DC at Night

DC at Night

Monday, August 5, 2013

Little Golden Books Make History

Prior to World War II, books for young readers were too expensive for most families to buy. But in 1947, Little Golden Books were introduced, a series of some classic, but mostly new, affordable books designed for readers between the ages of 3 and 8.

Initially, the books were sold in five and dime, grocery, and drug stores for 25 cents each. Of course, stimulating an interest in reading was one of the main purposes of the series which became wildly popular. But publishers also were credited with pushing " a democratization of education for the 20th Century."

Unlike previous children's books, the series didn't focus exclusively on nursery rhymes and fairy and folk tales. Instead, many of the stories concentrated on everyday life. One expert in literature for the young said the books featured stories that would giving "little grownups" a glimpse of "the duties of caring for home and the everyday family," promote the cultural norms of the 1950's, and create active citizens.

Doctor Dan and Nurse Nancy
Of course, as decades changed, the types of Golden Books offered also changed. New titles were added to reflect the societal values of the times in which they were published. In the late 1950's and early 1960's, the books became one of the 1st examples of product placement. Johnson and Johnson junior-size band-aids were included in each copy of Doctor Dan and Nurse Nancy. Television began to play a dominant role in titles. Such characters as Hopalong Cassidy, Howdy Doody, Bugs Bunny, and Lassie appeared. Over the ensuing years, those TV characters have included favorites from Sesame Street, Disney, and The Power Rangers.

And now the books, originally published in a partnership between Simon and Schuster and Western Printing and Lithographing Company in Racine, Wisconsin, have officially been declared a piece of history. An exhibition detailing the story of the 65-year old series is now on display at the National Museum of American History.

The exhibition features some of 500 original illustrations, books, coloring books, and puzzles that the Smithsonian received from the Western Printing firm in 1992.

Little Golden Books has been a financial success. More than a billion and half books have been sold. Of course, that 25-cent price tag is now history. Today, the books cost $3.59 on Amazon.

But some things haven't changed. For example, The Pokey Little Puppy, which was one of the first 12 titles published, is essentially the same story that appeared in 1947. And it has proven to be extremely popular. Officials say  more than 15 million copies of the book have been sold, making it the most popular title in the series.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
The advent of Little Golden Books predates my arrival on the planet by 5 years. As a voracious childhood reader, I amassed quite a collection of the books. I kept a few of my favorites for my son Michael, who was born in 1973. He added newer ones. On his most recent trip to DC, I introduced my 4-year-old grandson, Owen to the series. He chose How Do Penguins Play? But there was a huge difference in the way the 3 of us purchased our books, a difference that dramatically demonstrates how much change has occurred in 60 years. While I got the majority of my titles from the Woolworth's Five and Ten store in my South Jersey hometown and Michael got his from the Kids section in local bookstores, Owen got his with a push of a button. He and I went to Amazon, he picked out his title, and in less than a minute, the book, with all its colorful illustrations, was on my Kindle ready to read.

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