Children's Literature

Introduction | Island 1 | Island 2 | Island 3 | Island 4 | Island 5

Island 2: Travel, Folktales, and Nursery Stories

The romance of other lands

Although some early nineteenth-century parents and educators distrusted fairy tales, romantic geography and missionary narrative could claim to be "true" while still providing acceptable substitutes for imaginative stimulation. Shown here arePanorama of the East from Merrill's Pictorial Gallery (1852) and a tract The Indian Chief and the Little White Boy(undated, but probably 1840s).

Robinson Crusoe

The original on which much geographical adventure derived was Defoe's adult novel The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner (originally 1719). Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), political writer and novelist, had based his story on the true experience of a shipwrecked Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk; indeed, Defoe presented his novel as if it were non-fiction. Frequently reprinted for young readers (often in abridged form), Robinson Crusoe is displayed here in a mid-nineteenth-century American edition (Newburyport, 1856).

Rewriting Robinson Crusoe

The popularity of Defoe's novel as a book for children led to repeated attempts to correct what it would teach its readers. Joachim Henrich Campe (1746-1818), a German educationist, wrote his The New Robinson Crusoe(German original 1779-80) to bring Defoe into line with Rousseau's educational ideas; it is shown here in the English translation of 1789 (collection of Dr. Mary Jane Scott). Johann David Wyss (1743-1818), a Swiss pastor, added religious piety to the Rousseauian influence in his The Swiss Family Robinson (German original 1812-1813); first edited and translated for English readers by William and Mary Godwin in 1814, it was much added to and rewritten over the years and is shown here in an reprint from 1832.

Victorian Robinsonades

Unlike the early nineteenth-century Rousseauesque castaways, Victorian versions of the Crusoe story stressed adventure, manliness, and self-help. Well-known examples include Captain Marryat's reassuringly Evangelical Masterman Ready (1841-42). Shown here are R. M. Ballantyne's Coral Island (originally 1858, in an 1877 reprint) and an American version, Douglas Frazar's Perseverance Island or the Robinson Crusoe of the Nineteenth Century (Boston, 1889).

Reynard and the beast-fable

The oldest book in the current exhibition represents the continuity of children's stories over the centuries. Medieval beast-fables like the story of the treacherous fox Reynard, first printed by William Caxton in 1481, long remained a staple for younger readers. The edition shown here, The Most Delectable History of Reynard the Fox (London, 1701), has woodcut illustrations that may be still earlier.

Charles Dickens on fairy tales

Dickens was one of many Victorian commentators to criticize the well-meaning didacticism of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century children's books. In this article from his weekly magazine Household Words (3 December 1853), he waxes nostalgic for the educationally-incorrect fairy tales and nursery rhymes of his youth, such as Aladdin or Jack the Giant-Killer, distinguishing the delicious shudders of true imagination from the ersatz joys of the modern fairyland, Prince Albert's Crystal Palace instructively displaying the Industry of All Nations. Shortly after this article, he would begin his novel Hard Times about the conflict between fancy and utilitarian fact.

Slovenly Peter

The collection of cautionary poemsStruwwelpeter, written and illustrated by the German psychiatrist Heinrich Hoffmann (1809-1894), was first printed in English in Leipzig in 1848. Its zany, cruel threats (such as that of the Scissor-Man or the one here, of the girl who played with matches) took the moral tale over into fantasy, to the horror of contemporary critics but the delight of (some) children. Shown here is a Philadelphia reprint of 1853.

Peter Parley's Winter Evening Tales
Philadelphia, 1833.

This delightful little book with its copperplate titlepage and frontispiece shows a less forbidding side of S. G. Goodrich (1793-1860), the American children's author and publisher who originated the widely-pirated pseudonym 'Peter Parley.'

Nursery rhymes

The two books shown here represent the survival into the Victorian period of a huge corpus of traditional children's nursery rhymes.Mother Goose was first used as the generic title by John Newbery in 1791; displayed here is an 1871 reprint from New York with the verse set to music.

Victorian cards for family games

Reproductions of selected families and trade stereotypes from the popular Victorian card game,Happy Families.
Donated by Patrick Scott.

Cheap reprinting and nursery stories

The old stories got new life in cheap illustrated reprints such as these. Cinderella, "the most popular of all fairy stories," and Bluebeard, likeLittle Red Riding Hood, had first appeared in print in French in 1697, in the Contes of Charles Perrault (1628-1703). Aladdin or the Wonderful Lamp, from theArabian Nights, had also first been published in French in the early eighteenth century, but it does not appear in Arabic versions and may be an original composition by the French orientalist Antoine Galland.

Series reprinting and nursery stories

This reprint series, Hewet's Illuminated Household Stories for Little Folks (New York, 1855), reassured parental purchasers that "the marvellous deeds" in these stories were "strictly in accordance with ethical laws." Displayed here is the illustrated cover to volume V, Jack and the Beanstalk, a story first published in English as "Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean" in 1734.

"Three Little Kittens" and other stories from Mama Lovechild's Series

This colorful large-format reprint series was issued by the American toy and game publisher, McLoughlin Brothers of New York, probably in the 1850's. The same publisher's other series included the twelve-part Aunt Fanny's Fairy Tales, eleven titles of Mrs. Hale's JuvenilesMammoth Colored Toy Books at 12 cents, theMiss Merry-Heart Series offering Robinson Crusoe at a mere 8 cents, and Uncle Frank's with Jack Sprat or a Funny Alphabet for only 4 cents a title, colored.

A Victorian Christmas gift

This beautiful fan-fold illustrated Cinderella was published, along with a new versification of the story by Robert Willis, as The Children's Christmas Annual for 1869. The larger image has been modified to show all of the colored illustrations.

A pop-up Little Red Riding Hood

This delightful French edition, Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (Paris: Guerrin, 1881), uses not the French version by Perrault but a French translation of the Brothers Grimm's German version. There are eight three-part pop-up scenes, but the very thin paper used (to save space in the binding) made this book far too vulnerable for repeated child use.
Chapin Rogers Collection.

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