Chapter 7: books for children
The titles of the earliest American books for children sufficiently indicate their sole intention.
John Cotton's Milk for Babes, drawn out of the breast of both Testaments
, published in London
in 1646, was reprinted in Massachusetts
ten years later as Spiritual milk for Boston Babes in either England
in 1700 revised an English book and issued it with the title A Token for the Children of New-England.
Or Some Examples of Children to whom the Fear of God was Remarkably Budding, before they Dyed
. In these books and the few others of early times the child was not recognized to have any individual needs or even an undeveloped mentality.
The famous and very widely read New England Primer
(c. 1690) was the first book to add elementary teaching, but its character still remained entirely religious.
It sought, however, to be more attractive than earlier school books and employed illustrations; and it no doubt succeeded in exhilarating children whose sole portion had been drowsy sermons.
About midway in the eighteenth century, the desire to furnish amusement together with instruction, religious or mundane, ventured to show its head in reckless juveniles which came chiefly from the London shop
of John Newbery
But it required half a century to convince parents that the combination was not pernicious—even parents who were allowing their children to read abridged editions of Clarissa
and Tom Jones
as well as Moll Flanders
As for the meagre American product, even The children's magazine
, 1789) made almost no attempt to approach the child's level.
In Noah Webster
's Spelling Book
(1783), eight short illustrated fables formed the only concession to childish interest.
The solitary instance
of the amusement book proper was Songs for the nursery
, an edition of Mother Goose
published in Boston
some seventy years before; and it remained solitary for almost as many to come.
By 800, however, the somewhat more humanized instruction of Mrs. Barbauld
and Mrs. Trimmer
and Miss Edgeworth
and Miss More had crossed the water.
Home production arose through the desire for suitable Sunday reading.
Our first juvenile books were by preachers or their maiden relatives.
The Rev. Henry Ware
asked Miss Sedgwick
in 1834, at the height of her popularity, for narratives ‘between a tale and a tract, which should provide illustrations of Christianity.’
The demands of her audience may be guessed from a letter entreating her to change a game of marbles to kite-flying, ‘because marbles are immoral as by betting they involve an appeal to God.’
This is perhaps an extreme application of the prescription of the Sunday School Union that their tales must avoid ‘even the most indirect insinuation of anything which can militate against the strictest ideas of propriety.’
But the services of an educated and practiced writer like Miss Sedgwick
Most of the earlier books were controversial; ignorant authoresses prattled of theology as glibly as their heroines declaimed their religious experiences.
At first in great demand, the strongly sectarian books began to give way; the Sunday School Union itself was tending to break down sect distinctions, and the publishers complained that dogmatic preachings limited their sales.
At a much later period those books grew in favour which had the least direct religious teaching, until finally the Sunday School library, designed to instruct, remained only to allure; and at the end of the nineteenth century the old-fashioned Sunday School book had happily vanished.
Down to the decade 1880-90, however, it still sold in enormous quantities; and its influence for three generations had been as morbid as it was weighty.
These books presented parodies of child-life in Edgeworthian contrast.
There was a spiritually faultless but organically feeble child who died after converting someone during a gasping illness, and there was a more healthy but worldly companion who refused to attend Sunday School and lived to a miserable end. In the long line of authors of these books, the two prime offenders demand
mention not so much for the greater bulk of their sins as for their greater popularity.
under the pen name of Elizabeth Wetherell
published her two chief stories The wide wide world
in 1850 and Queechy
Both were phenomenally successful and widely translated.
Their heroines when not undergoing brutal treatment for their aggressive rectitude are confidently flirtatious.
But Miss Warner
, as she showed elsewhere than in these tear-drenched pages, had simple tenderness and charm.
Her successor had little of either, and even more of religious self-consciousness and effusive sentimentality.
Yet in the Elsie
books Martha Finley
(1828-1909) attained an even longer popularity.
With her the ‘ministering child’ reached a burlesque of itself; Elsie Dinsmore
, who begins the long series as an infant and ends it as a grandmother, made all previous prigs appear reticent and recreant.
With Mrs. A. D. T. Whitney
(1824-1906) the latest phase of the impulse, though not escaping sentimentality and self-righteousness, steered a middle course.
