The early 70’s edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica was a three stage rocket of concentrated knowledge. The base stage was the sturdy brown and gilt edifice we all know, and remember fondly as it fades into its new role reinforcing the foundations of used bookstores the world over. The second stage was the crimson leather bound Junior edition, the starch and fibre of a million middle school book reports. The final stage was the now nearly forgotten toddler edition – “The First Adventure in Learning Program” (See a vintage ad of the whole set here.)
They where co-produced with the Golden Press folk, which goes a long way to explain their graphic excellence. At first blush, what impresses is the serial design – amazing palette, spare but strong unifying compositions and type. And a totally killer logo – the thick-lined little birdie wearing a mortarboard. But they really blow your noggin when you grok the distinct styles and nuances of the illustrations. No surprise – the volumes were illustrated by a veritable who’s who of classic kid art – Joe Kaufman, Trina Schart, JP Miller, Dagmar Wilson, June Goldsborough, Caraway, and Art Seiden. (Another post will cover the inside art of the volumes, which is just as good)
The series grouped knowledge around experiential themes like math, comprehension, metrics, etc… one, though, was much more profound – “The Magic of Everyday Things.” Basically it was a kid manifesto for the idea you can discern art, beauty, and coolness in just about anything, provided you’re receptive, enthusiastic and imaginative enough to try. An insight for a lifetime, and when I think about how long I marinated in these books as a squeaker, I figure I owe them a mighty debt. Take a bow little mortarboard birdie!