Five things to know about Little Golden Books
Millions of children have grown up reading Little Golden Books. They are a vibrantly colored children's series populated by cute creatures and intrepid locomotives. Each book is encased in a shiny, golden spine. This year, reports Lynn Neary for NPR, Little Golden Books will celebrate its 75th birthday. In honor of this milestone, here are five things to know about the iconic franchise:
It transformed the concept of a children's book.
Prior to the launch of Little Golden Books in 1942, children's books looked very different. As Mental Floss' Rob Lammie writes, kids' picture books often came in the form of hefty volumes. These were etched with ornate illustrations. They were sold exclusively in bookstores. They cost between $2 or $3. That was far more than most families could afford.
That all changed when Simon & Schuster partnered with Western Publishing. It is a Wisconsin-based publishing house. They planned to create a series of accessible, affordable children's books. The Little Golden Books were colorful and sturdy. And with a cost of just 25 cents a pop, the books were cheap. The publishers also made sure to stock the books in department stores, supermarkets, train stations and five-and-dimes. They were placed in plain sight of young readers. This tactic seemed to have worked.
Little Golden Books produced the top-selling children's book of the 20th century.
That book would be The Little Poky Puppy. It has sold almost 15 million copies since its publication as one of the original 12 Little Golden Books in 1942. That is according to Lammie. The charming tale of a dessert-loving dog wasn't the only Little Golden Books hit. Titles like The Saggy Baggy Elephant (1947) and Scuffy the Tugboat (1955) also sold millions of copies. The sales placed them among the 10 most popular children's books of the 20th century. In total, a whopping two billion Little Golden Books have been printed. That is according to Random House Kids. Or, as the site puts it, "enough to reach the moon."
Artists who fled Europe during World War II found a home at Little Golden Books.
The publishers of Little Golden Books sought out talented commercial illustrators who had escaped the ravages of WWII, Neary writes. Among these illustrators was Russian émigré Feodor Rojankovsky. He brought several Little Golden Books to life. One was Gaston and Josephine, a story about two pigs who run away from their homeland and start a new life in America.
Little Golden Books has taken steps to address its biases.
In the 1960s, the series was criticized for failing to depict any black children in a book about the Central Park Zoo, Jim Higgins reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The publishers initially bristled at the charges. But they eventually released a line of books that prominently featured black characters. Richard Scarry was a beloved children's artist who got his start at Little Golden Books. He revised his illustrations when feminists accused him of maintaining gender stereotypes. Reprints of his books now show female characters driving cars and male characters cooking in the kitchen.
Little Golden Books has featured a whole lot of characters.
Early Little Golden Books centered on either original characters or fairy tale creatures. But the series began including pop culture figures. As Lammie writes, just about every kid-friendly character has popped up in Little Golden Books stories. These include Annie Oakley, the Flintstones and Disney princesses (so many Disney princesses). Even Donny and Marie Osmond made an appearance. They were in a 1977 Little Golden Book. It was titled Donny and Marie: The Top Secret Project.
Seventy-five years on, Little Golden Books has gained a new publisher. It is Penguin Random House. But the franchise has kept its spirit. New stories feature characters loved by kids today. They include Blaze and the Monster Machines!, Elena of Avalor!, Kung Fu Panda! The classics are still printed too, allowing new generations of readers to revel in the adventures of The Poky Little Puppy and The Saggy Baggy Elephant.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why were the books encased in a shiny, golden spine?
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