Her many popular books, notably Faith Gartney's girlhood
(1863), continue to be widely read and possess an endearing quality which her predecessors forfeited by their obviousness.
Hardly Sunday School books and yet chiefly the product of the same strong religious purpose are Mrs. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward
's even more naturalistic infantiles and juveniles.
They show the girl prig on the decided decline.
The early writers of Sunday School literature, who alone were doing native work, are nameless now; but the decade 1830-40 brought forward our first group of juvenile authors, who, though they all assisted in supplying the Sunday School trade, wrote also for children much that was not intended to meet it specifically.
Five were women, who wrote for girls; and two were men, who wrote for both sexes but rather for boys.
Unlike the men, the women had already attained much contemporary fame.
Mrs. Sarah J. Hale
and Miss Eliza Leslie
were popular magazinists and editors; Mrs. Sigourney
was called the American Mrs. Hemans
and read in every home; critics disputed whether our most important woman writer was Mrs. Child2
or Miss Sedgwick
The children's stories
and verse of Mrs. Sigourney
have disappeared, as have Mrs. Hale
's with the exception of one nursery rhyme.
The merit in the others' popular work failed to compensate for their old-fashioned style in a later day. Miss Leslie
brightly narrated simple incidents unusually free from sanctimoniousness.
was less direct and simple, but her books are still extant.
Their ample preaching never loses sight of the story; and as this is a good one, she headed the list of favourites in the annual report of the New York City library in 1847, with Dana
's Two years before the Mast
But as Miss Sedgwick
herself preferred Hume
at the age of eight, it is not surprising that her children's stories have a somewhat adult tone.
So do those of Mrs. Child
, who was devouring Milton
Her magazine, Juvenile miscellany
, established in 1827, continued for eight years, and was snuffed out at the height of its popularity by Boston
's disapproval of her conversion to Anti-Slavery.
It is a landmark in the history of juvenile writing.
Even more important is The youth's companion
, established the same year by Nathaniel Willis
, father of N. P. Willis
may perhaps serve to illustrate the changing view.
Taking a hint from the perseverance with which death had been dangled before the eyes of Puritan children, it exiled the word from its pages, which distribute lively and wholesome entertainment to the present day. However stilted the work of these decades may now appear, it had unprecedented humanity and naturalness; and the children of Miss Leslie
, Miss Sedgwick
, and Mrs. Child
at their worst were never the puppets of the sensible Miss Edgeworth
, and at their best had charm.
's tribute to Mrs. Child
in her New England girlhood
may be bestowed upon all these writers: ‘I have always been glad that I could tell her how happy she had helped to make my girlhood.’
A far more powerful influence, however, came from the two men. These were Samuel Griswold Goodrich
(1793-1860) and Jacob Abbott
(1803-79). The son of a clergyman, Goodrich
set out with a theory and an admiration for the method of Miss Hannah More.
‘Could not history, natural history, geography, biography, become the elements of juvenile works in place of fairies and giants and mere monsters of the
The hero of his first book accompanies an informed adult through America
, meets with adventures, sees historical places.
His books soon succumbed to their purpose and lost fictional interest, but seven millions of them were sold before detailed description palled.
He wrote or edited one hundred and twenty books; and his pseudonym Peter Parley was stolen by many imitators, especially in England
He did a very important work in simplifying information books for children; and Parley's magazine
, which he conducted for nine years, and also the chief juvenile annual, which he edited, contributed to create opportunity for and to popularize children's writing.
kept his heroes in their New England
home, busying them only with rambles and picnics in woods and fields.
A professor of mathematics, he had an appreciation of fact even more imperious than his rival's, and almost equalled him in fecundity.
From 1832 until his death in 1879 he was exhaustless in quantity if not in invention.
, and Franconia
books provide simple pictures of cheerful children, but place main emphasis upon dispensing information on all subjects about which curious youngsters may pester their parents.
Beechnut, the village encyclopedia in the Franconia
books, is an original creation, life-like if omniscient; but although Abbott
in his other series has similar vehicular youthful prodigies, they are wooden.
