Feb 19, 2014

The Gremlins – Roald Dahl’s first children’s book, 1943.

I collect vintage children’s picture books (mostly from 60’s and 70’s). There’s not a huge collectors base for them but this is definitely changing over time. There’s a charm to the illustrations and stories that isn’t often replicated in today’s book world. Some are classics, like anything by Dr Seuss which is always in print but there’s so many that have been forgotten and people with a sensibility for anything retro and vintage are starting to see this. These can often make great gifts to kids of friends and family as they are a true snap shot of the way the world was.

The Gremlins - A Walt Disney Production and Roald Dahl's first children's book.

Which leads me to the next item from (one of my many collections) I’m posting about. This item is based around one of those lucky and very rare finds. An auction house in Sydney was having a sale of unsold lots from previous auctions.  There were a lot of people milling around and looking at the regular stuff like furniture and home décor and among all that stuff was a largely ignored box of vintage children’s books.

We bought the box and fossicked through it at home. Some books were damaged with ripped pages, scribbles and mould spots; you can’t keep these with your other paper stuff due to the risk of damaging other things. Towards the bottom was a bright red book. Its title read ‘The Gremlin’s’ from the Walt Disney production, A Royal Air Force Story by Flight Lieutenant Roald Dahl.

It was Roald Dahl’s first children’s book. Could this even be a first edition? I did some research and sure enough, it was! A lucky find on a day where the next stop for this particular box could have simply been the tip.

The copyright page for The Gremlins.

Roald Dahl’s works have been enjoyed by generations of people young and old and are always finding new fans. He wrote for many audiences but Roald Dahl’s most famous works were the creations he made for Children. They include Charlie and Chocolate Factory, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Matilda and James and the Giant Peach. Interestingly he also wrote screenplays for two Ian Fleming novels, James Bond in You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Title page for The Gremlins

In 1943 while in the Royal Air Force he wrote The Gremlins and was encouraged to submit it to Walt Disney productions, who loved it and planned to turn it into an animated movie. The movie never eventuated but the story was published as a book. The artwork was created by the in house Disney team.

Fifinella - the lady Gremlin from the story

The Gremlins were little creatures who were blamed for the problems pilots had when they crashed or other emergencies. The story centres on a pilot, Gus, who encounters the Gremlins after they begin sabotaging his plane due to their forest being flattened for people’s homes and factories. He has to find a way to make them work with him and the air force instead of being troublemakers.

The Gremlins were troublemakers for the pilots all right!

The 1943 printings were the only time it was available (printed in the U.K in 1944) until a faithful reproduction was published in 2006, from Dark Horse.

Since their original appearance, the Gremlins (in various guises) have appeared in various places here’s a few:

1943 – Bugs Bunny cartoon ‘Falling Hare’ from Merrie Melodies.

1963 – an episode of The Twilight Zone, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” featuring a very young William Shatner from Star Trek.

2010 – the game Epic Mickey on Nintendo WII features the original Disney Gremlins as a main part of the story.


  • I have been looking for a book called “Grimble” by Clement Freud, not seriously but constantly for years. My older sister had it when we were kids and it was half cook book and half story. Very funny and I don’t think any of the recipes worked.

    • I will keep an eye out for it in our travels too! I finally found a copy of a book I loved as a kid too called Spooky Tricks. As soon as I saw it I knew it was the one from years ago :)

  • I found a first edition of this book recently too. Any idea of a value? Or where to get a good value on it? I’m keen to sell it to raise funds for charity. Thanks Janice

  • This bobbed up in my Twitter feed yesterday, a good children’s book from the 50′s (the 1650s)… in fact, the first children’s picture book: http://www.openculture.com/2014/05/first-childrens-picture-book-1658s-orbis-sensualium-pictus.html

    • Oh that’s amazing! I really love the old wood cut style of illustrations, something otherworldly about them.

  • The copy of The Gremlins you found may have been mine … as a child in Sydney during WWII I had a copy. It was printed on curious paper which had a thick linen weave through it. It disappeared some time after I left to come to Europe circa 60 years ago. You were lucky in the find. In a specialized children’s bookshop in the UK some years ago, it was £300 – say, $A500.

    • Hi there Paul! That would be amazing if it were yours originally. Definitely a lucky find and it’s being looked after that’s for sure. Thanks for your feedback on the value! I’m not sure of this edition had a dust jacket, do you remember?

  • On closer inspection I don’t think it’s my copy, as it doesn’t seem to have the pronounced linen-weave effect which was on the cover and throughout the book I had, and nor did it have that form of spine. But it’s a treasure, anyway !

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