Stump the librarian: Elephant in the room

Dearest readers,

This week a faculty member writes in:

Assuming faculty can play along, where in the world is the source text for Disney’s Dumbo? Helen Aberson was the author. Harold Pearl may have been the illustrator. My research leads me to believe that the original text was published as an odd little “roll-a-book” novelty. (I’m imagining a little plastic box that houses a scroll that can be advanced.) No library on earth seems to hold such a thing. There are story books that came out with the Disney film and with the Disney artwork in the early ‘40s, but where is the original, first edition source text source text for Dumbo the Elephant?

Answer: The original, first edition source text has been cryogenically frozen with the body of Walt Disney.  

The Librarian jests a bit.  Let’s take a look at how we might research this question, and because it’s a long one, citations are being omitted but if you email me at [email protected], I’ll be happy to pass on a lengthy list.

In our databases, via a search with Library OneSearch, we can access published obituaries, and there are several for Helen Aberson.  If you read them, you’ll notice that they contain varying dates for the publication of the book and the subsequent film.  Then there is The Washington Post, which lists her as a writer for Disney from the very beginning.  


One thing the obituaries seem to agree on is that Helen Aberson published something in the late 1930s. Let’s turn to Worldcat, a resource that allows you to search library catalogs worldwide.  Searching by author name Helen Aberson reveals that there are many editions of Dumbo in libraries, but all include the Disney name as well, even those with copyright dates in the 1930s.  

A search for “roll-a-book”, however, turns up a few things, including the intriguingly named The Lost Stone of Agog, from 1938 (not by Aberson, The Librarian just found that interesting and librarians must compulsively share information).  

More importantly, this search also reveals a link to the Helen [Aberson] Durney archives at Syracuse University: Noted in the archives inventory is that, under “Memorabilia” in Box 1, a user may find the galley version of the original “Roll-a-Book” title.  

So, dear faculty friend, Syracuse is your answer.  The Librarian would like to note that according to several internet forum posts*, as well as books and articles in the library, the Disney corporation itself does not own a copy of the original book or Roll-a-Book.  Quite strange, but then, archives being what they often are, it’s possible that one is sitting in a long-forgotten box somewhere.

Although, The Librarian much prefers the idea of it being jealously guarded by Mr. Disney in perpetuity.

Until next time, remember that we are always available to answer your questions via our Ask-a-Librarian service!  Send me your hardest questions here: 

*The internet forum posts on this topic provide many other tantalizing questions, and also bring up the issue of how one should properly evaluate information found online.  The Librarian would like to point out that we have several tutorials on evaluating websites, and we are also always willing/able to expound on the subject, usually with great vehemence.