Thursday, August 11, 2011

Of Golden Guides and Scholastics...

Among my many hobbies and interests, I love juvenile books, especially series. Last weekend, I picked up a couple more additions to the collection. Or is that collections?
The Pop-up Book of the American Revolution is from Scholastic Books. I actively collect books from before ISBN numbers and barcodes became the norm. I had some when I was a kid, and I've greatly expanded my collection over the last few years; I have well over 400 now. Some of them are merely releases of older books, like Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Others were written for juvenile audiences, like the Miss Pickerell books or Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series; others were written for young teenagers. I got really hooked when I found a copy of Robert Silverberg's very first book, Revolt on Alpha C, which I'd enjoyed back in first or second grade. It's a really good, fun story, and I enjoyed it again. The hero, a young space cadet, goes to the colony of Alpha Centauri, right at the beginning of a revolt against Earth. While there is no sequel to the story, I really enjoyed the Scholastic presentation of the book, and I realized I had acquired a bunch of them already without realizing it---I went for the content, not the publisher--for example, I have had for several years a copy of The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. It just sort of mushroomed from there, to coin a pun. This new acquisition might very well be the first pop-up book I've ever owned; I don't recall owning any as a child. There are books about science, and history, as well as novels and short stories; books of poetry and myths; books about sports stars and political name it, it's there! There must be 25,000 titles, easily, that Scholastic published during this era and advertised in the little book catalogs that kids got in school (and still do today!)

Look familiar? Western Publishing took over the rights from Simon & Schuster in the late 1940s or early 1950s, copying the Observer's Books series from Britain. These small books had 160 pages chock full of interesting facts and lovely artwork on subjects from Flowers to Stars, Insects to Rocks & Minerals, Dinosaurs to Birds---and not just from the world of nature, either: travel guides to regions of the country, books about Indian Arts and Architecture, Camping and Guns, Antiques and Exploring Space, Photography and Sports Cars...over 80 subjects in all (compared to the Observer's Books, which numbered nearly 100 titles). Lots of foreign variants, too. There were a number of competitors to this format, both in the US and Britain; Bantam Books had two different lines released in the US, some of which were identical to each other, and Hamlyn released a line of its own in the UK, which copied some of the Bantam editions. Western used the Golden Press imprint (most famous for the Little Golden Books of our youth) to publish the Golden Guides up through the early 1990s. Since 2001, St. Martin's Press has been publishing the Golden Guides, under the Golden Guides name. Dorling Kindersley has a nice, similar series called the Pocket Guides published for both the British and American markets. The one major difference in these companies' products is that they are of different sizes---but they apparently all have 160 pages!

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