Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Top 14: Little Golden Books

Little Golden Books -- the staple of idyllic childhoods everywhere.

There are hundreds upon hundreds of different titles in existence. My collection has roughly 75. From those, I chose my favorite 14. Which is to say there are many more good ones in the world, but I don't have them.

A few notes before I begin:

*Even though I've numbered these from 14 to 1, I'm not really obsessed with the order I've put them in.

*I've chosen to photograph my copies of the books, and you will notice that many are dog-eared, taped-up, written on, and, ultimately, very loved.

*The copyright date I've put under each title is the earliest date listed on the book's title page, and is not necessarily the print date of the actual edition you see before you.

And now....

My Top 14: Little Golden Books
(That I Own)

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Baby Animals

written & illustrated by Garth Williams

Cuteness overload! Baby animals everyyyywhere! A lamb, a bear cub, even a raccoon washing an apple! Be still my heart! Oh, and then there's this:

Baby Giraffe is so tall that he has to bend down to stay in the picture.

Say it with me now: "Awwww!"


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The Gingerbread Man

illustrated by Elfrieda

This version of The Gingerbread Man always gave me great pleasure, because -- and you're going to hear me say this often throughout this list -- the illustrations were wonderful. They weren't especially detailed, but they were bright and cheery. And... there was cake. Yes. If there was one thing that would put a smile on my face as a child, it was a book that featured cake.

The story is this: A gingerbread man escapes from the home where he was baked and is chased by all manner of people and animals before he is finally snapped into bits by a wily fox while trying to cross a river. Sure, it sucks to be him, but -- CAKE. They all get to eat CAKE! That is a happy ending, as far as I'm concerned.

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What Will I Be? A Wish Book

written by Kathleen Krull Cowles
illustrated by Eulala Conner

Back in the day, Things Kids Can Be When They Grow Up was a popular subject in children's books and TV shows. But the same old careers kept popping up again and again: fireman, policeman, mailman, doctor, teacher. Which is not to say this book brings us any options as interesting as, say, "tax attorney to Hollywood's elite," but it does talk about bricklaying, diving, mountain climbing, fixing cars, writing monster stories, and joining the circus. While I'm not particularly fond of the illustrator's style (the children look a bit creepy), I do like the subject matter. And yes, there is a page with cake, but that's not why I like it!

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Little Golden Picture Dictionary

written by Nancy Fielding Huck
illustrated by Tibor Gergely

There were several "Golden" dictionaries and ABC books published, but I think this one is the neatest. With over 150 words and pictures -- everything from "apron" to "zoo" -- and colorful, detailed illustrations -- it has definite quality. Sure, some of the entries are a little disconcerting -- for example, why does "toy" show a picture of an angry bear? And why use up good space on things kids probably aren't even going to ever encounter in life, such as "zeppelin", "elf", and "ark"? Still, I haven't seen another picture dictionary this small and yet this complete.

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Mary Poppins: A Jolly Holiday

adapted by Annie North Bedford
illustrated by Beverly Edwards and Leon Jason

Little Golden Books has done a lot of movie adaptations over the years. Nearly every Disney movie has had the treatment at one time or another. A lot of these adaptations are pretty lame. They either condense the movie they're doing into two dozen pages and totally ruin the feel of it, or else the book appears to have been written by someone who never even laid eyes on a shooting script, let alone the actual film. I have a few different Mary Poppins books, but this one here is definitely the best. It captures about 25 minutes of the movie (Mary Poppins & the kids walking to the park and meeting Bert, the chalk drawings, the carousel, the horse race, and back to reality) and does a really good job of sticking to what actually happened without adding anything ridiculous. Plus, the illustrations are really beautiful and detailed, and on some pages the characters look almost exactly like Julie Andrews, et al. This is a worthy film-to-book adaptation, and even just a lovely book on its own.

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The Little Red Caboose

written by Marian Potter
illustrated by Tibor Gergely

"The Little Red Caboose always came last." And so begins a story of a sad little train car, one who feels he is not noticed or appreciated. Children wave at the train each time it goes by, but by the time the Little Red Caboose goes rolling past, everyone has turned away. Then, one day, the train tries to go up a steep mountain and can not make it. It is in danger of rolling back down the hill. The Little Red Caboose puts on his brakes and holds tight to the tracks until help can come along. He is, ever after, a hero.

Although it's a nice story -- with a message that you don't have to be big, or first, to be important -- the thing I love most about this book is the illustrations. On nearly every page there are a whole bunch of fun things to look at. On one page, the train goes past a fruit market; another page, a circus; another, a farm. There are people, animals, and vehicles galore... and yet the pictures aren't too busy... they're just right to keep a little mind occupied and intrigued. This is a story I would ask my parents to read me again and again, and it still makes me smile.

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The Night Before Christmas

poem written by Clement C. Moore
illustrated by Corinne Malvern

The Night Before Christmas is old hat by this point; we're subjected to it in multiple books and Christmas specials. But this particular book is neat because the illustrator chose to set it in or around the time when Clement C. Moore actually wrote the original poem -- in 1822. So you've got the father with coattails and manly mutton chops, four-poster canopy beds, and even a bunch of old-fashioned (to us) toys that Santa brings in his pack. All the pictures are done in full color with lots of whimsy. My only complaint is that Santa looks a bit dubious on the cover -- almost like he's actually robbing the place -- but otherwise, a fine version of the classic tale.

