/10 11:27 AM

I just found this site with an inexpensive copy of this book. Just thought that I would share.


04/10/10 12:25 AM

Don't give up looking! I just found a virtually un-read copy of this at a library book sale this evening for ONE DOLLAR. When I looked up the prices online, my jaw dropped. Now, I often pick up books to re-sell, and I'm crazy to hold on to this one, but I've already fallen in love with it and can understand why so many of you have such fond memories of it.

So, they're still out there! Keep your eyes open, and good luck!

04/20/10 11:43 AM

I loved this book as a child, and cannot find my copy anywhere! I wanted to show it to my daughter who needs to memorize a poem for school. I though right away of The Tall Book of Make Believe as there are so many great poems in it - easy to memorize because they are so beautiful.

I can't afford the 120$+ of the copies currently available. If anyone has a picture of the ilustration for Moon Song (Zoon zoon cuddle and croon, over the crinkling sea...), I would love to see it again and be able to show it to my kids! If you have one please share - I recall this being one of my favourite illustrations!

07/20/10 08:33 PM

I too was just writing about and thinking about this book. So thrilled that I have my copy. I wrote about it today http://fancyglass.blogspot.com/2010/07/inner-child.html and found your post when I was searching to see if there was more out there about Garth and the Book itself.

10/14/10 11:12 PM

This was my favorite childhood book...my brother and I practically memorized it! I was fascinated by the illustrations, and still am. My original childhood copy is gone, but in the 1970's I found a worn copy in a used bookstore in NYC. My children (grown now) still talk about Bad Mousie...and I look forward to reading the book to my granddaughter when she's old enough. Why don't they reprint a book that's obviously so wonderful?

10/17/11 12:08 PM

Wanted to let you know that a kids books blog posted lots of wonderful pictures from this book here: http://www.vintagechildrensbooksmykidloves.com/2011/10/tall-book-of-make-believe.html

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