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Golden Books exhibition stirs nostalgia, appreciation

An exhibition of America’s beloved Little Golden Books opens Wednesday, Jan. 19, at The Gallery at Penn College and offers viewers a range of discoveries from exploring old favorites and appreciating their classic illustrations to learning about the publishing enterprise’s fascinating history.

“Golden Legacy: Original Art From 75 Years of Golden Books,” is on display through March 30 at Pennsylvania College of Technology’s gallery, located on the third floor of Madigan Library. Admission is free and open to the public.

An illustration from “I Can Fly” ©1951 Random House
An illustration from “I Can Fly” ©1951 Random House

An online Zoom talk is also offered at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 2, led by the exhibition’s curator, Leonard Marcus, one of the world’s leading writers about children’s books and the people who create them. The talk is free but registration is required at the gallery’s website.

“Golden Legacy” showcases 65 original illustrations from 51 books published from 1942 to 2017, including famous classics such as “The Poky Little Puppy,” “Tootle,” “I Can Fly” and “I Am a Bunny.” Organized by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Texas, the exhibit is the most extensive public showing of original illustration art from American publishing’s best loved and most consequential picture-book series.

“The exhibit appeals to our collective sense of, and possible longing for, nostalgia, and will likely evoke fond memories,” said Penny Griffin Lutz, director of The Gallery at Penn College. “Golden Books trigger strong cultural association with childhood for many adults as they connect to the stories and images. Younger audiences may not be as familiar with the classic images, so the exhibit will serve as an introduction to an incredible group of iconic illustrators.”

Penn College’s graphic design students have already engaged in exploring the classic illustrations in class projects, and students in other courses, including English, history and sociology, will find valuable content to investigate. Lutz says the show is equally important for the enjoyment and education of the community.

A drawing from “I Am a Bunny” ©1963 Random House
A drawing from “I Am a Bunny” ©1963 Random House

Introduced in 1942, Little Golden Books revolutionized American children’s literature by making picture books available in a variety of retail locations for just 25 cents each. One year later, with World War II leading to paper shortages, the books were reduced from 42 to 28 pages. Artists who were fleeing the ravages of Europe during that time found a home working at Little Golden Books, including talented emigrating illustrators Feodor Rojankovsky and Tibor Gergely.

The books’ rich history is shared in the exhibit and will be illuminated in Marcus’s online discussion, “A New Deal for the Nursery: Golden Books and the Democratization of American Children’s Book Publishing.” Marcus will delve into behind-the-scenes tales of the visionary enterprise that brought together top-flight artists, writers and marketing wizards to make Golden Books a household name.

Marcus is the author of a number of books, including “Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon” and “Golden Legacy: The Story of Golden Books,” and is the editor of “The Annotated Phantom Toolbooth” and “You Can’t Say That!: Writers for Young People Talk About Censorship, Free Expression, and the Stories They Have to Tell.” A founding trustee of the Eric Carle Museum and editor-at-large at Astra Publishing House, Marcus has written frequently for The New York Times Book Review.

Veronica M. MuzicThe “Golden Legacy” exhibition at Penn College is dedicated to the late Veronica M. Muzic, a passionate advocate for education and the arts. Muzic joined Williamsport Area Community College, a Penn College predecessor, as an English instructor in 1968 and retired from the institution in 2006 as vice president for academic affairs/provost. The college’s first “Master Teacher” continued a close relationship with the college until her death in 2019.

“Veronica dedicated her life to education,” Lutz said. “An exhibit related to both early reading and affordable books for children would have pleased her.”

Many of the original Little Golden Books titles are still wildly popular, with “The Poky Little Puppy” topping the list of 10 bestselling children’s books of all time. Golden Books’ backlist is teeming with such classics as Dorothy Kunhardt’s “Pat the Bunny,” and features the stories and artwork of children’s book legends Mary Blair, Margaret Wise Brown, Richard Scarry, Eloise Wilkins, Garth Williams and others. Today, the Golden Books imprint includes an array of storybooks, novelty books, and coloring and activity books featuring popular licenses, including Disney, Nickelodeon, Barbie, Thomas & Friends, The Cat in the Hat, Sesame Street, Marvel Super Heroes, and DC Super Friends.

“Golden Legacy” is the third exhibit in The Gallery at Penn College’s 2021-22 season. Serving as an educational resource for Penn College students and a cultural asset to the community, the gallery is dedicated to promoting art appreciation through exhibitions of contemporary art.

The Gallery at Penn College is open 2 to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays; and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. (The gallery is closed on Saturdays.) Prior to visiting, guests should view the college’s Continuity of Operations Plan page for current guidelines related to the pandemic.

For more about The Gallery at Penn College, email or call 570-320-2445.

For more about the college, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free at 800-367-9222.

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