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I was digging through some boxes in storage and open a box of children’s books. Most of them are ones that I bought for my sons in the 1980s-90s, but there are a stack of ones that were mine in the 1950s and even a few that were given to me as a kid that were from the 1930s and 40s.

Right on top of the stack was The Poky Little Puppy. It is a book that might have been purchased for a child from 1942 through now. This children’s book was written by Janette Sebring Lowrey and illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren and is one of the first twelve books in the Simon & Schuster series Little Golden Books.

This simple story about beagle pups was at one time and might still be the all-time best-selling hardcover children’s book in the U.S. Since 1942, it has remained in print and there have been other sequels and extensions of those beagle pup stories.

I remember reading the book as a child and had a copy for many years. Too bad I didn’t save pristine first edition as it would be worth quite a bit more now than their original price of 25 cents. I read at the Mental Floss site that before Little Golden Books, children’s books weren’t a big thing. Most were large volumes made more for parents to read and fairly expensive – $2 to $3 each, which is about $28 – $42 in today’s money.

A man named George Duplaix of the Artist’s and Writer’s Guild, partnered with Simon & Schuster Publications and Western Printing to publish small, sturdy, inexpensive books with fewer pages, simpler stories, and more illustrations so kids would be the actual owners and readers.  A series already existed called Golden Books, so the new line was dubbed Little Golden Books.

Another title from those early days that has survived is Tootle from 1945 about a young locomotive who loves to chase butterflies through the meadow. Since most of the Little Golden Book stories carried a lesson for their readers, Tootle has to learn to stay on the tracks if he really wants to achieve his dream of being a Flyer between New York and Chicago. Play by the rules kids!

I’m not sure all parents today would like that Tootle lesson and might instead encourage some butterfly chasing. But in The Saggy Baggy Elephant, we have a theme that might even resonate better now than in the 1940s and 50s.  A mean parrot makes fun of Sooki’s big ears, long nose, and wrinkled skin. This young “saggy baggy” elephant certainly lacks confidence. But in his travels, he finds some beautiful creatures who look just like him, and so discovers his own beauty and acceptance. This book was illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, who also did The Poky Little Puppy.

The odds that you read these books to yourself or have read them to kids are pretty good. I have an immediate connection with these books because of the shiny golden spine they all have that made them stand out on a shelf. The Poky Little Puppy is the top-selling children’s book but others in the series became bestsellers, including Tootle, Scuffy the Tugboat, and The Little Red Hen. And some of the illustrators, like Richard Scarry, have become quite famous for their artwork and better know for their own books.

The Little Golden Books series wasn’t just fiction. It included books on nature and science, Bible stories, nursery rhymes, and fairy tales. I have several Christmas titles, and I bought a number of books for my sons that featured  crossover characters from other media, like Sesame Street, The Muppets, Disney, and some TV and movie tie-ins. In my own collection are older crossover titles from Hopalong Cassidy, Lassie, Rin Tin Tin and Captain Kangaroo.

From the time that the original 12 titles were released in 1942,  1.5 million copies had been sold within five months. One reason they sold so well is that they were available more readily in department stores, drug stores, and supermarkets rather than just in bookstores. My mother often bought me books when I was home sick from school or on vacation or when I accompanied her shopping downtown.

 

I found that more than two billion Little Golden Books have been sold. They seem to be priced around $3-4 these days – still a bargain for a book.

My own kids may have read Pokemon, and Thomas the Tank Engine books, and now Dora the Explorer, Dinosaur Train and SpongeBob SquarePants might be more popular titles. I know my boys got a few Little Golden Books with McDonald’s Happy Meals.

If there are copies hiding in boxes in your attic and you are thinking that they might be worth big bucks, here are some facts to consider. It is difficult to determine if you have some original editions if you base that on the copyright date. That rarely changes from the original printing.

For a first edition, a blue spine means it was published between 1942 and 1947 (the edition number will be on the first or second page). Original books in great condition often sell for $100 or more.

A letter near the spine on the lower-right corner of the last page will tell you it was published between 1947 and 1970 and an “A” means first edition, “B” is second edition. They had to start over, so an “AA” is the 27th edition.

The third period of books have a series of letters on the first few pages of the book. These books are from 1971 to 1991 and the first letter is that same letter system – “A” is a first edition from that period.

Between 1991 and 2001 the publisher went to years written in Roman numerals on the title page. An “A” in front of the year means it’s a first edition, and an “R” means it’s a revised edition – and no letter means who-knows-what-edition you own. , there’s no definitive way to know what edition it is.

Since 2001, the copyright page has a series of numbers and the last one is the edition.

 

 

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The last Full Moon of 2017  came to fullness at 10:47 am ET.  It is a “supermoon” which, by a commonly accepted definition, is when a full moon comes within 225,027 miles (362,146 km) of Earth. It’s not that rare, and happens every few months. The two full moons on January 2 and 31, 2018 also count as supermoons and that double full moon appearance in a month means we can call that second full moon on January 31, 2018 a Blue Moon.

This early full moon of December was often called the Moon Before Yule by the European colonists who also knew it as the Oak Moon (Medieval English), Frost Moon, Freezing Moon, Christmas Moon (when it occurs later in the month) and Snow Moon.

A nice book to read kids for all the full moons is When the Moon is Full. It has lovely woodcuts and poems that portray the twelve full moons of the year. They use the “traditional Native American names,” so this month is the Long Night Moon.

