If you were a child after 1942, there is a very good chance that you had a (or many) Golden Book(s) in your home. The high quality, affordable, and well-illustrated books started by Simon and Schuster Publishing originally cost 25 cents each. A little history lesson here: the first release was for 12 books and included favorites like Three Little Kittens, The Little Red Hen, and Prayers for Children. The Poky Little Puppy is the all-time best-selling children’s book and its illustrations have changed little since it is original publication. Little Golden Books have included cultural icons such as the Muppets, Lassie, Mister Rogers, and even Donny and Marie Osmond.
Golden Books were a staple in my house and my mother was generous enough to let me take most of our collection (okay, okay, I stuffed them in a suitcase) when I had my own children. Although my kids are obviously past the picture book stage, I am just not ready to let them go. The beautiful illustrations, the straightforward and honest messages, and the classic representation of Americana all appeal to my sense of nostalgia of a simpler time and place.
Four THINGS I LOVE ABOUT GOLDEN BOOKS on Friday
Eloise Wilkins is probably my favorite children’s book illustrator of all time, and I am sure that a lot of this has to do with my own mother’s love of her drawings. The colored pencil illustrations portray chubby infants, wide-eyed toddlers, and inquisitive children. The memories of her childhood summers spent in upstate New York are evident in the serene pictures of nature and the quintessential New England feel of the story settings. The details of colonial wallpaper, rustic kitchens, and classic clothing make me homesick for the East Coast.
I love all her book illustrations but the one that most tickles my fancy is that of The New Baby. We actually own two copies: the 1948 copy from my mom’s childhood (sorry Mom, did I just give away your age) and the 1975 copy from my own childhood (yep, there’s my age too). In the 1948 version, the illustrations depict a pregnant mother with a flat belly, an old spinster aunt, and a father never without his hat or pipe. The 1975 version updates the illustrations but they are very indicative of the time: Mom is visibly pregnant and wears smocked tent shirts, the aunt is younger with a hip hairstyle, and dad sports the most colorful leisure suit. Still, the essence of the story – the excitement of a new family edition, the wonder of the new baby accessories, and the pure love of a big brother for a younger sister (remember, a bit of idealistic nostalgia) shows through the beautiful pictures and the timeless quality of a classic family story.
Educational without being preachy
The Golden Books also told stories that educated its readers. One of my favorites as a child was Goodbye, Tonsils. Told from the child’s perspective, the story provides enough details for knowledge of the procedure but infuses calm and comfort as so to eliminate fear. I was always a little jealous that I never got to have my tonsils out: I mean Mary ate ice cream for dinner, received a singing Happy Panda from her Grandma, and met two cousins in her room that were also getting their tonsils out. I truly felt I had missed out on something.
Other books, such as Four Puppies, explained the seasons in nature, and We Like Kindergarten helped to alleviate fears of starting up school. A favorite of my daughters was Where Did the Baby Go? in which a young girl finds a picture of a baby and searches the house to discover the whereabouts of the infant. As she looks at favorite hiding places of the child and clothing the child used to play dress-up with, she soon discovers that SHE is the baby . . . all grown up! My daughters enjoyed the similarities of what they enjoyed doing as a child and how that was similar to the girl in the story.
Straightforward values from a humorous modern perspective
I love the straight-forward honest values that are seen in so many Golden Books. Children helping their parents, people caring for animals, community members working together for the common good. There is a sense of wholesomeness that hearkens back to a time when life seemed simpler. Now, I am not naïve to think that the past was simpler but it was different; the struggles, the obligations, and code of conduct evident in the Golden Books sought out what was truly good and right in the world.
Two of our favorites are We Help Mommy and We Help Daddy. In both cases, the children work around the house helping with daily tasks and chores. Now, I know that a lot of this seems like a fantasy world; there is no bickering, no complaining, and everyone is smiling. But in our dreams, isn’t that how we would like life to be . . . at least every once in a while.
My husband argues about the pure fiction of We Help Daddy. In the span of one day, the Dad in the story fixes the attic door, weeds the garden, waters the lawn, trims the hedge, washes the dog, paints the fence, hangs a picture, makes a bird feeder, chops firewood, washes and polishes the car, fixes a dresser, and pulls out a loose nail . . . all done with his pipe clenched firmly in his mouth. My husband complains of the high standards this dad sets for the “honey do” list and the fact that there are no emergency trips to Home Depot!
The sing-song quality of the prose
I find that Golden Books are perfect books to read aloud because of a natural cadence set by the pattern of prose. Even those that don’t have a rhyming pattern, have an accepted and easy-to-follow flow of words and sounds. I will admit though that I am quite partial to the rhyming books. Seven Little Postman is one of my favorites to read aloud –
The letter with the secret
Was dumped on a table
With big and small letters
That all needed the label
Of the big Post Office.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t finish this with my all-time favorite Golden Book: Little Mommy. The story is simple; a little girl plays mommy with her dolls and does all the things that mommies do. The best part of this story is the mesmerizing rhyme. It was a favorite of mine and both mom (from reading it to me so many times) and I can still recite it.
This is my house and I am the Mommy,
My children are Annabelle, Betsy, and Bonnie.
They are good little children and do as I say,
I put on their coats and they go out to play.
Any other Golden Book favorites out there?