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Big Books Feature

Little Golden Books

Big Books Issue 2008

YA City Paper's Big Books Issue 2008 | By Bret McCabe

When Books Could Change Your Life Why What We Pore Over At 12 May Be The Most Important Reading We Ever Do | By Tim Kreider

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See Spot Rejected Some Helpful Don'ts For Cracking Into Children's Publishing | By Brian Sendelbach

Teen Screams Dark Young Adult Fiction Captures Rudderless Horrors of Contemporary Adolescence | By Ian Grey

Little Golden Books It's difficult to imagine an American childhood without Little Golden Books--you know, the ubiquito... | By Michelle Gienow

Maurice Sendak Somehow I had always assumed that Maurice Sendak was French. Even as a child, I found Where the Wil... | By Lee Gardner

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By Michelle Gienow | Posted 9/24/2008

It's difficult to imagine an American childhood without Little Golden Books--you know, the ubiquitous cardboard-covered children's books with the distinctive gold patterned spine. Some of our culture's most beloved kiddie classics, like The Poky Little Puppy, are Little Golden Books. I remember them everywhere throughout my own early years: battered and round-cornered in the doctor's office waiting room, in a stack at the beauty shop where my mom had her hair done, scattered on the floor around the beanbag chair in our kindergarten's reading corner.

Back when I was a kid in the 1970s, Little Golden Books sold for 49 cents at diverse outlets like dime stores, drug stores, and--a stroke of genius--with the candy at grocery store checkouts. Indeed, it was a brilliant idea to create an eye-catching yet inexpensive line of children's books sold where parents and children commonly shopped. In 1942, the year that Simon and Schuster launched the original 12 titles in the series, most children's books cost around $3, making them a luxury item out of reach of most family budgets. The 12 original Little Golden Book titles sold for 25 cents each and within five months of publication had sold a combined 1.5 million copies.

Not that their bargain price meant that the publisher skimped on quality. Many well-known children's authors and illustrators--among them Margaret Wise Brown (yes, she of Goodnight Moon), Richard Scarry of Busytown fame, and even Mad magazine's Bob Staake--were recruited to contribute to the ever-growing library of Little Golden Books. By their 10th anniversary over 182 million Little Golden Books had been sold, and more than 200 titles were offered.

My own favorite, as attested by my grandmother's shaky copperplate writing on the title page reading "Michelle's favorite book, age 2," is Mr. Dog (LGB No. 128) by Brown, with pictures by award-winning illustrator Garth Williams. It is currently my 2-year-old son Cole's favorite, too.

The LGB product line was sold several times and currently resides with Random House, which is wise enough to not mess with success. Though it now costs $2.99, the current edition of The Poky Little Puppy--the best-selling LGB of all, with over 15 million copies sold--is essentially identical to an original edition.

Some titles, of course, have faded away, victims of changing societal and pop-cultural mores (The Story of Little Black Sambo, LGB No. 57; Bozo and the Hide'n'Seek Elephant, No. 598) or the fact that, well, maybe they just weren't that great (Albert's Zoo, LGB No. 112 or Howdy Doody and the Princess, No. 135, anyone?). However, the fact that so many Little Golden Books titles do remain in print is testament to the series' enduring attractiveness to ensuing generations of children as well as nostalgic appeal to their parents. After all, what self-respecting 3-year-old, and his or her misty-eyed Gen Y parent, could resist reading The Saggy Baggy Elephant (LGB No. 36) for the first--or 50th--time?

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