Wednesday, January 02, 2008



In 1916, Western Printing and Lithography's bindery found itself in a bind. What to do with a cartload of overstock books? From this serendipitous beginning, the company grew to become one of the most profitable publishing endeavors in American history, and one whose recognizable golden spine has a nostalgic stronghold in the hearts of most of our country. Using a talent pool of new immigrants, soured Disney employees and ambitious women, capitalizing on the skyrocketing interest in science propelled by Sputnik and lasso-ing licenses that would impress the biggest of big-wigs, Golden created a brand that, while for a long time snubbed by library services, was still able to make great strides in encouraging a national reading fever and making books for families with an accessible bottom line.

In time for the 65th anniversary of the company, this book by hard-core children's book historian Leonard Marcus is a worthy tribute to the publishing Titan, and a juicy read to boot. The text is as much of a business book as a look back, describing in detail the decisions that were made throughout the company's time line, naming names that will be of interest to anyone in the industry. It is inspiring to read how many problems were turned into opportunities, and how many reputations that are still recognizable got started in this house: Richard Scarry, the Provensens, Margaret Wise Brown, with lots of insider anecdotes. It's interesting to see difference in the finished product as a result of people coming together who really knew something about art and editing and children. But even if you don't earn your bread and butter in the book biz, this beefy, beautifully-produced volume has plenty to recommend it: enchanting full-color blow-ups of breathtaking illustrations, candid shots of authors and illustrators in their homes and at their work tables (oh, look at the head shot of illustrator Corrine Malvern, as glamorous as the women she illustrated; as Marcus deftly described, "Malvern gave their soignée mothers the look of women with places to go and things to do quite apart from raising their children, " or the homey photo of "tartly witty Texan" author Janet Sebring Lowrey,who penned the publisher's most popular POKY LITTLE PUPPY, stirring what looks like cookie dough in her kitchen), reflections by modern authors and illustrators about the influences of Golden's list, and book covers that will have grown-ups sighing and rushing to Ebay to secure a familiar and well-loved read-aloud for the next generation. Full of the warmth of a family scrapbook, this title is both beautiful and readable, a treat for any adult children's book lover, and sure to encourage a revisit with some favorite Golden Book titles with a little listener on the lap.

Also of interest:
I think everyone has a favorite Golden Book. What's yours? I was sad to discover many that topped my list were out of print: THE BLUE BOOK OF FAIRY TALES (Gordon Laite), ANIMAL DADDIES AND MY DADDY (by Barbara Shook Hazen and Ilse-Margret Vogel), CHARLIE (Diane Fox Downs,illustrated by Lilian Obligado), THE THREE BEARS (Feodor Rojankovsky, and may I say I am jealous of the bear's lovely piece of real estate in the woods). I do like to find used Golden Books at garage sales and sometimes use the illustrations to decoupage my crumbling kitchen cabinets (I very much like the pictures of a girl serving cookies to a pig, and children romping through idyllic and voluptuous gardens, thank you, Peggy Parish and Richard Scarry's LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK OF MANNERS and Corrine Malvern's illustrated HEIDI). Still in print are a couple of my favorites: Kathryn Jackson and Corrine Malvern's NURSE NANCY (though alas, you have to supply your own band-aids), Margaret Wise Brown's THE WONDERFUL HOUSE reissued in oversized edition, all the better to see J.P. Miller's jaunty illustrations, and THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK FEATURING GROVER by Jon Stone and Michael Smollin, a shameless Sesame Street vehicle and an absolutely brilliant read-aloud, the kind that gets kids to actually scream and hold their sides (also, see James Stevenson's DON'T MAKE ME LAUGH and Mo Willems' DON'T LET A PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS for a similar storytelling technique).

If you want some Golden Books nowadays (and you will, definitely, after reading Marcus's book, so stock up so you won't be scrambling like me), your best bet is to go with the collection compilations that contain many of the classics: ANIMAL TALES, FARM TALES, and SLEEPYTIME TALES, which all together will contain your Tootle train and Poky Puppy and Color Kittens and Scrawny Tawny Lion and Saggy Baggy Elephant and all of your faves (granted, not quite the same as owning the individual titles and undermines the house's original intent of little books for little hands, but still a good value). Another option is to focus on your favorite artists, like the inspirational, Christian-leaning stories by Eloise Wilkin featuring pudgy-faced cherub children that induce an almost hypnotic cloud of cuteness; the flat, retro stylings of Mary Blair gracing Ruth Krauss's I CAN FLY or the artist's own retrospective, THE ART AND FLAIR OF MARY BLAIR; or check out the subversive, freewheeling work in RICHARD SCARRY'S BEST STORYBOOK EVER, which contains the gorgeous, naturalistic art done for Ole Risom's I AM A BUNNY to his more insane, fill-the-page mania exhibited in BUSY, BUSY WORLD.

Solid Golden!

On a personal note:
Happy New Year! As of the end of December, I have left my full-time teacher-librarian position at a local demonstration school, and my role as Associate Coordinator, which entailed offering professional support and programming for approximately thirty student teachers. It was a wonderful experience all around and I very much look forward to continuing relationships with the families and professionals I have come to know and love at the school. All the same, I am very excited to get cracking on other exciting literacy and literary endeavors I am cooking up, plus doing more school visits and workshops to continue to disseminate the very important work of heroes Jim Trelease and Caroline Feller Bauer. I also expect to get back in a groove of regular postings here at The PlanetEsme Plan. Thanks again for sticking with me and checking back in!

What are your Reading Resolutions? Please share! Check these out and get inspired:
Family Reading Partnership Read-Aloud Resolutions (Thanks, Brigid! And illustrator Aliki does the artwork for Family Reading Partnership! Isn't that cool?)
10 Resolutions for Parents Raising a Reader
Baby Steps to a Better You: Making Your Resolutions Stick This Year by Carol Grannick, a professional and perennial optimist!

Special thanks to Starr LaTronica of the Four County Library System and Sue Bartle of the Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES. I had a marvelous time meeting with so many fantastic librarians and booklovers from upstate New York throughout the month of November, it was a truly inspiring professional opportunity for me. Although I was a presenter, I learned so much! I look forward to the next time our paths cross!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.


Mary Lee said...

Welcome back! We missed you!

Anonymous said...

Yeah! So glad you're back. I missed reading your updates :-)

Karen said...

Next school year I will be student teaching the whole year and to get ready I need to read more- that is my reading resolution. I read quite a bit as it is but what I love about reading children's lit is that the more you read, the more ways you can find to include literature in your lessons in any subject. Let's look at social studies for example. I realized recently that the only parts of WW2 I ever learned about in school was the holocaust and the relations between US and Japan... there is so much more to WW2- since it was a world war. What about, instead of teaching kids through a textbook- you set them up into lit circles to study and discover what the war was all about for themselves. Let students live WW2 by stepping into the shoes of a character and looking at things from their point of view. Have them choose an area of the world they would be interested in learning more about, give them a list of children's fiction and non fiction books that show what that part of the world was like during the war, have them choose 1 to read as a lit group and discuss, have each member of the group choose an additional book to read independently, and then have each group teach the class about what World War II was like in Korea or in America etc. The more I read, the more I can include literature in class and allow students to discover things for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back!


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