I'm a collector of Little Golden Books, but I must go on record to say that I am a very selective collector. I only collect LGBs that feature a certain look and style to them, or feature certain illustrators that I love. For instance, I have several books illustrated by JP Miller and Aurelius Battaglia, to name a few. I like Richard Scarry, but only his early work. See, I'm selective. It's weird, I know. But that's okay because collecting is a weird and peculiar thing. And collectors can be weird and peculiar people. For me, since I'm interested in the artwork, I will usually find a particular artist that strikes my fancy and then do an exhaustive search for any and all titles illustrated by that artist. But it doesn't stop there. Oh no. I then have to find that one artist's contemporaries and then search for any and all titles done by those artists, and so on and so on. A never-ending cycle you could say. Throughout the years, to further add to the geekiness level, I've picked up on the lingo and the lexicon of the Little Golden Books world, as well as know which titles I will never own because of rarity and/or availability. Some titles have become "white whales" that have constantly eluded me, whether it be through last-second lost bids on eBay, or through over-zealous owners who feel they have gold in their possession (most of the time, they do not).
So I was very surprised one day when I was going through a Little Golden Book price guide in the bookstore and found a strange entry: Once Upon a Wintertime, an incredibly well-drawn and designed LGB based off of the animated short segment in Disney's 1948 feature MELODY TIME. What surprises me with this book (and the key to my tip-off) is the fact that the unsung hero of animation design, Tom Oreb, is credited here as adapting the story from the animated short. This would be the only account I know of Oreb doing an illustrated book. If you recall from my posts on TOOT, WHISTLE, PLUNK & BOOM and MELODY, Tom Oreb did character design at Disney for a few years before moving on to work on other projects (like commercials, for instance). Largely forgotten throughout the years, Oreb left his mark on Ward Kimball and the many artists who were lucky enough to work alongside him.
What is very curious to me in this book is that the characters look similar to Freddie Moore style characters -- Moore was working at the studio at the time, but is not listed on the credits. Also, the background stylings in the short look to me to be designed by Mary Blair -- or, at least they are greatly influenced by Blair. (Blair is given credit on MELODY TIME as "Color and Styling," so she probably did do them. For more info on the film's credits, go HERE.) So it's interesting to see Oreb conform to Moore-like characters and Blair-ish stylings. I'm thinking that Oreb might've been a bit frustrated to hold back, but overall, the book is very well illustrated and the colors are brilliant -- nice yellows and blues going on here.
Here are a couple of pages out of the book -- be sure to check out more in this Flickr photoset. Also, make sure you check out the larger versions of the two-page spreads -- there's so much detail going on, it'd be a shame to miss it all.
So! Bring on the illustrations:
What's unique here is that the book puts words to a story that is otherwise a word-less animated short. There's a song that's sung throughout it all, but the lyrics do not reflect the action going on.
In some early Little Golden Book editions (as well as many other books of the time) there would be pages that were printed in monochromatic tones, obviously an attempt to save on ink and printing costs. In this particular book, it's about half and half.
This is my favorite layout. So much going on with the dynamics here -- the trees, the river, the ice in the river, the drama being played out with Joe trying to save Jenny, the colors -- all of it comes together magnificently.
You can tell that someone with an animation background did the two images above. I love the one with Joe flying through the air. Also, the rope and lasso have a nice fluidity to it.
Overall, this book is a stand out from the usual Little Golden Book fare that was printed at that time. I really wished that Tom Oreb did more children books because he had a great knack for layout and character design. It's a shame that he did not pursue this line of work outside of his animation career. He could've forged new ground with his eye for design and color.
Again, go here for more images from this book. And if you dig this sort of thing, be sure to check out more mid-century children's book illustrations in The Retro Kid.