When I was 9 years old and again when I was 11, I was banished to bed for a year's time. At least that's how I saw it. In truth, my parents were following doctor's orders for how to treat my rheumatic fever so there would be no heart damage.
It worked, thanks to penicillin, but especially to my parents, who kept me from going stir-crazy by providing a vast supply of books, from the predictable Nancy Drew series to the challenging 24-volume "Book House for Children," which introduced me to everything from Japanese poetry to King Arthur's Round Table.
Unfortunately, I lost track of these wonderful books -- most were probably handed down to my four younger siblings or given away to some church bazaar. But now I want them back, not just to read again, but to relive the lure and comfort of their stories and the illustrations.
Several weeks ago, I serendipitously found an easier way to retrieve these titles. My husband and I were in a very crowded bookstore coffee shop and we got our chairs entangled with the couple sitting behind us, Barbara and Bill Yoffee. The four of us were soon talking and it turns out the Yoffees, married 36 years and retired from their fields in education and law, are avid bibliophiles who locate and sell children's books that are no longer in print. Their 12-year-old business, "Children's Book Adoption Agency," is run out of their Kensington home where they have neatly shelved and catalogued some 15,000 books.
The Yoffees, members of the Washington Antiquarian Booksellers' Association, find their books from as near as a neighborhood garage sale to as far away as Australia.
No book is considered too cheap or incidental. They Yoffees respect the fact that as long as you held the book in your hand when you were young and it left its impression all this time, it's important. "Our purpose is to deal with the nostalgia trend," says Bill Yoffee. "And now people are especially looking to relive their childhood."
It seems that this nostalgia spreads throughout the family tree. A mother wanted the "Winnie the Pooh" edition from 1961, a request from her son who is a sophomore in college.
One woman in her seventies wanted to give her 99-year-old mother her favorite book, the first edition of "Secret Garden" with the original, little-known illustrations by Maria Kirk. Another woman in her nineties, children's author Leone Adelson, wanted them to find her book, "Old Rosie," so she could leave copies to her nieces and nephews.
The Yoffees often hear from siblings, usually a sister, who has just been made an aunt and wants to give her sister (and the baby) the book they once had or read together.
There also seems to be a rush of book orders from fathers for the baseball and adventure stories of their youth.
The Yoffees' interest is more than a business, it is a dedication. They donate books to hospitals, assist schools with reading lists, advise teachers what to read to their students, give talks and write articles.
They are also known for recommending books to parents for specific needs and they have developed a sizable inventory and knowledge of African American children's books.
Lark Bergwin-Anderson of Silver Spring first met the Yoffees when they helped her price books for a school fair. When she was embroiled in a difference with her children over the school dress code, she came to them: "I wanted a book that showed the moral fiber behind one's dress," recalls Bergwin-Anderson.
The Yoffees recommended and found "Dhee Hanna," by Margaarite DeAngelis, a book about a young Quaker girl who wants to wear fancy clothes and her father won't let her. The story is set during the Civil War, and it is the girl's Quaker dress that eventually signals runaway slaves that they can trust her family to hide them. Apparently, Bergwin-Anderson's children enjoyed the story and they got the message.
Bergwin-Anderson is perhaps exceptional because when she asks the Yoffees to locate a specific book, she can remember the title and author. Typically, the Yoffees say, folks don't have a clue as to the exact title, author or illustrator. Often they can only describe how the book made them "feel." For this reason, the Yoffees prefer people write to them by e-mail or letter and describe the book as best they can. They discourage any visits to their home because folks get overwhelmed by all the titles available, or they go off on a tangent and start unshelving the many other books they have forgotten.
I was allowed a rare visit, and they are right, it's daunting. I couldn't resist, however, and asked if they could find a book about three look-alike Scandinavian sisters who always got into trouble. I remembered a full page illustration of the girls running down the hill spilling a bucket of milk.
"Ah," said Barbara Yoffee, running her finger across a line of books under "L." "That's the `Flicka, Ricka and Dicka' series by Maj Lindman." Suddenly, I was 9 years old again.
For requests and information e-mail: email@example.com. Or write to: Children's Book Adoption Agency, P.O. Box 643, Kensington, Md. 20895-0643
CAPTION: Bill and Barbara Yoffee surrounded by their stock of rare children's books.