Childhood Memories Friday: Little Golden Books

Little Golden Books

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?

7 thoughts on “Childhood Memories Friday: Little Golden Books

  1. So I was very tiny when they appeared on the scene. Our good friend Billie Wintin is in love with Little Golden Books. In fact, if you twisted her arm, I believe she would give a program on them and it would be a program you would NEVER forget. Billie’s like that! I love your Friday posts about memories!

  2. Oh, yes! I wrote a paper about Eloise Wilkin, one of the illustrators for Little Golden Books, while taking elementary education classes at Huntington College. My memories of her books are very sweet. She drew children who looked like angels.

  3. Looking at the books you pictured today brings back many memories. I’m sure we must have had some at home when I was growing up but I don’t remember any of them specifically.

    Years ago, I babysat in a home in which a severely disabled child lived. He had a little brother who was about 4 or 5. It was getting to be near the little brother’s bedtime and he was getting more and more wound up. So I told him to bring me a book and I would read to him. Would you believe his response: What’s a book? And he was being dead serious. I felt so bad, realizing that his mother was so busy taking care of her brood, including the severely disabled child, that she had no time to read to the children. I left that home feeling very, very sad.

  4. Elaine, that is such a sad story about the little boy not knowing what a book was. No wonder you that home feeling sad. I remember reading The Poky Little Puppy to my daughters over and over. They had many Little Golden Books as did my grandkids. I loved reading the history of these books. Susan, thanks for another informative blog! I learn so much from you.

  5. This was very interesting history about Golden Books. My own 2 children had many, which I’m sure that I read quite a few of these books to them. For the life of me, I do not remember the titles of those popular in the early 60s when my kids were growing up. But I do remember these book fondly, and I know that Carl and Julie loved them!

  6. Yes, I read them as a child and my children loved them, too. Though we do buy new stuff, I am especially drawn to things that were around in my childhood and are still sold – that speaks of quality. We don’t mind getting a few faddish things as well, but I love the things that have stood the test of time. We had one about different kinds of cats that my guys loved, as well as The Pokey Little Puppy and ones about any kind of vehicle.

  7. Yes! I was a big fan, and still am. Of course Eloise Wilkin was my favorite. I used to wonder how she knew exactly what my little boys looked like. If my granddaughters would have voted on a favorite, they would have picked “Baby Dear.”

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