Early in the 1940's George Duplaix, head of the Artists and Writers Guild and his assistant, Lucille Ogle, came up with the idea of creating a line of modestly priced full-color children's books. They mentioned the idea to an executive with the publishing firm of Simon & Schuster, who helped them develop the product. They decided they would sell each book for 25 cents. They knew that the only possible way to produce quality full-color books selling for a quarter was to sell hundreds of thousands of copies of each title.
They wanted the books to be of outstanding quality and taste, and to have a uniform, easily identifiable format. They were designed to be handled by a child. Each book was to have 44 pages, with 14 pages illustrated in color and 30 pages in black and white. Its dimensions were 8 1/4 x 6 3/4 inches. The spine was plain blue cloth and the edges of the pages were stained blue, yellow or green. To assure buyers that the books were educationally sound, they hired Dr. Mary Reed of the Teacher's College of Columbia University to be supervising editor and provided this information on the verso of the title page of each book.
These little books were, of course, the "Little Golden Books" and the first twelve titles rolled off the presses of the Western Printing and Lithography Company in the fall of 1942 and were issued all at one time on October 1. Number 1 was Three Little Kittens. Other titles in this first group of twelve were No. 2 Bedtime Stories, No. 6 The Little Red Hen, No. 12 This Little Piggy, and, the title that became the perennial favorite, accounting for more than 6 million copies, No. 8 The Poky Little Puppy. Within five months, three editions of each of the twelve titles had been printed and sold, amounting to 1,500,000 books, or 125,000 of each title.
Initially Little Golden Books were marketed in 800 book and department stores, but their tremendous popularity demanded wider distribution. Soon they appeared in variety stories like Woolworth's, Kress, and Grant's, in toy stores, drug stores, newsstands, stationery stores, and finally, in the late 1940's, they entered the biggest of all outlets, that new emporium of the food industry, the supermarket.
In spite of their success, one librarian notes, Little Golden Books have been ignored by reviewers and the award committees, and are "denounced as the junk food of children's literature."1 But they had a huge impact, if for no other reason than that their phenomenal number was one of the most significant developments in children's literature in the mid-20th century.
1 Jones, p. xvii.
Santi, Steve. Collecting "Little Golden Books": A Collector's Identification & Value Guide, 2nd ed. Florence, Alabama: Americana, Inc. 1994.
Copyright 2002 © Rita Smith
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