DASSEL, MN Dr. Ellen Radel’s “real-life” career is working as an education professor at Southwest State University in Marshall.
In her free-time, however, Radel calls herself the “Golden Book Girl.”
Assuming the mantle of the Golden Book Girl allows Radel to share her passion about the popular Little Golden Books, and their 75-year history.
Radel will be discussing her collection of Little Golden Books at the Dassel History Center Sunday, Sept. 10 at 3 p.m.
Radel’s love affair with books started when she was a child. She and her two sisters would snuggle up with their mother and a stack of books for story time.
“My mother read to us religiously,” Radel said. “I think the draw was as much spending the time with my mom, as it was the stories.”
Radel said she has wonderful memories of these story times, and lists “The Little Red Caboose,” and “Let’s Play House,” among her favorite selections.
Treasures in the closet
Radel said her delight in Little Golden Books was re-sparked in 2010, when she discovered about 25 of them while cleaning out a closet.
She recalled reading the books to her own children when they were small.
The box in the closet held many of the classic Little Golden Books, such as “Little Red Hen,” “The Lively Little Rabbit,” “The Pokey Little Puppy,” “The Tawny Scrawny Lion,” and “The Saggy Baggy Elephant.”
Radel said her discovery happened at a pivotal time in her life: when she was thinking ahead to retiring, and becoming a grandmother.
The Golden Book Girl is born
Radel quickly had all sorts of questions about her discovery. How many were there? Are they still printed? How much do they cost?
“As I looked through all my Golden Books,” she said, “I just thought, I love these books, and want to know more about them.”
She believes the publishers’ original intent was to make quality childrens books “affordable, available, and durable.”
Radel related the publishers were initially hesitant to print the books. They took the risk in September 1943, and the books sold “like hotcakes.”
Radel recalls her mother taking her to Ben Franklin, Kresge’s, or Woolworths near their Chicago home to look through huge selections of Little Golden Books.
Radel said she is saving some fun surprises for her presentation, but admitted she currently has 976 Little Golden Books in her own collection, out of about 1,400 standard-sized books that have been published.
She indicated many of the books remain in print, and new titles are released annually.
Radel said the newer books tend to focus on current children’s programming, with stories about Dora the Explorer, Doc McStuffins, Paw Patrol, and Star Wars.
Appealing to generations of readers
Radel believes the Little Golden Books were wildly popular well into the 1970s.
“They were really cranking them out during this period,” she said. “In my opinion, I think they slowed down after that. Times were a’changing.”
Not just for little ones
Radel believes the artwork in Little Golden Books is the “real magnet that draws kids in.”
Additionally, many adults enjoy them for their sentimental value.
“They can bring you back to a time when you were young, innocent, and carefree,” she said. “They bring back beautiful memories that are often warm and soothing.”
Radel discovered the Little Golden Books have no age-limits.
“I have presented at assisted living facilities throughout our area, and I am amazed at what wonderful stories these books can bring up for the folks attending,” she said. “It’s really quite beautiful.”
Collecting the classics
Radel said some of the early Little Golden Books, published in the 1940s, can be difficult to find. Others, such as “The Pokey Little Puppy,” which was one of the first dozen titles printed, is still quite popular and in print today.
Her personal favorite stories are “Nurse Nancy,” and “5 Pennies to Spend.”
One of her favorite illustrators is Eloise Wilkin, who created the artwork for, among others, “Child’s Garden of Verses,” and “Baby Dear.”
“Wilkin has an amazing style of drawing and uses soft pastel colors to accent the beautiful figures of children, flowers, and birds,” Radel said.
Like any other collectible book, the price of Little Golden Books are based on condition, edition, and print.
“A Little Golden Book with a very high value would be worth between $50 and $100,” Radel said. “There are some worth more, most less.”
Radel indicated that during her presentation Sunday, participants will have a chance to browse through boxes of Little Golden Books. “There’s nothing like a visual, and physically touching the books to get the brain moving,” the professor said.
Radel’s presentation will include a short history of the Little Golden Books, and information about several of the better-known authors and illustrators. It will close with Radel reading a Little Golden Book to attendees.
Radel shared her belief that reading to children is imperative.
“I think consistent reading to kids models the love of reading, and the excitement for learning how to read,” she said.
“I do know that Little Golden Books are not the books that children ages 2 to 5 can read by themselves,” Radel said.
“By reading to kids, I think adults open up the amazing world of books to children through the adventures of Little Golden Books, and all kinds of great books in order to inspire them to want to read,” Radel said.
“That love of reading is ‘caught’ by children . . . it’s picked up intuitively,” Radel concluded.
Come, learn, and share
Radel will discuss the Little Golden Books Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Dassel History Center. She says the presentation will last about an hour, and people of all ages are welcome to attend. Refreshments will be served.
The presentation is free, and is sponsored by the Dassel Library, and funded through the Pioneerland Library System Legacy funding.
Radel encourages participants to bring a favorite Little Golden Book to share.