1 Boys’ Toys of the Fifties and Sixties and Girls’ Toys of the Fifties and Sixties edited by Thomas W. Holland (Windmill Press, $19.95 each). Take a trip down memory lane with these catalog pages from the legendary Sears Christmas Wishbooks, 1950 to 1969. Remember View-Master, Betsy Wetsy and Big Wheel? Share these books with your children and grandchildren, so they can see the kinds of toys you played with in your youth—or wished you’d had. I know I couldn’t wait for those Wishbooks to arrive at my doorstep each year. Don’t let the names of these books fool you, though; you’ll find cross-gender or non-gender-specific games and toys in both books.
2 Toys A to Z: A Guide and Dictionary for Collectors, Antique Dealers and Enthusiasts by Mark Rich (Krause Publications, $19.95). Ever wonder about the origins of the Chatty Cathy doll? Or the Radio Flyer red wagon? This guide will tell you all about your favorite toys of the past. Discover the stories behind the artificial Christmas tree (I’ll bet you didn’t know its roots stretch to the 1920s), modeling clay, cap pistols and other playthings. Read a brief history of each toy manufacturer, and find out what companies made which toys. This is an easy-to-thumb-through reference with more than 350 photographs and illustrations.
3 The American Toy Train by Gerry and Janet Souter (MBI Publishing, $29.95). I had a hard time peeling this book out of my husband’s grasp. Anyone who loves model trains will love this book. For the past 100 years, young boys have collected toy trains, and grown men continue to collect them. Filled with color photographs, this book captures the fascination and history of toy trains from the mid-19th century to the present. You’ll learn how much each set cost, how the trains were powered, who made them and what they looked like. Watch your male relatives’ eyes light up once again as they recall their favorite train sets from childhood.
4 Toys from American Childhood, 1845-1945 by Tim Luke (Portfolio Press, $49.95). Though it’s pricey, this is the ideal book to take along for those oral history interviews with the older generations. It covers toys before they had blinking lights and plugs and batteries—when all they needed was a child’s imagination. The color photographs will help you picture your ancestors’ favorite toys. The only downside to this book, from a family history standpoint, is that the toys are arranged by manufacturer. So if you want to look at just dolls, for example, you need to flip through the whole book. Still, looking through the pictures of old toys is part of the fun.
5 Storybook Culture: The Art of Popular Children’s Books by Joseph and Cheryl Homme (Collectors Press, $39.95). From Dick and Jane to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, this book will remind you of classic tales from your childhood. Illustrated with covers of popular children’s books, Storybook Culture tells the stories behind the storybooks. Although the authors cover titles from the early 20th century, their primary focus is on books baby boomers read and would remember. A perfect reference for writing your own life story, Storybook Culture will help you recall and share the books you cherished in your youth.