By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — From the “Poky Little Puppy” to the “Little Red Caboose,” many Minnesotans grew up with Little Golden Books.

As we got older, the books were put in attics or simply disappeared. But one woman is proving that they still stand the test of time.

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There is no shortage of rhyme and reason in Ellen Radel’s Willmar home. She is not unlike other people who plan on reading more when they retire.

But as Radel opens up a new chapter in her life, she is taking that goal to another level.

“I thought, ‘What am I going to do? I don’t have any hobbies. I know more people in Marshall than I know in Willmar,'” Radel said.

As a professor at Southwest State in Marshall, Radel was driving more than an hour to work every day. So one afternoon, as her career was winding down, she pulled a random box out of the attic and found a childhood treasure buried inside.

Ellen Radel (credit: CBS)

“And I was kind of looking through them and I thought, ‘These are so sweet and so neat, I wonder how many Golden Books there are?'” Radel said.

It was that day that she decided her golden age purpose would be Little Golden Books. Radel and her husband began going to thrift stores, antique shops, church and rummage sales, trying to grow her collection. And she got a history lesson along the way.

There was a paper shortage during the war effort, so the books were cut down to 28 pages, and the price was cut down to 25 cents.

The binding back then was blue, not gold — but the books were being bought almost as soon as they were printed.

“In five months they sold over a million-and-a-half copies of books,” Radel said.

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As the years went by, the collection grew, and Walt Disney and others got in on the act. And thanks to dozens of creative authors and artists, there are now nearly 1,400 books.

Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck joined Mother Goose and the Little Red Hen. And Radel thinks Little Golden Books eventually learned a lesson from their own lessons.

By the 1970s, the books finally began to feature women and people of color.

“The values are be nice to people, be friendly, share your stuff. do the right thing,” Radel said.

(credit: CBS)

Lessons that she is determined to pass down to her grandkids. She travels and speaks to other grandparents about the importance of keeping those life lessons alive and well.

“Because these are the kinds of things that keep us more together, or neighborly, or emotionally friendly to each other,” said her son, Chris Radel.

With more than 1,000 Little Golden Books on hand, Radel’s home has become a house of fairy tales. Her collection is one of the biggest in the Midwest.

They are nostalgic for older generations, and eye opening for younger ones.

“And it’s that time you spend with that child that you are reading the book, you’re not just throwing it at them saying, ‘Go read this.’ You’re saying, ‘You are this important that I’m going to spend my time reading with you,'” Radel said.

The books were originally printed in Racine, Wisconsin, and the city’s library has the largest public display of Little Golden Books.

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Radel will be speaking at the Wabasso Public Library in March. If you would like more information about her collection, you can email her at

John Lauritsen