F O L K L O R E
C H I L D R E N S' B O O K S
P O E T R Y
It's the 100th birthday of Children's Book Week, sponsored by the Children’s Book Council. Children's Book Week is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the U.S. The Library of Congress celebrates the occasion with an online exhibit of one hundred old and rare children's books. Perri Klass gives a nice overview in her New York Times article. I'm so jealous of the Library of Congress rare books librarians who actually get to hold these books.
I consumed this collection (well, part of it) as if it was a box of chocolates. It's fun to imagine children's first encounters with these books in the days before television, etc.
The titles themselves are fascinating, including outlandishly long ones in early books, like this classic from publisher John Newbery.
A little pretty pocket-book : intended for the instruction and amusement of little Master Tommy, and pretty Miss Polly : with two letters from Jack the giant-killer, as also a ball and pincushion, the use of which will infallibly make Tommy a good boy, and Polly a good girl : to which is added, A little song-book, being a new attempt to teach children the use of the English alphabet, by way of diversion.
The illustrated primer, or, The first book for children : designed for home or parental instruction : embellished with numerous engravings, and pretty stories, which will please the children amazingly!
A reprint of Newbery's A Pretty Little Pocket Book is part of the Library of Congress collection. I've always wanted to read those two letters from Jack the giant-killer, and now I wish I hadn't. Jack the giant-killer became a prudish scold after his adventures were done. And that pincushion? It was designed to keep score of Polly's good and bad behavior.
Publishers appealed to adult book buyers and child readers by hiring the very best illustrators, or by creating novelty formats like Peter Newell's The Rocket Book (1912), which has an actual hole through each page marking the rocket's path upward through an apartment building. (Dr. Seuss was inspired by another of Peter Newell's cut-out capers, The Hole Book, which, like The Rocket Book, was written in rhyme.)
For easier reading, you can download a full replica of any of the books.
I am an author and folklorist based in Portland, Oregon.
Imagine That! How Dr. Seuss Wrote 'The Cat in the Hat"
(Random House, 2017). Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.
*Starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly and Kirkus.
The Great Dictionary Caper, illustrated by Eric Comstock (Paula Wiseman Books, Simon & Schuster, 2018)
**Starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist.
Wild About Books, illustrated by Marc Brown. (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2004). New York Times Bestseller, ALA Notable Book, and winner of the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award.