I wrote a blog post in 2011 about Little Golden books, but when I saw that they were celebrating their 75th birthday, I thought it was time to do a little revisiting of these wonderful books.
Most of us probably had at least a few of these treasures on our book shelves since well over two billion copies of Little Golden Books have sold in the last 75 years. Before Little Golden Books, most children’s books tended to be expensive. They were also usually large volumes and didn’t fit well the hands of children.
Leonard Marcus wrote The Golden Legacy: The Story of the Golden Books. He says the printers, publishers, writers and artists who brought Golden Books to the market had a lofty goal — they wanted to “democratize children’s books,” making them both affordable and accessible. To that end, they were sold in department stores, train stations, drugstores and supermarkets.
“Kids would come with their parents,” Marcus says. “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.”
So, let’s take a little golden quiz to see how much you know about your first book friends. (Be careful. The books pictures may or may not be the correct answer.)
1. In what year did Little Golden Books first hit the shelves?
2. Who published Little Golden Books?
a.) Simon & Schuster
a.) The Poky Little Puppy
b.) Old Mc Donald’s Farm
c.) The Three Bears
4. How much did Little Golden Books originally cost?
a.) 25 cents
b.) 50 cents
a.) Goodbye Tonsils
b.) Nurse Betty Gives a Shot
c.) Dr. Dan, The Bandage Man
6. In the 1950’s, many top-selling Little Golden Books centered around what topic?
a.) The space program
b.) Popular television shows
c.) Disney characters
8. Which Little Golden book has become controversial and is also one of the most valuable to collectors?
a.) Little Mommy
b.) My Little Golden Book About God
c.) Little Black Sambo
9. How can you tell if your Little Golden Book is a valuable first edition?
a.) A letter “A” at the end of the string of letters on the books first two pages
b.) A Roman numeral on the title page shows the printing date
c.) The letter “R” appears on the back of cover
10. A lot of 510 vintage Little Golden Books recently sold on eBay for how much?
Bonus Question: What Little Golden Book is the top-selling children’s book of all time?
1. Little Golden Books were first sold in 1942 (b) in department stores.
2. Simon & Schuster (a) , along with Western Printing, published the titles. In just five short months, they’d sold 1.5 million copies.
3. One of the original 12 titles was The Poky Little Puppy (a). Today nearly 15 million copies of the book have been sold.
4. Little Golden Books originally cost just 25 cents (a). This was a great bargain for families as most children’s books were $2 to $3 at the time. Today, a little Golden Book costs $2.99.
5. Dr. Dan, The Bandage Man (c) came with six Johnson & Johnson Band-aids glued on the title page. It’s first printing was 1.75 million—the largest first printing of any Little Golden Book up to 1951.
6. In the mid-1950’s, Little Golden Books centered around children’s television shows (b) like “The Roy Rogers Show”, “Howdy Doody”, “The Lone Rangers”, and “Captain Kangaroo”.
7. Little Golden Books received a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian in 1992 (b). It was the year of their “golden” anniversary—50 years!
8. The most controversial Little Golden Books was Little Black Sambo. (c) I had a copy of it as a child and it was one of my favorites. However, the word “sambo” is considered a racial slur in some countries and the book has been one of the most controversial books in existence. In 2004, Little Golden Books released a new version titled The Boy and the Tigers. The boy in it is called Little Ranjani. Today, a first edition regularly brings values of $150 or more.
9. You can often tell if your Little Golden Book is a first edition by checking the first two pages for a series of letters. If that series ends in “A”, it’s a first edition, a “B” it’s a second, and so on. In 1991, they began using Roman numerals. (a)
10. The lot of 510 vintage Little Golden Books sold for $900. (c) Today, most vintage copies sell for $15 or less, so collecting them is still affordable.
Bonus: It’s The Poky Little Puppy, selling over 15 million copies.
Through my collection of Little Golden Books, I went camping with Tommy, learned to train puppies, read bedtime stories, and learned to mutter, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can” when faced with difficult times.
Still, my all time favorite Little Golden Book was Heidi. I absolutely loved the illustrations of the mountains, of Heidi and her grandfather, and of the floral wreaths Heidi made to drape around the necks of the goats. I read the book over and over.
But what made these books so popular? First of all was the cost. Mom’s could pop for them at the grocery or department store and bring home a surprise. Second, the bright colorful pictures drew you in every time. Many people say they remember the pictures better than the stories.
Third, you could collect them. Let’s face it. We all love a collection, especially when we’re kids. Fourth, they were short. Moms would take the time to read them to their children and when kids began reading themselves, they could easily master them. Last and most important, they told timeless stories, and story is the most powerful tool in the world.
So, which Little Golden Books do you recall? Which little golden treasures lined your shelves? How’d you do on the quiz? Curious minds want to know, and I’m very curious.
Lorna Seilstad brings history back to life using a generous dash of humor. She is the author of the Lake Manawa Summers Series and the Gregory Sisters Series. She and her husband have three children and call Iowa home. Find out more at www.lornaseilstad.com or connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter.View all Lorna Seilstad posts.