But what these folks began to realize and what the children had known all along was that, despite their bargain price, low-quality binding, and rapid publication, the Little Golden Books were really pretty amazing. The stories and the artwork were occasionally ephemeral but quite often top-notch. And soon people realized that some of the age's best authors and illustrators were putting out some of their best work under the label, people like Garth Williams, Elizabeth Orton Jones, Gustaf Tenggren, J. P. Miller, Mel Crawford, Feodor Rojankovsky, Tibor Gergely, Martin Provensen, Eloise Wilkin, Mary Blair, Hilary Knight, and Richard Scarry. These illustrators were putting out stuff that looked like this:
I have no recollection of ever reading this last title, with illustrations by Tibor Gergely. But I firmly recall strong feelings of attachment to this little tugboat; whenever I thought of him I felt incredibly important and belonging, to the point that for years I thought the Mormon children's song "Give, Said the Little Stream" was about him.
Well, the books turned 65 a few years ago, and the good folks at the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature in Abeline, Texas put together a traveling exhibition of much of the original artwork. It's been touring around the country since then--it's already had its stay at the CMOM here in New York--and may soon be coming near you because it's not just hitting the major cities. In my traditional form, then, here are some links that can give further information:
First of all, the actual web page for the exhibition on the NCCIL website. The site is great for electronic samples of the artwork (not what I have above, but from inside the books) and a brief description of what the exhibit entails, plus a full schedule through January 2012.
Right now it's housed at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, through September 7. Here's the news release (pdf) from that institution.
Here, for some more background info, is the Little Golden Books site, in honor of their 2007 anniversary. (They're currently owned by Random House.) There's lots of information as well as a newsletter and games and printables for the youngsters.
There are also many titles for sale there, which reminds me that other websites are resources for serious collectors, like this one and this one.
Try to get to the exhibit if it comes near you, and at any rate try revisiting these titles with your kids. We just read The Monster at the End of This Book with Loretta and she loved it. We have about five books on our shelves, but just glancing at the list of titles I realize how many there are that I loved as a child that I'd like to introduce her to. Much of the books' marketing today relies on this nostalgia factor, but I'm aware of it and still think they're worth showing my daughter. A good book, after all, is always golden.