The History of The Little Golden Books

They were a wonderful part of childhood.

Most of us grew up reading the Little Golden Books. These compact tomes were short enough for young children to stay interested during story time and were the perfect length for learning how to read as well. Longer books would have been too difficult for the kindergarten crowd, but the Little Golden Books were just right. Plus, their shiny spines of gold made them stand out on the shelf. For most kids the age range of these books was only 3-6 or so, but for those few short years these books were among our favorites. Seeing them now often brings back a lot of good memories and the newer versions are still in production.

children reading a book together 1943
Via: Marjory Collins/Library of Congress

There Were Originally Only Twelve Titles

The original titles that were published in 1942 by Western Publishing were:

  • Three Little Kittens
  • Bedtime Stories
  • The Alphabet A-Z
  • Mother Goose
  • Prayers for Children
  • The Little Red Hen, Nursery Songs
  • The Poky Little Puppy
  • The Golden Book of Fairy Tales
  • Baby’s Book
  • The Animals of Farmer Jones
  • This Little Piggy

They Only Cost a Quarter

The Great Depression and then World War II meant that many families were in penny pinching mode for a good 15 years. The low cost of the books was appealing to many, and contributed to their booming sales. Today a new one will cost you about $5.00.

Bravest of All Little Golden Book
Via: Wester Publishing/Joe Crawford on Flickr

They Were Made to Be Durable

The thick cardboard front and back covers and the slightly-thicker-than-average pages meant that the books could take a beating- as evidenced by the number of vintage copies still around today.

The First Disney Collab

The first Little Golden Book to feature Disney artists was published in 1944. The title Through the Picture Frame featured the story of Hialmar, a little boy who comes under the spell of the Danish sandman, Ole Lukoie. The old man carries the boy through a picture frame by magic to send him to sleep thinking of the great escapades they experienced while inside the frame.

Many Award-Winning Authors Wrote for Them

Talented authors wrote for the Little Golden Books, like Richard Scarry, Mercer Mayer, and Margaret Wise Brown.

Margaret Wise Brown with her dog in the 1940s
1940s portrait of Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight, Moon and Little Golden Books, The Golden Egg Book and The Color Kittens. Via: Consuelo Kanaga/Brooklyn Museum

The Best Seller of All Time

The most popular Little Golden Book of all time is The Poky Little Puppy, written by Janette Sebring Lowrey. The book was illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, who was the chief illustrator for the Disney film, Snow White, and who worked on the Bambi, Fantasia, and Pinocchio films as well.

The Titles Just Keep On Coming

By 1947 the number of titles had expended to 57 and today there are over 1,400 Little Golden Books that have been published. However, since some were only published for a limited run, the current catalog is much smaller than that. Today there’s even a Little Golden Book about actress, Betty White!

Little Golden Book 1947 list
Via: Western Publishing/Bud Care onFlickr

They Inspired the Competition

The Little Golden Books inspired a host of other similar lines of books, like the Elf Books and many, many others. The format of inexpensive and durable hardback books for young children has been going strong ever since.

Book from the author’s collection.

Collecting Little Golden Books Today

Today many of the early the Little Golden Books are still in print, meaning that the vintage copies aren’t always worth any more than their new counterparts. This is not the case for books that are out of print and first editions, which can sell for quite a bit more. The 1940s editions with the war bond jackets can sell for $50-$100, depending on cinditon.

The spin-off books, such as the 1961 Golden Book paper doll Hansel and Gretel Activity Book can go even higher. These prices, of course, are for books in very good to mint condition, so if you have one that’s been scribbled in the prices will go way down. Still, there’s nothing like an well-worn childhood book to bring back wonderful memories.