Nonfiction Monday: Leonard Marcus’ Golden Legacy

h1 April 28th, 2008 by jules

Last year, the Little Golden Book celebrated 65 years of existence, and in October Random House released Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children’s Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way by children’s literature writer, critic, and historian, Leonard Marcus. I’m a bit slow in getting to my review of this beautifully-designed, handsome, 246-page book about the history of the Little Golden Book, as well as the illustrators and writers who wrote for them and the savvy marketing folks who sold them. And, if you’ve read a Marcus title before, you know that you get much more than just that — he also delves into the wider world of children’s publishing as a whole during the time of the rise of the Little Golden Book, takes a sweeping look at the cultural landscape of that time, and shows how the books reflected our postwar culture and how the line of books left a “deep emotional imprint” . . . and “an indelible mark on mainstream American culture.”

This is an impressive and lengthy piece of research and writing (“Leonard Marcus’s research is rich and exhaustive,” wrote Elizabeth Spires in The New York Times), and if I were to summarize each of the book’s seven parts for you, you’d have a novella on your hands here. Suffice it to say: Marcus opens the book—after a Foreword from Eric Carle—with an explanation of the very beginning of the line of books (“Golden Books began as a tale of two cities, two industries, and two largely compatible visions of the American dream”) at the turn of the 20th century when a young, first-generation German-American from northern Wisconsin named Edward H. Wadewitz sought his fortune and eventually opened a print shop (and also eventually became a publisher). From there, we’re taken every step of the way and shown the book’s history from every angle (business, marketing, artistic, etc.)—every detail of the collaboration between Western Publishing and Simon & Schuster to introduce a series of books priced at 25 cents, which would be sold at the sort of places where ordinary people regularly shopped, is covered here. Marcus covers the books’ great commercial success and all its spin-offs, as well as all the criticism the books have received over the years. Picture book lovers are treated to in-depth looks at the writers and artists who created these books, “many written by staff members (who received no author credit or additional pay over and above their regular salaries),” as Spires points out. Interspersed throughout the book are Marcus’ interviews with contemporary picture book creators about these books (“Avi Remembers The Poky Little Puppy,” “Dan Yaccarino remembers J.P. Millers’s Little Red Hen,” “Harry Bliss Looks at I Can Fly” by Mary Blair, and—best of all, ’cause I’m a big fan of hers—“Amy Schwartz Remembers The Golden Book Encylopedia“) as well as the children of some of the more legendary Golden Book artists (“A Few Words About Richard Scarry’s Working Technique” by Hucky Scarry, Richard’s son).

Full of beautifully-reproduced archival photos and full-color reproductions of covers and interior spreads from numerous Golden Book titles of the past, this is a must-have for children’s literature history buffs, picture book aficionados, and book lovers in general. The text is engaging and comprehensive, and detailed footnotes abound (several reviews, such as the ones from School Library Journal and The Horn Book pointed out that, though the notes are excellent, no bibliography exists — “{b}ecause all bibliographic information is embedded in the footnotes, with the first citation the only complete one, readers and researchers who follow the notes from random places in the text will be frustrated by the lack of a separate bibliography,” wrote SLJ). But, all in all, this is another piece of fine writing and thorough research from Marcus and would be an excellent addition to public libraries, in particular.

And, BONUS! In just over a week, Marcus fans and children’s literature history buffs will have this in their hot in little hands: Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature, pictured here (Houghton Mifflin; release date of May 7, 2008, according to that Amazon link). I’ll be in line for sure. Anyone out there read an advance copy of this one?

As usual, Anastasia Suen is handling the Nonfiction Monday round-up at Picture Book of the Day. Until next week . . .

9 comments to “Nonfiction Monday: Leonard Marcus’ Golden Legacy

  1. […] 1. Picture Book of the Day (At Gleason’s Gym)  2. Audiobooker (The Pot that Juan Built) 3. Sarah N. (Wildflowers) 4. Jules, 7-Imp (Leonard Marcus’ Golden Legacy) […]

  2. Wow, they both look great!

  3. I’m going to have to schedule a Leonard Marcus retreat, and hole up and read both of these.

  4. Sara, I heard him speak once in grad school and still beat myself up over having forgotten to bring one of my Marcus titles for him to sign. I know that’s not for everyone (I once asked the real Patch Adams, for whom I was interpreting, to autograph something for my mother-in-law, who wasn’t there to hear him speak yet INSISTED upon his autograph — but this was after hearing him go on and on and on some more about how it’s silly to get autographs from people, that it’s nonsense to have that kind of hero worship goin’ on, yet I had promised her I’d try)….anyway, where was I? Oh, I still think it’s fun to collect books autographed by authors or illustrators and want to hand them down to my daughters one day, so yeah, I’m still mad at myself for leaving that one at home.

  5. Thanks so much for taking the time to review this. I’m a big fan — and now my kids are too — especially of the Golden nonfiction/reference books. I’ve had my eye on this since it first came out, but it’s not in our library system and usually like to preview first before I have to buy. But it sounds as though I’d be happy to shell out for it — thanks again!

  6. Yes, Becky, I’d say it’s worth every penny. For the record, the only other criticism I’ve read of it (this one from the New York Times review mentioned in my post) is that it’s a bit self-congratulatory—naturally, since it’s published by the folks who published the Golden Books (“Leonard Marcus’s research is rich and exhaustive, and the story he tells is a good one, if at times just a bit too celebratory — perhaps to be expected, since Golden Books itself is the publisher of this detailed portrait of its history,” Spires wrote).

    Otherwise, this is a fabulous read for fans of the books and, as I said, people who enjoy reading about the history of children’s lit publishing and the art of the picture book.

  7. Wow, these sound great! (And sure to bring back memories…I loved The Poky Little Puppy.) I find the history of children’s publishing to be absolutely fascinating. Thanks for posting this!

  8. […] photographs and original artwork. The New York Times review is here, there is also a great review here and the book can be found on Amazon. The customer reviews on Amazon show overwhelmingly just how […]

  9. […] at the top of this post today. Anyone else read Leonard S. Marcus’ Golden Legacy (covered here at 7-Imp in April of last year)? If you’re a Richard-Scarry fan and you have not read that, […]

Leave a Comment

Should you have trouble posting, please contact Thanks.