You’ve probably heard that Little Golden Books are turning 75 this year. They have been around my whole life, and although I don’t have a ton of specific memories of them, they were a staple of my childhood.
Little Golden Books — Background
Little Golden Books made their debut in 1942. The idea behind the line was to produce short, engaging books for young children at an affordable price (just .25 in the beginning). In the WWII era, I’m sure the price thing was quite a big deal. Their title came from the signature golden spine on each one.
In an effort to “democratize books,” marketers placed the books for sale in drugstores, train stations, and grocery stores. “Kids would come with their parents,” says Leonard Marcus, author of a book on the series. “And they’d be sitting in the shopping cart and they’d reach out to the rack and grab a book. And the mother, the father, would look at it and see that it was only 25 cents and they’d put it in the cart. And that would happen over and over again.”
Most of the people at the top of the Golden Books business were women, and colorful women at that. One editor was known for sending dictionaries, along with rejection letters, to poorly-written manuscripts she received from would-be authors.
You would recognize many names who worked with Golden Books over the years: illustrators Richard Scarry, and Dorothy Kunhardt of “Pat the Bunny” fame. Also Margaret Wise Brown of “Goodnight Moon,” as well as Garth Williams, famous for his illustrations in “Charlotte’s Web” and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series.
Criticism of Little Golden Books
All wasn’t rosy for the books. Many children’s librarians disliked the books, citing their low price as evidence that they couldn’t be good. When sales of Little Golden Books soared, the librarians were furious. They felt that their role as cultural gatekeepers for children was being marginalized.
In the 1960s, the books were criticized for a lack of racial diversity. The 1970s saw increased competition from school book clubs, which also offered low-cost books. The company went bankrupt in the ’90s, but the books are still published by Penguin Random House.
These days, you can still buy many of the classics, along with newer additions such as adaptations of popular Disney movies.
Memories of Little Golden Books
My younger sister loved “The Poky Little Puppy.” I was interested to learn that author Janette Sebring Lowrey earned just $75 for that book, which went on to become the best-selling picture book of all time. My mom always loved the Little Golden Books illustrated by Eloise Wilkin.
The one that sticks in my memory, and which I still have, was “My Little Dinosaur.” I got it when I was 7, which I know because I have written the date inside. The book’s friendly yellow dinosaur tied in well with my love of animals, and to this day I remember some of the rhyming text. I wrote my name on the nameplate, and that was another special thing about Little Golden Books. Each one featured a nameplate inside the front cover, so that kids could feel the thrill of book ownership
Do you have any memories of Little Golden Books?