Learning About Big Little Books

What Are Big Little Books?

In 1932 the seemingly paradoxical term Big Little Book® was given to certain books published by the Whitman Publishing Company of Racine, Wisconsin. The term promised the buyer a great amount of reading material and pleasure (BIG) within a small and compact (LITTLE) book. These Whitman books set the standards for similar books, and Whitman's copyrighted description has become popularized in a generic way to umbrella similar books.Dick Tracy


The various publishing companies that produced BLB-type books were: Dell (Cartoon Story Books® and Fast-Action Stories®); Engel-van Wiseman (Five-Star Library Books®); Fawcett (Dime Action Books®); Goldsmith (Radio Star Series®); Lynn (A Lynn Book®); Ottenheimer; Saalfield (Little Big Books® and Jumbo Books®); Waldman (Moby Books®); Whitman (Big Little Books® and Better Little Books®); World Syndicate (High Lights of History Series®). In addition, a few premiums and other peripherally related items include: Ice Cream Cup Lid Books; Top Ten Books; Wee Little Books; Penny Books; Nickle Books; Karmetz and Perkins Books; Big Big Books®; puzzles; cards; and so on.

The Whitman BLBs look much like a four-inch block sawed off the end of a two-by-four. Although there were numerous variations in outside dimensions and in number of pages, most were 3 5/8" x 4 1/2" x 1 1/2" in size and 432 pages in length. The outstanding feature of the books was the captioned picture opposite each page of text. The books originally sold for a dime (later 15¢). Many children learned to read and have an appreciation for all books because of their experiences with BLBs. The source material for the books was drawn mostly from radio, comic strips, and motion pictures.

The first BLB, The Adventures of Dick Tracy, came off the presses just before Christmas in 1932. It preceded the first true comic book by a year, and the subsequent BLB production spanned more than a half century. Within the span, there are historical patterns which clearly define three major periods of publication.

The Golden Age (1932 to mid-1938) is a description reserved for the most interesting, influential, and memorable production of the books. These were the true Big Little Books®. During this period, the effects of the depression were still being felt, and numerous publishers besides Whitman produced inexpensive BLB-type reading materials of great variety. In mid-1938 the two major companies, Whitman and Saalfield, made major changes in their trademarks (Whitman's Big Little Books® became Better Little Books® and Saalfield's Little Big Books® became Jumbo Books®).

The Silver Age (mid-1938 to 1949) produced a less innovative set of books. Their production was influenced by the growing comic book market and paper shortages during WWII. The number of competitive companies diminished. Only Whitman maintained a continuous output of books through the war years. It used the "flip-it" feature extensively to attract buyers, and as these years went by, the books gradually contained fewer and fewer pages. In 1949, the last Better Little Book®, Little Orphan Annie and the Ancient Treasure of Am (288 pages) was published.

The Modern Age (1950 to the present) is characterized by more than 40 years of sporadic and short-lived attempts to revive the books in different forms and with different content: New Better Little Books® (1949-50); BLB TV Series® (1958); the hard cover 2000-Series (1967-68); the soft cover 5700-Series (1973-present). During this period, Whitman became subsumed under the auspices of the Western Publishing Company.

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