Top to bottom: Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, retold by Barbara Shook Hazen, illustrated by Richard Scarry. Golden Press, New York, 1958. Fifteenth printing. Frosty the Snow Man, retold by Annie North Bedford, illustrated by Corinne Malvern. Golden Press, New York. Apparent 1st printing. The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Corinne Malvern. Golden Press, New York,1949. Apparent first printing. The Night Before Christmas, Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Zillah Lesko, Whitman Publishing, Racine, Wisconsin, 1953. Apparent first printing.
If you are of a certain age – and lets face it, you are – then chances are high that many of your early childhood books came from the grocery store. Viewed from the skin-pinching seat of the steel wire shopping cart, the shiny, colorful cardboard covers of Little Golden Books shimmered like lures in the dull lake of cans and cartons. I had forgotten how the bright faces of animals and princesses, planes and astronauts, beckoned as we wheeled past displays shaped like school houses and trains, and into the canned soup aisle. I had not forgotten the books themselves – no, never the books, whose artwork I trust like a Rohrschach test of childhood memory – but the circumstances, their mundane surroundings. “Good behavior” might turn a visit to the grocery store into a trip to Sleeping Beauty Land or the Forest of Little Red Riding Hood. “Good behavior,” such as not biting your sister, or pestering Mom. Only 29 cents would do it. They certainly had my mother’s number.
Golden Legacy is the fascinating and richly illustrated history which reminded me of the tempting book displays, and bribes promised to placated us long enough for Mom to get the shopping done. Behind the cyan skies, pine green forests, and red nosed reindeer labored writers and illustrators at the very top of their game, positioned by visionary educators and entrepreneurs to become a phenomenon in the world of juvenile publishing. I’m still at the ogling-pictures-stage in my reading, but even the captions reveal a tale of eccentric, determined professionals, confident in their talent, intent on recognition, and getting paid what they deserved. (Remind you of anyone?)
Next to a random whiff of Tabac or the jingle of silver bracelets jostling along a wrist, there is no more reliable homing beacon from my earliest childhood than distinctive covers of these books, even if the brand is different. Hundreds of titles eventually circulated through the catalog of slim little volumes like a wonderful storybook slot machine, too many to consciously remember. I don’t bother to try. As I shuffle through a stiff stack of chippy used Golden Books at a garage or library sale, I can tell from the warm feeling in my tummy if I am holding book we had or not. I don’t bother to ask the price either, though I do have my limits. More often then not, I can add to my little group of long-lost friends for a shiny quarter or two. Even a dollar is not too high, to bring such a dear, and loyal companion home again, this time for good.
Oh, did I mention I have an extra copy of the Hazen/Scarry Golden Book Rudolph? It really is the best version, better than the original, if you want to know what I think. With over 300 children’s books to his credit, Richard Scarry was The Man. Soooo, if your comment is the very first one, I will send it to you!