The voluminous information of the Rollo
books and the rest made convenient burlesque in later generations, but Abbott
's work had conspicuous common sense; and in pre-homeopathic days his sugar-coated pills were extraordinarily popular.
Both of these men naively indicated that their purpose was not primarily fictional.
About their work, Gulian Verplanck
, editing The fairy Book
, was as testy as Charles Lamb
with Mrs. Barbauld
and Mrs. Trimmer
. ‘Dismal trash all of them!’
‘Something half-way between stupid story-books and bad school-books; being so ingeniously written as to be unfit for any useful purpose in the school and too dull for any entertainment out of it.’
But Peter Parley had much naturalness of style in contrast with earlier stiffness, and Abbott
showed genuine lightness of touch.
Their enormous sales prove their attractiveness; and Noah Brooks
, himself an important juvenile writer, has recorded
that, however tame they seemed later, they were thrilling in interest compared with all previous juveniles.
Although before the end of the nineteenth century America
was to lead the world in its special literature for children, the chief authors of the first half of the century did not intentionally contribute to it. Cooper
bequeathed to a later generation the Indian
, the Yankee Trader
, and the Scout
; but neither he nor Irving5
in Sleepy Hollow
and Rip Van Winkle
, nor Dana
in the book that still remains one of the most popular with boys,6
wrote directly for them.
Nor (except occasionally) did Mrs. Stowe
whose Uncle Tom's cabin
is now almost exclusively a juvenile.
The one author of general fame who did so was Hawthorne
His Grandfather's chair
, Wonder Book
, and Tanglewood tales
have among children's books as high rank as his other work has in the adult field, and are certainly more widely read.
He tells the Greek myths in a happy and paternal spirit, as he does numerous legends of New England
; and his style has its usual distinction.
With the advent of several excellent magazines for children, sheltered by established publishers and commanding their writers, the literary attitude began to change.
‘Some of my friends,’ Isaac Watts
had written, ‘imagine that my time is employed in too mean a service while I write for babes’; and down to the middle of the nineteenth century critics still mistook juvenile books for puerile books.
The time was approaching when two editors of the austere Atlantic monthly
and Horace Scudder
, would think writing for children not unworthy of their accomplished pens, and the editor of the massive North American review
, Charles Eliot Norton
, would edit also a boy's library.
It was perceived that simplicity need not be inane, and that to entertain children without enfeebling their intellect or stultifying their sentiment afforded scope for mature skill and judgment.
Our young Folks
, published by Ticknor
and Fields (about 1865), enlisted Mrs. Stowe
, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
, E. E. Hale
, Rose Terry Cook
It was edited by J. T. Trowbridge
, Gail Hamilton
, and Lucy Larcom
; and later was merged into St. Nicholas
, edited by Mrs. Mary Mapes Dodge
(1838-96). With these magazines a new era begins.
The notable success of the period was made, however, by one whose work for adults was only mediocre.
Louisa M. Alcott
(1832-88) was asked by a publisher in 1867 for a girl's book, and began her task reluctantly.
But wisely deciding not to write down, she merely spoke out, with no more than the pleasant moralizing of the Alcott household, her youthful memories.
Out of the incidents of her own girlhood she constructed Little women
(1868), and its abiding charm lies in its atmosphere of real life and its real portraits.
It at once gained the heights of popularity and was translated into many languages.
The public kept demanding other stories; and An Old-Fashioned Girl (1869), Little Men
(1871), Eight Cousins
(1874), Rose in Bloom
(1876), and Under the Lilacs
(1878) were almost as popular and as meritorious.
Some of these were written for St. Nicholas
, in which Mrs. Mary Mapes Dodge
was nearly equalling her achievement.
The two books which next to Miss Alcott
's have the most assured position are Mrs. Dodge
's Hans Brinker
(1865) and Donald and Dorothy
(1883). The former still remains the best story about Holland
, and was awarded a prize by the French Academy; the latter runs it close for naturalness and interest.
A little later these artistic successes were matched by Betty Leicester
of Sarah Orne Jewett
whose work for young people has the charm and distinction of her short stories for adults.
became in itself a library of choice literature for children, and many of the books which this chapter mentions appeared there.
It encouraged writers for younger children also, and there were now some magazines devoted to them alone.
