Friday, July 29, 2016

Will You Fall In Love With Big Little Books?

The book publishing industry is made up of different types of individuals.  Probably only a handful of older writers, editors, and literary agents would remember what was referred to as “Big Little Books, " but a 1997 book that I’d come across brought a whole era to light in such a positive way that I wanted to share with you the author’s passion for a bygone period.  

The Big Book of Big Little Books, by Bill Borden with Steve Posher , says the adventure series books was one of the most popular genres throughout the 1930’s and 40’s.  Borden wrote:

“Every book was rife with cliffhangers, chapters that would compel readers on to the next, leaving them wondering how their hero would escape the latest calamity.”

Whitman Publishing launched “Big Little Books” in 1932.  The author believes some 1,100 similar style books were published in the first two decades.  Other companies copied the style to produce hundreds more.  The Adventures of Dick Tracy was the first one to be produced.

You can see how the author expresses a fondness for these books.  He wrote:

“The early BLBs somehow seem to transcend being just books.  Each one has become an object of art. Small, blocky, and colorful, the books have the aroma and yellowish glow of old newsprint, and they hold the promise of adventure, laughter and love. I relish holding them in my hands, or just looking over and seeing these thick little books sitting on my shelves.

“I have always wondered if their size made them more intimate, allowing me to create stories with my imagination that emerged directly from the pages themselves.  Leonardo da Vinci once said that one can create better in a small room than in a larger one where the mind can wander.  Does that apply to small books too?  Did these small books, which are only slightly larger than a child’s hands, make it easier for their young readers to hold them, and then to imagine?”

These books gave the youthful reader a sense of adventure and wonder during times that made most feel sad or fearful.  The Great Depression and World War II consumed a generation.  But the author explains here why the Big Little Book had such appeal:

“In the 1930s, whether you were a twelve-year-old huddled in a small farmhouse amid sprawling Iowa cornfields on a cold night or peering out of a sixth-floor tenement window in Brooklyn looking down at glistening rain-soaked streets and blinking stoplights, you yearned to discover a life beyond the horizon-and a dime could buy you that.  With a BLB adventure, you could go to another world filled with exotic locations, outrageous heroes and heroines, and wonderfully scary dangers.  The American ethic triumphed, the bad guys lost, morality was preserved.”

A Wikipedia entry says: “A Big Little Book was typically 3⅝″ wide and 4½″ high, with 212 to 432 pages making an approximate thickness of 1½″. The interior book design usually displayed full-page black-and-white illustrations on the right side, facing the pages of text on the left. Stories were often related to radio programs (The Shadow), comic strips (The Gumps), children's books (Uncle Wiggily), novels (John Carter of Mars) and movies (Bambi). Later books of the series had interior color illustrations.”

It is interesting how a particular format and type of content could be so wildly popular and then virtually disappear from the book landscape. What will be the next hot genre or format? I guess ebooks are the latest generational craze. Before them came things like coffee table books, books with CD-Roms, the dime romance novel, etc.

Could we see a return of Big Little Books?  I have no doubt that anything that was successful once before will have a return trip one day in the future.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016.

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