Thursday, December 1, 2011

An Interivew with Leonard S. Marcus

Week of November 27: Picture Books Are Golden
Thursday, December 1: An Interview with Leonard S. Marcus

Leonard S. Marcus is a renowned children’s book authority and an award-winning writer for kids. Leonard is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review and writes a regular column on pictures books called “Sight Reading” for The Horn Book. He is a founding trustee of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and teaches a course on children’s books and child development at NYU. Leonard’s latest release is Annotated Phantom Tollbooth (Knopf, fall 2011).

I met Leonard during an intensive at SCBWI, LA. But long before that I had read his astonishing book Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children’s Hearts, Change Publishing Forever, and Became and American Icon Along the Way. I knew when I schedule Diane Muldrow for an series of posts, that I wanted to interview Leonard about the importance of Golden Books to children’s publishing. He was gracious enough to agree.

Rob Sanders: Leonard, how did Golden Books change/affect children's literature and children's publishing?

Leonard S. Marcus: Golden Books democratized children's publishing in America by introducing high-quality picture books that everyone could afford and by selling them in non-traditional venues like five-and-dimes and supermarkets, where everyone shopped. Prior to that time, picture books were too expensive for most people to have at home and were hard to find for sale if you didn’t happen to live in a big city. Suddenly, in 1942 when THE POKY LITTLE PUPPY and the other first eleven books appeared, that all changed. Golden Books also launched the careers of many great illustrators (Alice and Martin Provensen, Richard Scarry, and others) and furthered the careers of well-established artists and writers such as Margaret Wise Brown and Garth Williams. Later, Golden Books became known to children as far away as Europe and Japan too.
Rob: What has contributed to the longevity of Golden Books?

Leonard: The art is warm and playful and energetic, and the stories are very basic: stories about your first pet, your first day at school, a trip to the zoo, finding out you are about to have a sister or brother.
Rob: What are the lessons we can learn from Golden Books that can impact children's publishing today?

Leonard: Golden Books were unpretentious looking and partly for that reason kids felt that the books really were theirs. That sense of ownership went beyond the physical property. Kids loved to imagine their way into the books. They also wrote their names in the inside front cover in the place provided. They lined up the gold spines on their bedroom shelves. That’s a great way to get a life-long love of reading started.
Rob: What can picture book writers today learn from the authors and illustrators from the golden years of Golden Books?

Leonard: Margaret Wise Brown, who was the star author of Golden Books, was a consummate craftsperson as well as a true poet. She shaped her manuscripts with great artistry and care. She felt even the youngest children would respond to the best words, and to the music of words. On the art side, Golden Books are always character-driven. The characters always take you into the world from the child’s point of view. A lot of picture books these days are very caught up in being arty, and purport to express the artist’s “inner child.” But Golden Books were and are for and about real children.

To learn more about Leonard, visit his web site at

No comments: