The Golden Book Encyclopedia (1946, 1959, 1988) was an encyclopedia written for White American schoolchildren under the age of 12. The 1959 edition sold over 60 million volumes, making it the best-selling children’s encyclopedia of all time in America. This post is mainly about that edition. I have never seen the 1946 edition while the 1988 one (the one with the blue covers) was not nearly as good.
The 1959 edition came in 16 volumes and was sold throughout the 1960s, mainly at supermarkets. It was meant to give children “the most important facts of modern knowledge” in a form they could understand and find interesting. It was full of pictures and I was able to read it for myself by age seven.
Author: Bertha Morris Parker, who had taught science at the Lab School in Chicago from 1916 into the 1950s, in addition to writing science books for children. (The Lab School is where Obama’s daughters went. It was founded by John Dewey.)
Contributors and consultants: Among others, Walt Disney, J. Allen Hynek, Willy Ley, Norman Vincent Peale and Glenn T. Seaborg.
Pictures: Many of the pictures came from science books for children that Golden Press had put out between 1946 and 1957. Some are coloured drawings, others paintings. No photographs – the encyclopedia was printed on cheap paper.
Coverage: It was strong on science, geography and famous white people. It had articles on many countries of the world and every American state – but not on any Canadian province. The French and British still ruled much of Africa in green and pink. Oddly it did not have articles on any of the planets, not even Mars! Yet it had articles on things like Renoir, Alhambra and Walter Reed.
Race: It had a white liberal view of race:
On the one hand it tells us that according to scientists, “The people of one race can do just as well as those of another if they have the same opportunities.” To its credit it does not push the Bootstrap Myth. Its article on Negroes is clear about the lack of said opportunities, even if things are “far better” than they were.
On the other hand the pictures normalize white people and exoticize people of colour. A Chinese baby is called a “Chinese baby” while a white baby is just called a “baby”. Despite its claims to “up-to-dateness”, the Chinese still dress like it is 1899 while people of the Gold Coast (even then called Ghana) carry spears. White people hold test tubes, black people live in huts. It claims there are Negro doctors but never shows one.
When I was seven I copied articles from it, complete with the pictures (as best I could). Then I got the idea that I could write articles of my own based on original research. I remember doing one on earthworms. I tore one open to see what was inside and wrote down my findings. Now that I think of it, this blog is probably unwittingly modelled on the Golden Book Encyclopedia.