No, they're not illegal to own, but a new law that many people haven't heard about yet has recently made it illegal to buy, sell or barter books published before 1985 for children ages 12 and under, because of concerns about lead content in the ink.
It's called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) and you can read more about it on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Website here. In spite of what Snopes.com says (which is uncharacteristically myopic about a very far-reaching law - and doesn't even get into the consequences for used children's books), it is quite clear that children's books published before 1985 are in danger. I've heard reliable reports that some used book stores are trashing all of their pre-1985 children's books. Related effects on other children's items can be read about here, here and here.
In the interest of raising awareness of this outrageous new law, I'm starting a meme (somewhat after the fashion of this post by the Headmistress). I thought it might be a fun way to spread the word and make a difference. Please share your favorite books or book series (five will do, but more if you like) that fall under this law (which currently includes all books intended for children up to age 12 that were published before 1985). I couldn't get Mr. Linky to work, so please leave a comment with a link to your post. After that - contact your congressman!
I don't know about you, but a huge portion of our children's books are library discards. They're a wonderful place to find great old stuff and it's recycling to boot!
1. Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack. Yes, this one is in print, but the old library edition is SO gorgeous and the library binding holds up beautifully. This book means a great deal to me and you could can read more about why here.
2. ...Do the Strangest Things Series The Fish book pictured here was my husband's when he was young. His mom gave it to us when Ria was perhaps four years old and it was an instant favorite - so much so that we soon bought the others from the series from e-Bay. The pictures are a little dated, but the text is very engaging and these have helped charm all of my children into an interest in science and nature.
3. Meet... Series These are published in the same style as the nature books above - detailed, informative, but with reasonably simple language. A few are in print (in cheap black-and-white paperback) but most are not. I picked up about dozen of these on eBay when Gus (now 13) was struggling with proficiency in reading. We now know that he had a developmental disability that made the learning-to-read process particularly tedious. These were a godsend and he gobbled them up!
4. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis Yes, of course these are still in print, and some of the new editions are gorgeous, but I wanted to point out that some of the books threatened by this law are not collectible nor particularly old. I bought this set of Narnia books brand new when I was 11 or 12. That would make it printed in 1981 or 1982. Bad bad bad.
5. The Good Master by Kate Seredy This wonderful story IS still in print, but check out the difference. Not only is the color and the end-papers missing, but the pages are so thin that you can see the text through the picture on the left-hand side.
6. The Vision Book Series - This is an endangered Catholic series. Even though Ignatius Press is working on reprinting them (and the reprints are very nice!), they've only reprinted 27 so far out of 72 books! Here are a few of the out-of-print ones we've managed to collect from all over. The one on St. Augustine is particularly great!
Note: Many of the out-of-print books recommended in Laura Berquist's Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum were published before 1985 and are intended for age 12 or under. There's a lot of great stuff included in this category.
Some helpful links on CPSIA: (thanks to Melissa Wiley for helping out with the links)
American Library Association, ALA Urges Congress To Correct Law That Inadvertently Targets Libraries, Publishers
City Journal, The New Book Burning
Semicolon Blog, CPSIA: Time to Make Some Calls
The Common Room, CPSIA and Ball-Point Pens (and many other posts too)
Lots of coverage at Overlawyered
Note: For more about the problem with the Snopes coverage, search for the term "Snopes" on this page.