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Scuffy The Tugboat

written by Gertrude Crampton
illustrated by Tibor Gergely

Scuffy was sad.
Scuffy was cross. 
Scuffy sniffed his blue smokestack.
"A toy store is no place for a red-painted tugboat," said Scuffy, and he sniffed his blue smokestack again. "I was meant for bigger things."

And so Scuffy's discontent prompts his owners to try sailing him in a bathtub. But that's not good enough for Scuffy, and he's soon taken to a little stream. Scuffy is ecstatic. But as he floats along, the stream's pace quickens, and Scuffy begins to find himself in bigger waters. The book follows his adventures down a river, past towns and cities, under bridges, and past big boats. Eventually the waters grow rough, and Scuffy joins floodwaters as he's propelled toward the ocean. He sails past giant boats and docks. He grows frightened and wishes he could be back home. At the last moment, before he enters the big, wide ocean, he is plucked out of the water by his owners. The story concludes by telling us that Scuffy is now content to sail back and forth in the bathtub.

I like the idea that you can go out and have adventures, but if you feel homesick, your family will be there to scoop you up and bring you home if you want them to. I think this idea is especially pleasing to small children. Just like in The Little Red Caboose, the illustrations are fun and interesting, each page showing a different scene one might find along a stream or river.

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Pano The Train

written by Sharon Holaves
illustrated by Giannini

Pano is a train who loses his caboose down a hill and is informed of this ("You've lost...") by everyone and everything he passes thereafter, until he finally understands. As a story, it was okay. But what really made this book a delight when I was a kid was that instead of words in certain spots, there were pictures of either three bells (Ding-Ding), three whistles (Toot-Toot), or three puffs of smoke (Chug-Chug), and while an adult read the words, I or my brother would do the sound effects (I think I often instructed my brother to be the bells, since they showed up the least often.) Nowadays books have buttons that play electronic sounds, but we were happy making our own sounds, and Pano was one of our well-read books.

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A Day On The Farm

written by Nancy Fielding Hulick
illustrated by John P. Milller

As a kid, I had two "life on the farm" picture books that were pretty similar... they were the story of a mom and dad and two kids on a farm, the things they got to do (not had to do... were privileged to do), and the fun they had. This book was one of those, and I enjoyed reading it often. The kids in it, Sally and Sam, climb trees, carve boats, and ride a pony. Later, their aunt and uncle and cousins come for dinner, everyone has cake (cake...), and the kids play hide-and-seek while the grown-ups chat. This was so familiar to me as a kid -- being excited about cousins coming over, playing with them, that divide between kids and grownups that nobody minded -- that this story has always made me smile.

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Prayers For Children

illustrated by Eloise Wilkin

Honestly, the prayers within were a little boring. "Thees" and "thys" galore. But the illustrations -- those were glorious. This was one book I could pick up on my own -- long before I could read -- and just stare at for ages. Eloise Wilkin had a way of drawing little children that actual children could really appreciate, kind of how older folks appreciate Norman Rockwell paintings. They were pictures of an ideal, safe, fun, beautiful childhood. There are children on nearly every page, and only an occasional (but always nurturing) adult.

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Counting Rhymes

illustrated by Sharon Kane

 This book is full of poems -- One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, This Little Piggy, and Monday's Child, to name a few. The illustrations are great. Though Sharon Kane's little child drawings aren't as cherubic as Eloise Wilkin's, they're still very sweet. Also, there was one illustration that completely mesmerized me as a wee lass, and it was this one:

That there is probably my favorite illustration in any Little Golden Book, ever.

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 The Bunny Book

by Patsy Scarry
illustrated by Richard Scarry

I know it may sound like half of my favorite Little Golden Books are my favorites because they are full of cute. Well, darnit, I like cute... but yes. This book is a bit in the "d'awww" side, but it's practical, too. It's the story of a baby bunny whose many relatives (bunnies do have many) all have high hopes for his career someday. On each page, an uncle or a cousin or a sibling says something like, "I hope he will become a... because...." and the baby bunny just smiles knowingly, because he knows what he wants to be.

In the end we find out that baby bunny wants to be a daddy bunny and have his own family of bunnies someday. Child-free advocates, you may scoff, but I like that this kid knows what he wants out of life. Who cares what his family thinks or expects? Granted, one might find the idea of an infantile bunny rabbit dreaming about future procreation to be a little strange, but ignoring that, the whole thing's downright adorable.

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Good Night, Little Bear

written by Patsy Scarry
illustrated by Richard Scarry
(c) 1961

This story was first read to me as a preschooler in a Richard Scarry anthology. It's the story of three bears -- Father, Mother, and Little. It's time for Little Bear to go to bed, so Father puts the child on his shoulders and takes him upstairs. But before setting him on the bed, Father closes his eyes, and when he opens them, he seemingly can not find Little Bear. He searches the house for him, in all sorts of odd places. All the while, Little Bear remains perched on his father's shoulders, giggling. At last, Father steps in front of a mirror and discovers his son's hiding place. Then they get to eat...


Not only is it a sweet story with adorable illustrations, but the family members in the story are able to play together and lovingly tease one another. Of course Father Bear knows where his son is. Perhaps Little Bear doesn't realize that -- or maybe he does, and he just enjoys the game. I think that's one of the reasons I loved this story. Another reason -- Little Bear gets to kind of avoid having to go to bed. I hated going to bed. Lucky Little Bear! In the end, Little Bear gets tucked into bed alongside two stuffed animals, just as I often was as a child. This book just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Tell me you don't agree. I mean, look at that and tell me you don't. You know you do.

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