25-Cent best-selling children’s book!
Leonard S. Marcus describes how the Golden Books won children’s hearts and became an American icon in his book GOLDEN LEGACY.
And so, in 1942, Little Golden Books appeared, to immediate commercial success. The books were sold in toy stores, department stores and supermarkets, quickly becoming an impulse buy within the reach of the average American pocketbook. They were presented on special racks and floor displays, and came with a gaily decorated slipcase that could hold a multiple purchase of four or six titles. Their success quickly generated spinoffs: deluxe Big Little Golden Books of 124 pages that sold for $1.99; Tiny Golden Libraries (boxed thematic sets of 12 tiny books written by Dorothy Kunhardt of “Pat the Bunny” fame); 78 r.p.m. Little Golden Records; and, in 1959, the 16-volume Golden Book Encyclopedia, a venture that sold 60 million copies in two years.
But despite the success of Little Golden Books, with more than two billion sold in the past 65 years, the books from the start were roundly criticized in some quarters. Influential librarian-critics who wrote for publications like The Horn Book and Booklist disparaged the overall quality of the series.
The serviceable texts, many written by staff members (who received no author credit or additional pay over and above their regular salaries), explored modern-day experiences, describing the world of firefighters and policemen, of new babies and fractious siblings, of trips taken in taxis, trains, boats and airplanes. Some of the books were even published with commercial tie-ins to products (like the popular “Doctor Dan the Bandage Man,” which came with six Band-Aids) and increasingly, in the 1950s and ’60s, to well-known Disney cartoon and television characters.
Some critics thought any book costing 25 cents had to be inferior to the beautiful, expensively produced children’s books published by the more literary houses for $1.50 to $2. But as Marcus points out, perhaps the main objection was philosophical, propelled by the belief that children were better served by imaginative stories derived from the inexhaustible world of myth, history, fable and fairy tale. Little Golden Books’ populist approach was to try to appeal to all tastes and do a little bit of everything, and to satisfy children’s natural curiosity about how the world works and their place in it.”
If reading for joy must become an integral part of a child’s life, the prices of books have to come down. So, can we have the ‘cheap and best’ option for children’s books in India too?
I read the interesting review of “Golden Legacy”. It took me down memory lane and I re-read a few of the books on-line, including the one about “Black Samba”.
When I was in a bookshop in Winchester last year, I saw the same book re-printed with new illustrations. The shop lady was happy to chat with me when I told her I had read it as a child. She observed that they had tried to make it politically correct by dropping references to ‘black’ etc, and any way it is obviously about India, so names were changed too !