Doubleday Book Clubs released these forty-two volumes between 1957 and 1961. My brother and I received them thanks to our grandmother, who was a great reader. Each book came in a dust jacket, but I barely remember these, because the paper jackets lived such short lives. The books exist in memory as hardcover volumes of pink, green, or gray, impressed with two-color illustrations that hinted at what awaited me inside.
The people who chose the contents of these books respected young readers and knew what they were doing. Each one was an anthology--a treasury, because each held a rich and perfect mix. Some stories were best read aloud, whereas others enticed a child to curl up in an armchair or stretch out on a carpet to read and reflect. There might be a selection that encouraged a taste for serious literature: Longfellow's "Hiawatha" or "Gulliver in Lilliput." I delighted in "The Magic Fishbone," Dickens's charming tale of King Watkins the First, his wife, and their nineteen children--a middle-class Victorian family who wait anxiously for "quarter-day" and whose lives are touched by fairytale wonder.
There would also be poetry, funny stories, mythology, and biography. "The Jumblies," "Andy and Polly," "The Winged Horse, Pegasus," "Napoleon, the Corsican Boy"--I could never list them all. The illustrators (who were young and just starting out and unfortunately often not credited) included Andy Warhol, Maurice Sendak, Don Freeman, and Ezra Jack Keats. Each volume also contained a piece on a foreign country, complete with color photographs: "This is Australia"; "Let's Visit Japan." Put books like these in a child's hands, and you introduce him or her to Robert Louis Stevenson, Edward Lear, Kipling, Aesop, Hans Christian Andersen, Clement Moore, and Marjorie Flack. Simply put, you widen the world.
"Best-in-children's" became an adjective in our house. Each volume was a best-in-children's book. Ours didn't survive, I'm sad to say. Three children came along after my brother and me, and five frequent readers wore the books out. But I own a couple of volumes. I found them at yard sales, also without dust jackets and also well used.