Little Golden Books is a popular series of children’s books. You might recognize them from your childhood or maybe you read them to your kids – they have the iconic golden binding and tell many classic children’s stories. 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.
Lead of Artists and Writers Guild Inc., a division of Western Publishing, Georges Duplaix, in 1940 was tasked with developing new children’s books: Little Golden Books was the result. 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.
Meanwhile, a shared printing plant made Western Publishing and Simon & Schuster develop a close relationship. In 1938, the first joint effort between Western and Simon & Schuster, A Children’s History, was published. With the help of Lucile Olge, Duplaix contacted Albert Leventhal, a vice president and sales manager at Simon & Schuster, and Leon Shimkin, also at Simon & Schuster, with his idea for Little Golden Books.
It was decided that twelve titles would be published 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 Publishing 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. Three editions totaling 1.5 million books sold out within five months of publication in 1942.
The involvement of Lucy Sprague Mitchell, an educator and founder of Bank Street Nursery School in New York’s West Village, gave a big boost to the series. As 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.
Golden Melody Books were introduced in the 1980s, thewe were Golden 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.
Random House acquired Little Golden Books in 2001 for about $85 million. At that point, nearly 15 million copies of The Poky Little Puppy had been sold, including copies in various languages. On August 25 2015, Little Golden Books adapted the first six installments of the Star Wars saga and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith became the first ever Little Golden Book in history to be based on a film that was rated PG-13 by the MPAA. Months later, on April 12, 2016, a Little Golden Book adaptation of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the next film in the saga, also rated PG-13, was released. This opened the door for further Little Golden Books that drew upon PG-13 rated licensed film properties, such as the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters, characters and storylines from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and even Jurassic Park.