Corinne Malvern, Tibor Gergely, Gustaf Tenggren, Feodor Rojankovsky, Richard Scarry, Eloise Wilkin, Garth Williams, many others
nature, science, Bible stories, nursery rhyme, and fairy tales
Simon & Schuster (1942–1958) Western Publishing/Golden Press (1958–2001) Random House (2001–present)
Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Ariel, Elmo, Grover
Heidi, Scuffy the Tugboat, The Little Red Hen, The Poky Little Puppy, The Animals of Farmer J
Little Golden Books is a popular series of children's books. The eighth book in the series, The Poky Little Puppy, is the top-selling children's book of all time. Many of the Little Golden Books have become bestsellers, including The Poky Little Puppy, Tootle, Scuffy the Tugboat, and The Little Red Hen. Several of the illustrators for the Little Golden Books later became staples within the picture book industry, including Corinne Malvern, Tibor Gergely, Gustaf Tenggren, Feodor Rojankovsky, Richard Scarry, Eloise Wilkin, and Garth Williams.
Many books in the Little Golden Books series deal with nature and science, Bible stories, nursery rhymes, and fairy tales. Christmas titles are published every year. Some Little Golden Books and related products have featured children's characters from other media, e.g. Sesame Street, the Muppets, Disney, Looney Tunes, Barbie, Power Rangers, etc. Television and movie tie-ins have been particularly popular. Over the years Hopalong Cassidy, Cheyenne, Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Captain Kangaroo, Mister Rogers, and even Donny and Marie Osmond have appeared in Little Golden Books. That many old titles remain in print shows the strong nostalgia appeal of the series.
The series originated with Simon & Schuster; Western Printing and Lithographing Company in Racine, Wisconsin was Simon & Schuster's partner in the Little Golden Books venture, with Western handling the actual printing. Ownership and control of the series has changed several times since; Little Golden Books are currently published by Penguin Random House.
Although the details have changed over the years, the Little Golden Books have maintained a distinctive appearance. A copy of The Poky Little Puppy bought today is essentially the same as one printed in 1942. Both are readily recognizable as Little Golden Books. At the time of the series' golden anniversary in 1992, Golden Books claimed that a billion and a half Little Golden Books had been sold.
Although the Little Golden Books have remained the backbone of the product line, the enterprise that produced the Little Golden Books has created a variety of children's books in various formats, including records, tapes, videos, and even toys and games. Some titles have appeared in several different formats (including "A Golden Book").
Little Golden Books was the brainchild of Georges Duplaix, who in 1940 was head of Artists and Writers Guild Inc., a division of Western Publishing tasked with developing new children's books. Meanwhile, a shared printing plant led Western and Simon & Schuster to develop a close relationship. In 1938, the first joint effort between Western and Simon & Schuster, A Children’s History, was published.
Duplaix had the idea to produce a colorful, more durable and affordable children’s book than those being published at that time which sold for $2 to $3. With the help of Lucile Olge, also working at the Guild, Duplaix contacted Albert Leventhal, a vice president and sales manager at Simon & Schuster, and Leon Shimkin, also at Simon & Schuster, with his idea.
The group decided to publish twelve titles for simultaneous release in what was to be called the Little Golden Books Series. Each book would have 42 pages, 28 printed in two-color, and 14 in four-color. The books would be staple-bound. The group originally discussed a 50-cent price for the books, but Western did not want to compete with other 50-cent books already on the market. The group calculated that if the print run for each title was 50,000 copies instead of 25,000, the books could affordably be sold for 25 cents each.
Mary Reed, Ph.D., a professor at the Teachers College, Columbia University, served as initial editor of the series.
The first 12 titles were printed in September 1942 and released to stores in October:
- Three Little Kittens, by Marie Simchow Stern
- Bedtime Stories, illus. Gustaf Tenggren
- Mother Goose, by Phyllis Fraser, illus. Gertrude E. Espenscheid
- Prayers for Children, by Rachel Taft Dixon
- The Little Red Hen, illus. Rudolf Freund
- Nursery Songs, by Leah Gale, illus. Corinne Malvern
- The Alphabet from A to Z, by Leah Gale, illus. Vivienne Blake and Richard Peck
- The Poky Little Puppy, by Janette Sebring Lowrey, illus. Gustaf Tenggren
- The Golden Book of Fairy Tales, by Winfield Scott Hoskins
- Baby's Book of Objects
- The Animals of Farmer Jones, by Leah Gale, illus. Richard Scarry
- This Little Piggy and Other Counting Rhymes, by Phyllis Cerf Wagner, illus. Roberta Harris Pfafflin Petty
Three editions totaling 1.5 million books sold out within five months of publication in 1942.
Simon & Schuster editor Dorothy A. Bennett also worked with Duplaix on the Little Golden Books. Bennett became the editor of the franchise, producing books by such authors and illustrators as Margaret Wise Brown, Clement Hurd, Edith Thacher Hurd, and Garth Williams. Bennett authored several Golden Books, and introduced some of the first recorded books for children with Little Golden Records in 1948.
A big boost to the series came with the involvement of Lucy Sprague Mitchell, an educator and founder of Bank Street Nursery School in New York's West Village, that later became the Bank Street College of Education. A strong proponent of realistic children books, Mitchell created the Bank Street Writer’s Laboratory, whose works became the new basis for the Little Golden Book series, with characters and situations that were often inspired by the very neighborhood where the Bank School was located.
As historian Leonard S. Marcus writes,
Mitchell had been in discussions with Georges Duplaix and Lucille Ogle as early as 1943 about the possibility of a special series of Little Golden Books written by members of Bank Street Writer’s Laboratory. Wartime shortages had delayed the launch of the series until 1946. The first two titles appeared that year: Lucy Sprague Mitchell's The New House in the Forest, illustrated by Eloise Wilkins, and The Taxi That Hurried, coauthored by Irma Simonton Black and Jessie Stanton, with illustrations by Tibor Gergely.
In 1958, Simon & Schuster sold its interest in Little Golden Books to Western Publishing. The price of Little Golden Books rose to 29¢ in 1962.
In the 1980s, Golden Books introduced Golden Melody Books that included a long-lasting electronic chip that played music every time the book was opened. Titles included popular children's songs such as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and songs from children's TV and movies including People in Your Neighborhood from Sesame Street and Heigh Ho from Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
In the year 2000, Encore Software produced a series of "Little Golden Books" titles for CD ROM, including The Poky Little Puppy, Mother Goose, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Velveteen Rabbit, Tootle, and The Saggy Baggy Elephant. These six individual titles were some of the first major software releases to be produced entirely in Macromedia Flash.
In 2001, Random House acquired Little Golden Books for about $85 million. At that point, nearly 15 million copies of The Poky Little Puppy had been sold, including copies in various languages.
Writers and illustrators
Many popular authors and illustrators have worked on Little Golden Books and related products, including:
In 2010, Ryan Jude Novelline revealed the "Golden Book Gown", a "one-of-a-kind fairytale-inspired gown almost entirely from Golden Books...[featuring] a 22,000-square-inch page-turning skirt and a form-fitting bodice made from the spines".