For them Rebecca Clarke
(1833-1906) had already written much, under the name of Sophie May
. The Little Prudy
and Dotty Dimple
books have quaintness and tenderness, but, as with most of the writers of her time, grow thinner as their series lengthen.
These and Margaret Sidney
's Little Pepper
stories are standard achievements in infantile writing.
books of Sarah Woolsey
, under the name
of Susan Coolidge
, have a similar excellence for children somewhat older, but also outlast their material.
When the object of juvenile writing became, in the sixties, wholesome amusement rather than instruction, a result at once evident was that far more books were written for boys than for girls.
‘Simple, lively books for girls are much needed,’ wrote Miss Alcott
in her journal; and seemed to fear that her liveliness was more suitable for the youthful male.
Women apparently combated more than men the idea that mere entertainment was harmless.
But the respectable of the sterner sex so shared it at first that it was seized upon only by the concoctors of lurid melodrama, shameless persons who hid under such pseudonyms as ‘Nick Carter
A rage for these dime dreadfuls swept the country, and perhaps it was the tardy desire not ‘to leave all the good tunes to the devil’ which energized the next group of writers for boys.
Some of them at any rate were ministers, and the books of others were still too much under the compulsion of preaching, even if by story rather than by precept.
Chief among these writers (who wrote solely for children) were Elijah Kellogg 10
(1813-1900), William Taylor Adams
(1822-97), and Horatio Alger, Jr.
(1832-99). Their careers began about 1860.
's several series of stories of Maine
deal with the adventures of fishermen and farmers.
Though more carefully written than were the other two, they have no merit of literary form beyond the great one of telling a straightforward story unimpeded by inessentials, but their pictures of a sturdy and rugged people are vivid and unaffected.
Pictures of equal local value and interest F. R. Goulding
was giving at the same time in stories of boy-life on the Southern
The young Marooners
(1852) has decided merit.
's pseudonym, ‘Oliver Optic,’ speedily became as profitable as Goodrich
's, and it also was placed at the head of a magazine.
He wrote over one hundred volumes besides innumerable short stories, and their popularity has never since been equalled.
Principal of a public school and Sunday School superintendent, he lived to hear his books called trashy by a more exacting age. Their style is, it is true, slovenly, and their smart heroes are given to cheap declamation; but their material
is all clean, effective, and interesting.
The Starry flag
, Soldier boy
, and Young America
series merited the delight of two generations of boys.
Horatio Alger, Jr.
, once a Unitarian minister, wrote seventy volumes, most of their titles summoning apt alliteration's artful aid. They told of bootblacks and newsboys, from systematic personal observation in the streets of New York City.
His simple and invariable formula scored— by pluck and perseverance his hero rose single-handed to fame and fortune.
The books of all three writers aroused admiration for sterling qualities; but the more sophisticated boys of a later generation began to complain that the Optic and Alger books were all alike, and conscientious librarians began to see that in them the element of luck was overemphasized.
Two other writers grew very popular before the trend at the close of the century toward the study of adolescent psychology and adolescent citizenship discovered something pernicious in action unaccompanied by reflection and analysis.
These were Harry Castlemon
and Edward S. Ellis
The former revelled in exciting and incredible adventures upon unrecognizable frontiers, and the latter yarned blithely of hunting and Indians without a thought of preparing boys for social service.
Meanwhile, writers more serious in purpose had been following the historical and biographical trail of Goodrich
, bringing to it more literary nicety and greater research.
An early contemporary of the two had been John Frost
(1800– 59), a forgotten schoolmaster whose one hundred juveniles sold by the ton in his day and were republished as late as 1890.
(Jacob's brother), followed by James Parton
, Elbridge Brooks
, E. E. Hale
, and Hezekiah Butterworth
, made important contributions to the new department of biography for children.
These and other writers, among them Edward Eggleston11
and George Cary Eggleston
, began also to combine history and fiction so well that the reader did not know where one left off and the other began.
This species they developed more successfully than did their extremely popular English rivals, Henty
and his school.
Their fiction was more credible and their background more accurate.
