Once Upon a Wintertime

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).

Once Upon A Wintertime

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:

Once Upon A Wintertime: Peeking out
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.

Once Upon A Wintertime: Away they go

Once Upon A Wintertime: Skating

Once Upon A Wintertime: Fallen Jenny
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.

Once Upon A Wintertime: Rescue attempt
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.

Once Upon A Wintertime: Oh my!

Once Upon A Wintertime: Missed
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.

Once Upon A Wintertime: Aftermath

Once Upon A Wintertime: end page

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.


  1. Great stuff. Truly 'golden.' Despite not doing much illustration lately, I sure enjoy seeing this stuff Ward!

  2. What a beauty! I want a Ward-O-Matic library card. I guess access to your flickr stream is the next best thing :-)

  3. Beautiful trees. Thick, whipped snow. Amazing movement in that coooooold river with all of the broken ice! It's so fun to look at!

    I'm always amazed by the confidence evident in the simple strokes of this kind of work. It looks so easy, but it's not.

    What a cool find.

  4. Lovely stuff Ward. Thanks for taking the time to scan this book in. I first found out about it when Tom Oreb's sister showed me a copy of the book. Apparently it had been Tom's own copy of the book. Wish I had more behind-the-scenes details to add about this book, but I think the pictures speak quite well for themselves.

  5. Beautiful work. Early Little Golden Books seemed to have their own style in a way. Gustaf Tenggren's books are beautiful, as well. Thank you for sharing this one with us.

  6. Thank you for posting ... as a child i saw and treasured these books and appreciated them as i do now, again, thru your generosity. The art is in itself amazing as yours is also.


  7. Beautiful. : )
    Thanks for posting this!

  8. Very awesome post, Ward--

    Tom Oreb never fails to impress.
    That's a beautiful book--thanks for posting!

  9. omg, i use to love this cartoon on disney! the cute little couple would skate and make hearts on the ice and then the little bunnies and all the other little woodland creatures would be all around. it got pritty hairy at the end with the breaking of the ice (i can still remember that crazy sound the ice made when it was breaking-kinda sounded like a very sick duck) but all in the end everyone was safe and back in their little picture frame. it was such a cute little story. thanks for sharing and i didnt know it was a book before the short. you learn something new everyday, thanks :)

  10. Oh - I love these old Golden books. I'm also a pick collector...um, just what my mom has saved from my childhood :-) I'm reading them now to my daughter and loving the illustrations. This one looks wonderful.

  11. I remember that animated short so vividly...it gaves me nightmares! I was sucked into the river with the poor girl, and we swirled around and around on the ice, about to go over the waterfall. *sigh* Thankfully, I always woke up before that happened. I have to tell you I gasped with delight when your page loaded and this little beauty was sitting there. Lucky you!

  12. I agree about the book. I have an origianl copy from when I was a child. Its not in tip top shape but is still bound and has all the pages and covers. I have this one and a lot of others from the 50s.

  13. Thanks so much for posting the pages of this book. I'm in my 50's and it has haunted me for years. Just recently I looked at a frozen stream beginning to thaw and wondered about the story- I remembered Jenny getting onto the dangerous ice and floating away but had no memory of the ending of the story. The last I saw of the book was probably in the late 1950's when my family moved and a lot of our toys were thrown out and given away. I feel as though I found a piece of me that was lost. Thanks again.

  14. Do u have mp3 or video song "Once upon a wintertime" ? Thank 4 entry

  15. Thanks for posting the pages of this book. My memory of it stuck with me through the years. The funny thing is that I was sure my book had a page showing a "Danger Thin Ice" sign which is absent here. Could I have imagined it, or did I have a different version of the story?

  16. Phyllis, no, you did not imagine it. There is, indeed, a page with the girl skating on the ice and a sign that says "Danger Thin Ice". I didn't scan in the entire book -- I only picked the pages & spreads that really struck a chord with me here, visually.