Golden Legacy by Leonard Marcus

When, in 1918, a clerk erroneously ordered twelve times the number of children’s books, Western Publishing Company may have faced ruin. Instead, the company persuaded Woolworth’s department stores to sell it, a practice unusual since children’s books were normally only sold during the holiday season.

Years later, in the 1930s, one publishing novice was inspired when his three-year-old tossed a picture book into the bathtub, which destroyed it, of course. He reflected at the time that

given the wear and tear to which children naturally subjected all their belongings, lower-priced books might be greatly appreciated by parents. (p 29)

Such are two very small stories illustrating how (and why) Golden Books roared to life in 1942. In Golden Legacy, Leonard Marcus shows how the development of Golden Books changed the face of children’s book publishing forever because of resourceful people who thought outside the box. For the first time, children’s books were 25 cents, and not $2 or $3. Instead of buying just one book, parents bought twelve. Children had many books at their disposal, and The Poky Little Puppy has since been the best-selling children’s picture book of all time.

Golden Legacy details the history of Golden Books, the authors, and the illustrators that thousands of people grew up with. I admit, somewhat embarrassingly, that I don’t recall reading many Golden Books as a child. I didn’t read even The Poky Little Puppy until I was an adult and then I found it rather annoying (*gasp* sacrilege!). Therefore, in that respect, I’m completely the wrong audience for Golden Legacy because I don’t have fond glowing memories of the golden edged books in my hands as a youngster. (The “golden age” of Golden Books was the 1940’s and 1950’s.)

But Golden Legacy provided, for me, so much more. It details the history of the publishing company (of various names) that published Golden Books through the years, and it even more interestingly detailed children’s publishing in general. I learned how stereotype in illustration became a problem for the company, and illustrations were adapted or redone in the face of civil rights. Finally, in a fascinating way, I learned how children’s books got into the hands of children – and how and why they became best sellers because of marketing and low price.

I was delighted to see just how children were the true winners. Children’s books had previously been sold just during the holidays, and now they were sold year-round. Children’s books previously had been limited to very nicely bound, expensive books, and now some had affordable prices. Children’s books were previously screened by librarians and reviewers, and now they were best sellers despite the reviewers’ disgust.

And yet, as I read, I realized why best sellers are best sellers: marketing. Little Golden Books were placed on display with a very low price tag. Parents bought all twelve rather than stand in the store debating the merits of each of them. It was marketing genius.

Side note/rant: No wonder the Golden Book illustrators and authors became eager to separate and make a name for themselves outside of the Golden Book brand. If I understand correctly, Little Golden Books do not state the author and illustrator on the cover because the authors and illustrators were a part of a company-owned guild, writing and illustrating books as assigned. If I were an author, I’d want a name for myself because of my merits, not because I was on a “cheap” display. On the other hand, they now have recognition, and maybe knowing your books are owned by thousands of children is enough of a reward for them. Another side note: Now I want to read Leonard Marcus’s history of American children’s book publishing, Minders of Make-Believe.

I, for some reason, did not grow up with Golden Books – probably because my family frequented libraries rather than purchasing books and because I was a few decades past the “boom.” But some people grew up with them and found them to be full of life-changing lessons.

Did you grow up with Golden Books? Which was your favorite?

It is wonderful to have more and more books for children – and I love how Golden Books were taking children’s needs into consideration when they found subjects and a market for books. And yet, I think I would purchase the more expensive book if it has better illustrations and story (which is not to say that Little Golden Books don’t). What book do I want to be reading over and over again?

What do you think about the marketing of children’s books? Do you specifically look for the highly recommended books, or do you go for the ones on display? Does it matter what children are reading as long as they are reading?

Golden Books on the web:

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed Golden Legacy on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.


About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. Most of my childhood was in the early 1980s and I remember these books very clearly. We had a whole shelf of them. My sister and I loved to read them, loved the way they looked on the shelf (all uniform). I don’t remember specific titles at the moment but I know we had The Poky Little Puppy. In fact, I STILL have that book and have read it to Kiddo.

  2. I did grow up with Little Golden Books, and my boys grew up with them, as well. Thanks for this wonderful review. I’ve followed some of the links you provided and had a wonderful time reminiscing.

  3. I don’t remember Golden Books from my childhood, but I do remember them from my son’s. This book sounds wonderful.

  4. I remember them. I didn’t have a lot of them but I remember The Poky Puppy. My daughter has a couple. They are the Disney ones and I hate reading them. They are so Boring! Movies to books. Blech! Luckily they were just yard sale finds.

  5. I grew up on these books, mostly passed down from the ones my mom and dad retained from their childhood, or bought in thrift stores. My favorites were Carrot Stew and the Poky Little Puppy (now I look at that last one and wonder why…). Most of the ones we had as kids ripped apart by the time my youngest sister outgrew them, so I didn’t have any to pass down, but in various thrift stores over time, my husband and I found a bunch and bought the ones we remembered best for our kids. None of the new ones based on movies, just the old stories. The boys have all outgrown them now of course, but I hope they’ll have some fond memories of those little books when they’re older.

  6. I’ll have to get this! I just loved the little Golden Books as a kid and I had a huge collection. The Poky Little Puppy was of course my favorite but I loved the Disney adaptations and I own a huge book of collected ones called Walt Disney’s Story Land.

  7. Wow, it sounds like Poky Puppy is the all-around winner in memories.

    For those of you who love reminiscing, you’ll love this book — while it’s 230 pages, every other spread is a two-page full-color illustration from the books. Lots of illustrations to reminisce with!

    Chris, that’s what I think about the movie to books too — it’s all marketing. But that’s where Disney first got it’s out-of-the-movie marketing…Golden Books.

    Amanda, yeah, they aren’t meant to last through children’s rips. They’re made to be for children, i.e., disposable!

    Ladytink, it is a Golden Book, so it’d fit right into your collection! (Of course, it’s huge and has a hardcover, so not quite the same thing, but, you know….)

  8. This sounds really interesting. I did not read a lot of Little Golden Books, probably because like you, most of my books came from the library. I never read The Poky Little Puppy until after my son was born. I must admit I try to keep it buried under other books so he does not request a reading too often. Not my favorite read aloud.

  9. Jeanette, not my favorite read aloud either. Kind of awkward, I thought. But I also never read it til I was an adult. Must be one to enjoy in childhood!

  10. I, too, try to keep the Pokey Little Puppy buried, but KidA and KidB keep digging it out. They do have other Little Golden Books, though. This book sounds very interesting!

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