Charles Carleton Coffin
's historical series from colonial times to the close of the
Civil War present in story form perhaps the best short histories of the campaigns they cover; Noah Brooks
's Boy Emigrants
exhibits frontier life accurately; John Bennett
's Master Skylark
belongs to the highest type of historical juvenile.
The informational path trod first by Goodrich
grew to be the main road for future juveniles.
Today the How to make
books are perhaps the most distinctive, as they are among the best-selling.
What probably remains the most distinguished treatment for young children of foreign life and scenes and of nature was given by Jane Andrews
(1833-87) in her Seven little sisters
(1861) and Stories mother nature told
She was the pioneer of the great crowd of present-day nature writers for children and still compares in dignity and interest of treatment with all her successors.
Of these, those who steer warily between the scientific and lifeless and the sentimental and the superficial are still living.
In less philosophical or imaginative setting, the books of actual adventure by Paul du Chaillu
The revolt from Goodrich
took not only the form of stories of unmixed action but also of the novel assertion that innocent pranks are a legitimate subject for children's books.
These J. T. Trowbridge
(1827-1916) and James Otis Kaler
(1846– ), authors respectively of the delightful Cudjo's Cave
(1864) and Toby Tyler
(1867), ventured to exploit with no uneasy eye on the moral effect.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich12
made a notable success artistic as well as popular with his Story of a bad boy
A semi-idealized record of his own New England
childhood, its only intention was to record zestfully what had really been the life of a boy engaged in no adventurous actions other than ordinary escapades.
It was a departure when published in 1869. A half-dozen years later appeared another masterpiece of pranks regarded at the time as by no means innocent.
(1876) and its sequel Huckleberry Finn
(1884), by Samuel L. Clemens
raised a tempest in the cambric-teapot world and are even yet looked at askance in some children's libraries.
But in spite of moralists they immediately took the foremost place as stories of the American
boy, and in a surprisingly short while became world classics.
They are not explicitly treated as boy's stories
throughout, and in each are description and social observation beyond the appreciation of young readers; yet they have doubtless never failed with boy as with man to reap the highest triumph possible to fiction, the reader's recognition of his own psychology and temperament.
The general unimprovingness of both of these books was balanced, for moralists, by the excess of serious purpose in the author's third book for young people, The Prince and the Pauper
(1882). It is an impressive panorama of splendid scenes of ancient legal and royal cruelty.
The distinct Americanism
, so noteworthy in Mark Twain
, was an important characteristic of American juveniles from the beginning.
In the school-readers after the Revolution were most naive attempts to enshrine patriotism with the other virtues.
Indeed, it was the impatience that children began to manifest at forever reading books with unfamiliar local colour which turned the attention of writers to this hitherto neglected branch of literature.
‘Our Sabbath School library books were nearly all English reprints and most of our every-day reading came to us from over the sea,’ wrote Lucy Larcom
and the women of the thirties no longer talk of English flowers and birds.
took his boy heroes abroad, their comments were often aggressively American; and it is amusing to see that though he censured the horrors of giants for sensitive children he revelled in Indian atrocities.
was particularly praised by the North American
for her native atmosphere and incidents, when children's books were all following the English
Since the Civil War
historical juveniles have covered every phase of national development.
It has, indeed, several times been observed that one can get more of American life from the juvenile than from the adult fiction of the period.
To a large extent, this is implicit in the problem of interesting children.
's Grandfather's chair
, points out Horace Scudder
, discussing the art of writing for them to which he so greatly contributed, is more actual than even The Blithedale romance
Just as markedly American have been the spiritual characteristics of American juveniles.
‘Those English children had to be so prim and methodical,’ wrote Lucy Larcom
, ‘they were never allowed to romp and run wild.’
The growing independence of American children appeared in the successive
books written to appeal to them.
Parents and guardians, so important in English books, figure very little.
In the most popular books, boys and girls are thrown on the world or leave home to seek their fortunes or have adult responsibilities.
The reforming child was an American creation and persevered in America
some time after she had been happily throttled in England
; and her strenuosity was even more offensive because of the lack of grown — up authority.
American book-children are always the king-pins of their households as well as of their stories, and often their sagacious ability is thrown into relief by weak-minded parents.
recorded that innumerable letters from her child admirers forced her to provide a wedding for her first heroine.
