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Real Books

The timeless cover design of a Real BookSure, I was fortunate to be born in 1959, missing out on that Vietnam mess. But, on the other hand, I also missed out on Howdy Doody. But I did grow up absorbing lots of wonderful knowledge from a series of books written during the Eisenhower era, their printed form assuring that they would last long enough to entertain millions of kids born after that decade.

The books were called Real Books. They were published by the Garden City Publishing Company. There was a Garden City, Kansas located not too far from where I lived, and I always assumed that Real Books came from there. Not true. Here's Wikipedia's info on the firm: "Garden City's books were primarily reprints of books first offered by Doubleday, printed from the original plates but on less expensive paper. It was named for the village on New York's Long Island in which Doubleday was long headquartered (until 1986)."

I guess that's why so many homes in the 60's had Real Books: our thrifty parents knew a good deal when they saw one.

I remember reading the wonderful tomes over and over again. I recall the Real Book about Baseball. The book's author was one Lyman Hopkins. He wrote in a very humorous manner, reminding me of Joe Garagiola's Baseball Is a Funny Game. He particularly loved recalling the antics of Babe Herman, a talented but klutzy ballplayer of the thirties.

Other Real Books on my shelf included Explorers, Tall Tales, Andrew Jackson, Gold, Camping, The Wild West, and Amazing Scientific Facts. That last one was a particular favorite of mine.

Real Books would often accompany me in my back seat while we traveled up to Iowa or down to Texas every year to visit the two sets of grandparents. They seemed to get better with each reading.

The books were accompanied by some well-done penned illustrations, too. And the large type was friendly to a kid. I could read an entire Real Book in a rainy weekend.

When I came home from kindergaten that day Mrs. Abels taught me to read, I attacked those Real Books like a panther. I had long been enticed by the pictures, but I was dying to know the words.

However, having conquered the Real Book about American Tall Tales the night before, it was difficult to go to class the next day to read "See Spot. See Spot run. Run, Spot, run!" without a derisive six-year-old eyeroll.

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