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Golden Treasures

by MIke Griefe

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Childhood memories often include the stories that came from the books read to children by adults. These stories teach many of the lessons that children learn as they grow, and the books holding those stories often become treasured family heirlooms, surviving with the occasional torn page and creative crayon signature to rest on the shelves for the next generation.

For Naomi Williamson, professor of library services and director of the annual Children's Literature Festival at the University of Central Missouri, these books are a cornerstone in the foundation of the study and development of children's literature. As the coordinator of the Children's Literature Research Collection in UCM's James C. Kirkpatrick Library, she has come to know the favorites of children and adults alike.

Williamson continues the work of the late Ophelia Gilbert, former children's librarian, in building the university's collection of Golden Books, the small books with the gold binding that have been a staple of children's book collections since they were first published in 1942 and sold for 25 cents each.

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"These books are an important part of American literature," Williamson said. "They introduced children to the stories that taught values, and they were affordable. They also were written and illustrated by many of the leading authors and illustrators in American children's literature."

The UCM collection now contains more than 1,000 Golden Books, a portion of the more than 26,000 volumes contained in the Philip A. Sadler Research Collection of Literature for Children and Young Adults. Golden Books have been printed continuously by several publishers since 1942, and can be found in all shapes and sizes in 18 different subject categories. All books are numbered, indicating the series and date of publication. Williamson is focusing on completing a collection of the first series of books numbered through 600.

Golden Books gradually became a growing part of the children's literature collection when the university's Central Elementary laboratory school closed in 1980. The collection from that library was combined with the university collection under the direction of Gilbert, who served as the Central Elementary librarian. It continued to grow several years later with a gift of children's books from the estate of the late Jean Riddle, a longtime Warrensburg educator who taught for many years in the Knob Noster School District.

As the collection grew, Williamson began to organize it a sub-collection of Golden Books within the Sadler collection. To date, there are 320 of the first 600 titles in the UCM collection. Many of the titles have become highly collectable, as indicated by a collector's catalog.

"I've found them in a variety of places," she said. "I keep this catalog with me and check out flea markets and antique shops when we travel. Some of them are very rare and can be worth $50 to $100, while most are worth $2 to $10."

Williamson's prize find to date has been an original display rack for Golden Books. Made of wood, the displays were commonly found in dime stores and pharmacies throughout the country, and many were simply discarded over the years. With a few minor repairs, the display rack is used by the library in the Ophelia Gilbert Exhibit Room.

"There are too many in print to collect all of the titles," she said. "We don't have anywhere near all of the first 600 yet, but I do have three on my desk now that I picked up yesterday, so the collection is growing."

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