(Look for Part Two, Leonard S. Marcus Sets the Record Straight sometime later this week.)
My Love Affair with Golden Books
My affection toward Golden Books began in my childhood but truly blossomed when I became an adult and began to divine and appreciate the aspects of culture that made me who I am, my influences, if you will. Of course, like anyone who grew up in America post 1940, these books were part of the backdrop of my childhood and as such, I have only hazy memories of many of them. There was Richard Scarry’s Golden Book of Manners, the Best Word Book Ever, which I loved to tatters (just like the little boys above), My Picnic Basket, The Monster at the End of this Book, The Together Book (I am proud to call myself a member of the very first Sesame Street Generation), but without realizing it, I gravitated most toward the work of Eloise Wilkin, who illustrated hundreds of books over the course of her career, many of them for Golden Publishing. The illustrations in Mother Goose , The New Baby, (both the 1940’s and 1970’s editions), We Like Kindergarten, with their realistically cherubic babies and children, and their detailed, cottage interiors and idealized families never failed to captivate me as a child. I wanted to be part of the family in Baby’s Birthday, to sleep under the cozy eaves in the nursery or partake of the frosted animal-cracker birthday cake (I even made my son an exact replica for his second birthday), to attend Clara Kennedy’s Kindergarten in We Like Kindergarten or to wear the adorably smudged face and smocked dresses of little Polly Flinders. For all intents and purposes, it was a perfect world.
In fact, I didn’t even realize these books were all by the same illustrator until my mother gave me The Eloise Wilkin Treasury when I was in college. Even in those pre-ebay days, I set about re-constituting my collection, which had long since been farmed out to tag sales and younger cousins. But it wasn’t until the internet dawned and I began to search for information about about Ms. Wilkin in earnest that I learned she was also a legendary doll designer for Vogue dolls, “mother” of the popular Baby Dear One of the sixties and seventies and of the prize of my own extensive doll collection, Welcome Home Baby. Why, no wonder those illustrations and those lifelike baby dolls stirred my childhood heart like no other–they came from the supple hands of the same artist!
Fast forward to Fall 2001. I have been collecting Eloise Wilkin’s books in earnest, for some years, and as an extension of my love of writing for children and children’s books (which extends far far beyond Little Goldens, I assure you) have begun teaching Writing for Children at the University of Central Arkansas where I am a writing professor. My class and I are visiting the home of Venita Lovelace Chandler, an academic, Physical Therapist, and owner of one of the largest collections of Little Golden Books outside the archives of Western Publishing. Dr. Chandler has generously invited us to hear about her love, her obsession, and its crucial role in the history of American literacy and children’s publishing.
Only weeks before, the Twin Towers have fallen and thousands of people have been vaporized in a cloud that continues to hang over New York City, where I grew up. Postal workers are dying from anthrax, world leaders appear on television nightly with pale, shaken countenances and we worry about our children’s very futures as we await the next attack.
But for the first time, as Professor Chandler shows us her books, with their vibrant and yes, nostaglic illustrations of times past, the work of artists who had just been forced to abandon their Eastern European homelands, emigrate to this country and somehow create art, whimisical, merry art, the terrifiying din of the outside world begins to fade to a whisper and for a little while, we remember what it’s like to feel safe again. To smell an apple pie cooling on a window ledge or worry about a puppy with a taste for adventure, to know that happiness is a shared skate key and comfort only as far away as the fluffy duvet in your dormered bedroom.
So, that’s the story of my love affair with Golden books. If you have one, I’d love to hear it.
Don’t forget, every comment between now and February 4 enters you in the Wordamour January/February Goody Giveaway!