Live Oak —
Some very important events took place in 1942. Many with long-lasting repercussions. Not surprisingly, most were related to the fact that we were busy ripping ourselves apart in a world war.
For example, it was 70-years-ago this year that the Nazi’s formally approved the so-called “final solution;” giving birth to a well-oiled government machine that eventually took the lives of more than six-million Jews.
Meanwhile in this country, we were locking up some 120,000 of our own citizens, most of them of Japanese ancestry, because we feared they were potential enemy saboteurs.
In science, a group of brilliant researchers at the University of Chicago created the first safe, self-sustaining nuclear reaction that year opening the way to America’s Manhattan Project and the development of the Atomic Bomb.
Those events were of course, momentous. The one I am about to tell you is not. On the other hand, it still resonates. In fact, I think it is fair to say, virtually anyone reading this column has been touched by it.
While it is pure speculation on my part, I can’t help but believe a lot of “literary types” were worried 70-years-ago that a growing number of Americans were foregoing the pleasure of spending the evening with a good book. After all, why read if you could just sit back and wile-away the hours listening to that revolutionary invention called the radio?
I further suspect those same “literary types” were particularly concerned about our nation’s youth. Learning to read isn’t easy. Why bother, if with a simple flick of a switch you can hear breath-taking and fun-filled audio adventures on such shows as “Let’s Pretend” or “Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy.”
I am guessing that the head of the Artists and Writers Guild in 1942 - children’s author Georges Duplaix - was one of those particularly attentive to the issue, both for creative and financial reasons. At any rate, it was Duplaix and his assistant Lucille Ogle who are credited with coming up with a new endeavor designed to introduce the joy of reading to every toddler.
The concept was to publish a series of stories that were easy for both parents and children to read. Tales that would be supplemented on every page with appealing and colorful artwork, short enough that they were perfect for a bedtime setting, and last but not least, affordable to almost everyone. The proposed project was taken to the publishing house of Simon and Schuster, whose leadership loved it. They crunched the numbers and determined the company could market the books for just a quarter and still turn a profit.
Word of the new endeavor became public knowledge in September with an item in Publisher’s Weekly, early enough that bookstores could have the new offerings on their shelves before the Christmas shopping rush began. Twelve different titles would be available that first year, including three I am willing to bet were read to almost all of us; Mother Goose, The Little Red Hen and The Poky Little Puppy.
And so was born the Little Golden Book series.
To date, millions of these mini-books have been sold around the world, with many of the original titles still in print. And ironically, in a world where change seems to happen with every new breeze, a copy of The Poky Little Puppy sold today is virtually identical to the 1942 original.
Of course, the price tag has increased a little. But then, I guess you could make the case that $8.99 is really just today’s quarter.
Jim lives in Live Oak.