Are the books from your childhood packed in boxes in the basement? Old children's books can be valuable if they are the right edition in the right condition. And condition is so important when considering children's literature. Youngsters can love a book too much, reading it again and again, which results in extreme wear and tear. Crayon or pen markings, and torn or lost dust jackets all reduce the value of a book.
All the books below are classics and have been loved by generations of readers. Even Harry Potter is winning a new audience as its readers from the late 1990s become parents.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Top of the pile is The Hobbit - the book that launched the fantasy genre - and we're talking about the 1,500 first edition copies published in the UK on 21 September 1937 by Allen & Unwin. These copies are hard to find. If you discover one then it's the equivalent of Bilbo Baggins finding Gollum's ring in the depths of the goblin mountain. Peter Jackson's movies and the Amazon Prime series have helped to maintain interest in Tolkien's work.
Most expensive copy to sell on AbeBooks - a 1937 first edition sold for $65,000 in 2003.
Affordable alternative - The Harry Abrams 1977 deluxe illustrated edition, with artwork from Arthur Rankin Jr and Jules Bass, is gorgeous, and prices range from $90 to $350.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Several options for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The first appearance of this book in print (2,000 copies) in 1865 was short-lived as illustrator John Tenniel disliked the print quality. Those '1865s' are like hen's teeth and have seven-figure price tags. The next edition (4,000 copies) was released in December of 1865 but dated 1866. They are also expensive and scarce.
Current demand on AbeBooks is all about Salvador Dali's illustrated limited edition (just 2,500 copies) from 1969 and no (sane) parent would give their child this version of Carroll's famous tale. Published in 1969 by Maecenas Press/Random House, the book was issued with 12 loose color illustrations by Dali. If Dali's surreal artwork isn't your cup of Mad Hatter's tea, Alice Liddell (later Hargreaves, the real Alice that inspired Carroll) signed 500 copies in 1932 for the Limited Editions Club and a handful are still available for anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000.
Most expensive copy to sell on AbeBooks - a Dali copy signed by the artist sold for $20,000 in 2014.
Affordable alternative - Princeton University Press republished Dali's Alice in 2015 and used copies start at around $10. The book include a contribution from Carroll expert Mark Burstein, who examines what was going through Dali's mind when he did these illustrations.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling
The most collectible copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone include one of the 500 first editions printed by Bloomsbury in June 1997. The library system swallowed up 300 of them, so what happened to the other 200? If you have one then you have hit the JK Rowling jackpot.
The main characteristics of a 1997 first edition first printing are a print line that reads "10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1" and the crediting of "Joanne Rowling" not J.K. Rowling.
Most expensive copy to sell on AbeBooks - a first edition for $85,620 in January 2023.
Affordable alternative - Harry Potter books signed by their illustrators (ie Mary Grandpre, Jim Kay, Jason Cockroft) are available for low three-figure sums.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Where the Wild Things Are - a simple children's picture book, has had a remarkable impact on popular culture. To have a special copy, it has to be a 1963 first edition published by Harper & Row, and Sendak's signature will add thousands to the value. Sendak, who died in 2012, was a generous signer and often added sketches.
Most expensive copy to sell on AbeBooks - a first signed sold for $25,000 in 2012.
Affordable alternative - There are Where the Wild Things Are posters. Not cheap but definitely collectible.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - a modern classic where bad things happen to bad children. The golden ticket is a September 1964 first edition published by Knopf that's been signed by Dahl, and has a pristine dust jacket. Only 10,000 copies were printed and they sold out in four weeks.
Most expensive copy to sell on AbeBooks - a first edition signed by Dahl sold for $25,000 in 2015.
Affordable alternative - Look for Dahl books signed by his illustrator Quentin Blake.
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
A lesson to all of us about being careful in what is thrown away. Both the US and UK editions of The Velveteen Rabbit were published in 1922 and you will need one of these to have something special on your bookshelf. William Nicholson provided seven memorable full-page illustrations.
Most expensive copy to sell on AbeBooks - a US first edition sold for $15,950 in 2013.
Affordable alternative - Marjory Williams also wrote a book with a long title called Poor Cecco. The Wonderful Story of a Wonderful Wooden Dog Who Was the Jolliest Toy in the House until He Went out to Explore the World. Arthur Rackham provided stunning illustrations.
Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
The story about the bear with little brain is an essential item for any children's book collector. Winnie the Pooh was published in 1926 by Methuen, the ideal copy would be signed by Milne and perhaps also the book's illustrator E.H. Shepard. The presence and condition of the dust jacket will heavily influence the value of this book that has delighted readers for 90 years.
Most expensive copy to sell on AbeBooks - a copy signed by Milne and Shepard, and containing a bookplate displaying Milne's London address sold for $11,851 in 2016.
Affordable alternative - Look for Folio Society editions from either 1999 or 2004 which start at around $100.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
First published in 1962 by Ariel Books, A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by dozens of publishers because they thought no young reader would understand the combination of science, and good versus evil.
Most expensive copy to sell on AbeBooks - a 1962 first edition for $11,000 in 2015. Ellen Raskin did the cover art.
Affordable alternative - Signed copies of A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third installment in the Wrinkle in Time trilogy, are easy to find for between $100 and $400.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum
Dorothy and Toto are still going strong today. Is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz America's greatest fairy tale? Probably. The first edition was published in 1900 by Geo M. Hill but the copyright notice is dated 1899. This book was first printed with 24 color plates by W.W. Denslow.
Most expensive copy to sell on AbeBooks - a true first edition for $8,800 in 2012.
Affordable alternative - The University Press of Kansas (of course) produced an illustrated edition in 1999.
Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J.M. Barrie
Peter Pan first appeared in Barrie's adult novel The Little White Bird in 1902. The boy who never grows up then appeared in a play that opened in 1904 and ran until 1913. A proper Peter Pan book finally appeared in 1906, called Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Arthur Rackham provided illustrations and it's the artwork that makes this book so appealing.
Most expensive copy to sell on AbeBooks - a first edition signed by Rackham sold for $6,500 in 2016.
Affordable alternative - Prices for the Folio Society's edition begin at $60.