It cannot be denied that all this reflects the attitude of American life.
Also, one may gather from children's stories—with less misgiving—that the United States
evinced in the first half of the century more interest in education than did any other country and in the second half more interest in the analytic study of child-life by reason of an earlier appropriation of the kindergarten theory.
On account of this interest, the moral and the educational as leading features were suppressed sooner.
As the growing psychological study of the child demanded that his initiative be unhampered by patterns, so his pranks began to be recorded, as more personal (as well as more interesting) than his good behaviour.
Finally, it may be said that because of this kindergarten impulse more conscientious, intelligent work has been done in American writing for children than has been the case elsewhere.
But in one way, equally characteristic of the American
temperament and American adult literature, children's writers have lagged behind the European
In the domain of pure fancy very little has been accomplished.
As the century entered its closing decades protests were heard against the prevailing realism, and appeals for the restoration of those idealistic qualities which enkindle the child's imagination elsewhere.
In fairy tales, Frank R. Stockton14
stands almost alone in having done any considerable quantity of work possessing literary value.
The wise humorous style of his fanciful tales and their grotesque droll material make them exceptional.
also did work of distinction in this field, much assisted by his eccentric illustrations; and his Robin Hood
(1883) is capital romance.
In nonsense books, the imitators of Lewis Carroll
and Edward Lear
were many in the last years of the century; but the best of them, Charles Carryl
in Davy and the Goblin
(1885), only invite comparison.
Somewhat earlier, Lucretia P. Hale
in Peterkin papers
(1882) created a new form of nonsense of a more literal sort; and this for spontaneous fun and clever foolishness is remarkable.
Fairy tales seem to have no foothold in America
—the stories in verse of Palmer Cox
, the Brownie
books, being perhaps the sole instance the century afforded of nation-wide popularity (and these owing more to the author's illustrations than to the text). For this condition publishers may be somewhat responsible, as they can sufficiently supply the market with uncopyrighted European
material for which no royalties need be paid.
Less likely to have been discouraged by unfair foreign competition, and certainly in themselves more indigenous, are stories which endow animals with human motives and speech.
A local counterpart of European
folk-lore is the lore of Uncle Remus, created by Joel Chandler Harris
He was far more successful than Hawthorne
in the setting he gave these tales, which, like the Greek myths, are the common property of a race; Uncle Remus himself is a fine characterization, well-observed, humorous, and full of reverent kindliness.
The class of juvenile poetry furnished no writer distinguished by any body of work, but an anthology of high order could be compiled.
First in time and perhaps in merit would come a one-poem writer, Clement C. Moore
(1779-1863). In December, 1823, he published A Visit from St. Nicholas
, which is unique for its period in being entirely free from didacticism and from laboured inanity masquerading as simplicity; it still remains unexcelled in America
as a joyous narrative of childhood.
's Mary had a little Lamb
yet gambols in children's hearts—for as inexplicable a reason as much of the mechanical nonsense of Mother Goose
The longevity of jingles has never been an indication of their merit, as witness the permanence of such ditties as Upidee
and Good-bye, my Lover, Good-bye
. Lucy Larcom
and Alice and Phoebe Cary
published books of childhood
songs; and other women followed with no particular success.
and James Whitcomb Riley17
wrote many tender and charming poems about children, but with some notable exceptions they are as much from the adult point of view as were Longfellow
's. The point of view of youthful patriots was skilfully considered in Poems and ballads upon important episodes in American history
(1887) by Hezekiah Butterworth
, long connected with The youth's companion
The best verse is scattered in magazines and newspapers, particularly as publishers have learned from librarians that American children as a rule do not care for poetry.
wrote for her magazine many neat and attractive rhymes.
In this field there are, however, several living writers of conspicuous artistic success.
Nor is it surprising that some of the best work in fiction also must, similarly, go unmentioned here.
The juvenile has only lately received artistic cultivation, and its flowering is very recent.
More striking than in any other department of literature, where contrasts are all striking enough, is the comparison of the earlier with the latter part of the century.
Where then existed not a single book of value, there could now be mentioned half a thousand of real merit.
American literature for children has reached a comparative eminence which it shows in no other department.