This is classified as a “children’s book” but it will not be difficult to read and reread as an adult. There is also some factual Moon information included in the book, like defining a blue moon. The poetry text is by Penny Pollock with illustrations by Mary Azarian.

It should be noted that to say that the December full moon is called by Native Americans the “Long Night Moon,” an asterisk should note that there are many Indian names for the full moons because they varied by tribe and especially by location. It was also called the Cold Moon, Small Spirits Moon, When the Wolves Run Together (Cheyenne) Moon of Respect (Hopi) and the Shawnee washilatha kiishthwa or Eccentric Moon.

This year I chose the name Moon of Popping Trees, but I have also read that the Sioux of The Dakotas and the Cree call the first New Moon of the new year something similar, sometimes translated as Moon of the Cold-Exploding Trees (which doesn’t sound quite Indian to me).

Cold weather can actually cause trees to explode by freezing the sap. The water in the sap expands as it freezes and can create a pop or even as a sound like a gunshot from the splitting bark.

The Choctaw called this the Peach Moon and that name is probably appropriate to a tribe that originally occupied what is now Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana. If you live there today, it just might be more a Peach Moon than one where trees are exploding.

Sometimes the Colonists later took on English versions of the Indian names. And the Native American Cherokee people called this the Snow Moon, as did the Medieval English. Much of  America gets snow this month, and even in the warmer Southwest the Snow Moon is the full moon when the first snows fall in the mountains. The Cherokee tell the story of a spirit being, Vsgiyi (Snow Man) who brings the cold and snow so that the the land can rest.

Beyond American shores, this full moon is also called Wintermonat (Winter Month), Bitter Moon (China), Heilagmonoth (Holy Month), Dreaming Moon and Big Winter Moon.

This year the Yuletide  will not be signaled by a full moon but by the winter solstice for 2017 which will slide into the Northern Hemisphere at 11:28 AM ET on Thursday, December 21.

 

 

wonderland

 

I don’t know how popular the Uncle Wiggily books are these days. Uncle Wiggily Longears is the main character of a series of children’s stories by the very prolific American author Howard R. Garis. He is an interesting elderly rabbit who has rheumatism and uses his red, white, and blue crutch walking cane that looks like an old-fashioned barber-pole or a peppermint candy stick.

Garis began writing the stories for the Newark News in 1910 and he wrote an Uncle Wiggily story every day (except Sundays) for more than 30 years. That’s a lot of stories.

I know I read many times the Little Golden Book version of Uncle Wiggily and probably a few others. Although growing up, we did read the Newark News as our daily paper, I don’t recall the stories. maybe by the time I was reading the paper I was done reading Uncle Wiggily. (Though I read the comics for a long time past childhood.)

I never knew until I did some research this week that, according to his obituary in the Chicago Tribune, a walk in the woods in Verona, New Jersey was his inspiration for Uncle Wiggily. Being that those woods are just next door to Paradelle, I think that I have probably walked those same woods and I have certainly seen some relatives of Uncle Wiggily.

Garis wrote many books for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a publisher that specialized in series and used many authors under various pseudonyms. They were best known for the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. Garis wrote as Victor Appleton, he wrote about the inventing Tom Swift. He wrote as Laura Lee Hope some of the Bobbsey Twins books, as Clarence Young for the Motor Boys series and as Marion Davidson for some books about the Camp Fire Girls.

Garis parted ways with the Syndicate in 1933 after several disagreements, but he published many books about Uncle Wiggily. Some of those are out of print and in the public domain and I found a good number in the Project Gutenberg Library online where you can read and download them.  That is where I found   Uncle Wiggily in Wonderland. I also found books by Garis that I never read, such as  The Curlytops at Silver Lake, whose titles suggest local settings. I know nearby Silver Lake pretty well.

game
The Uncle Wiggily game is a track board game based characters from the series. The game is of the “racing” variety and said to be in the style of the European “Goose Game.” Players advance along the track from Uncle Wiggily’s Bungalow to Dr. Possum’s House. This is not a strategy game and moving is based on a random drawing of the cards. The game was first published by Milton Bradley in 1916 and has seen several editions with minor modifications over the years. Uncle Wiggily remains a pretty popular childhood game along with Candy Land.

Many of the Uncle Wiggily books and the game and plush animals and other related merchandise are still available, so perhaps kids are still reading Uncle Wiggily.

I didn’t think about Uncle Wiggily again after elementary school until I read in high school “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” a short story by J. D. Salinger, which appears in his collection Nine Stories.

The main character of that story, Eloise, recalls a time when she and her boyfriend Walt were running to catch a bus, and she sprained her ankle. Walt comforted her by saying “Poor Uncle Wiggily.” Now, unhappily married to someone else, she goes to her daughter Ramona’s bedroom. (Ramona and Eloise are names that recall characters in other childhood books I read.) She sees that her sleeping child in on the corner of the bed having left room for room for her imaginary friend, “Mickey Mickeranno.” This childhood fantasy really annoys the mother and she drags her to the middle of the bed and tells her she must sleep there. She quickly regrets that and tucks Ramona into her covers and leaves crying and repeating to herself “Poor Uncle Wiggily.”

Trivia: This story was made into the film My Foolish Heart (1949), though the film has very little to do with the story. It is the only authorized adaptation of a Salinger story and he hated it and vowed to never let his work be used for film or television again.

game

A current version of the board game

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