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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The History of Children's Books

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 03, 2008

 

Public libraries constructed before 1900 likely did not have a Children's Library as part of the original layout.

 

Our Carnegie Building, opened in 1902, contained a few shelves of "children's literature" according to the drawings; and they were placed on the top shelves of the South Reading Room.

 

Didn't children read before 1900?

 

Well, no, not according the many early public libraries, and one in particular who claimed that, "children should not be reading before the third grade in school."

 

The earliest American books written for children are credited to the Puritans.

 

"The New England Primer" was written about 1690 by Benjamin Harris and contained an alphabet, rules for behavior, and stories of martyrs.

 

About the same time, John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" was written about man's struggle to get into heaven.

 

An adapted version for children featured the stories of the action-filled travels in the book.

 

In 1697, "Tales of Mother Goose" by Charles Perrault made its appearance in France, with eight fairy tales.

 

In England around 1720, two books were written for both the adult and children's audience; "Robinson Crusoe" by Daniel Defoe, and "Gulliver's travels" by Jonathan Swift.

 

The rest of the 1700s and 1800s found an emergence of fairy tales and folk stories to entertain children, including Grimm's tales and Jacob's tales.

 

Some of the children's books of the 1800s would today be considered adult novels, including Louisa May Alcott's books and Robert Louis Stevenson's writings.

 

A real breakthrough took place in 1865 with the publication of "Alice's adventures in wonderland" followed by "Through the Looking-Glass" six years later; both the work of Lewis Carroll.

 

This is considered to be one of the first books written specifically for children.

 

Pen illustrations were supplemented by color prints in children's books of the 1800s.

 

One of the first modern children's picture books was "The tale of Peter Rabbit" by author/illustrator Beatrix Potter in 1901.

 

The next addition to children's literature took place in 1921 with the publication of "The story of mankind" by Hendrik van Loon, considered the first book of nonfiction written for children.

 

The Library School in Pittsburgh was the first to offer degrees for Children's Librarians in the early 1900s.

 

Into the 20th Century, public libraries began expanding their Children's collections to meet the interest and demand to help young people develop a reading habit for their lifetime.

 

Even with the age of the Internet and computers, the skill of reading is essential for a life experience.