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The Golden Legacy of Little Golden Books

For generations of children, Little Golden Books have served as an introduction to reading. The first set of 12 books was released on October 1, 1942, selling for 25 cents apiece. Since then, the series has sold more than two billion books worldwide in a variety of languages. They feature characters from all across the children’s pop culture spectrum drawn by many accomplished illustrators.

Having played such a significant role in the lives of children everywhere, several of the books were included in the Smithsonian Museum’s Division of Cultural History. This month selected artwork from the series will be on display at the Toonseum in Pittsburgh. Essential Pittsburgh visited the exhibit and talked with Joe Wos, the museum’s executive director. He explained why the books have remained timeless.

“When you use a lot of human characters in books, the fashions become dated, there becomes issues with stereotypes, our society changes. And with that our taste in stories change. When you're using anthropomorphic characters: talking trains, tugboats, and walking talking animals, it remains universal. It’s a tradition since Aesop and his fables, these sort of universal characters that we can all identify with on a very different level.”

Wos also talked about how World War II led to the creation of the series.

“You had a situation in the United States where people couldn't afford basic necessities, let alone the luxury of books. And so they come up with this idea of producing very, very inexpensive books, the Little Golden Books. The other thing that happened was you have the artists pouring in from Europe, as they were trying to escape persecution, they're pouring into the United States. So you have this happening and all these wonderful artists coming in, and then you have the foresight of a company willing to take a risk, at an era when they probably have shouldn't have taken a risk.”

The Little Golden Books exhibit runs through June 30th at the Toonseum.

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