Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Golden Books

This is a great article from a few years back but it reminds me that I need to amp up my golden books collection.  

Children's books celebrated in two new volumes


Scripps Howard News Service 

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Two marvelous new books explore different aspects of children's books. Here's a closer look at these two gems, which would make great gifts for adult fans of children's literature: 
-- One hundred years ago, an energetic young businessman named Edward H. Wadewitz teamed up with his younger brother Al to buy a debt-ridden printing business in Racine, Wis. At that point, no one would have guessed how the West Side Printing Company -- renamed the Western Printing and Lithographing Co. -- would revolutionize the children's-literature world by creating a line of inexpensive picture books known as Golden Books. One of those books, "The Poky Little Puppy," remains one of the top-selling children's books of all time. 
In "Golden Legacy" (Golden Books/Random House, $40), Leonard S. Marcus tells the story of how Wadewitz (known as "E.H.") and his partners combined business acumen, printing knowledge and a willingness to take risks as they built Western into a publishing powerhouse. As the subtitle of Marcus' book puts it, "Golden Legacy" is the story of "how Golden Books won children's hearts, changed publishing forever, and became an American icon along the way." 
It's a captivating tale, told with verve and insight by Marcus, a well-respected author and children's book historian. Marcus details how the little Racine company grew over the years by opening offices in New York and Beverly Hills, Calif., and joining forces with publishers like Dell and Simon & Schuster, as well as with other savvy businessmen like Walt Disney. 
In 1942, Western officials made history when they launched Golden Books. The idea was to offer parents high-quality picture books created by top authors and illustrators, but to sell the volumes for 25 cents each -- far less than the $1.50-$2 price then commanded by other picture books. The roster of authors and illustrators who created books in the Golden Books series is impressive: Margaret Wise Brown, Richard Scarry, Garth Williams, Ruth Krauss and Leonard Weisgard, to name just a few. 
The company's early interest in licensing, particularly with Disney, also brought it unprecedented commercial success. Parents and children loved the Golden Books, whose affordable price allowed families to create their own libraries. But librarians hated the mass-produced books, contending they weren't good enough for children to spend time reading. 
Meanwhile, Western continued to expand into other publishing areas, producing the now-famous pocket-sized "Golden Nature Guides" and the multivolume Golden Book Encyclopedia set. The company ventured into audio, producing some of the first book and record sets, and also began to try to add more racial diversity to the lily-white world of its Golden Books.
In recent years, however, Western has suffered a number of financial ups and downs. The company finally was purchased in 2001 by Random House, which is working to bring new luster to the Golden Books brand. 
While "Golden Legacy" has obvious appeal to those interested in children's books, its coffee-table size, plus the numerous gorgeous illustrations from dozens of Golden Books, makes this a book that many readers would enjoy. Readers of a certain age will particularly enjoy reliving some of their favorite times spent reading books like "The Saggy Baggy Elephant," "Tootle" and "Doctor Dan the Bandage Man." (Ages 12-adult.) 
-- In "Artist to Artist," top children's-book illustrators offer brief essays telling how they work as a way of inspiring young artists who might be considering a career in children's books. These nuggets of information, accompanied by lots of wonderful artwork, also make fascinating reading for those adults interested in children's books. 
Profits from the sale of the book are designated for the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass., and Carle, author-illustrator of such classics as "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," introduces the volume: 
"I hope that this book will be a kind of mentor for you, young artist. And that you will feel when reading these artists' stories that you are among friends, fellow dreamers and scribblers, who follow their instincts and listen to their own inner voices." 
One of the most perceptive essays was written by Maurice Sendak, author of the Caldecott Medal-winning classic "Where the Wild Things Are." Sendak succinctly describes the delicate balance between words and art in the best children's picture books, telling young artists: "You must never illustrate exactly what is written. You must find a space in the text so that the pictures can do the work." (Ages 10 up.) 
(Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.macpherson(at)gmail.com.

~ James Thurber

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