Measured Extravagance

02 May 2004 - 8:39 p.m.

Considering how many people of my acquaintance write or sell books for children - considering what a huge business it is - it fascinates me, to read about the days before children's sections in libraries and bookstores became the norm. The first two commercial editors specializing in children's books (at Macmillan and Doubleday) were not established as such until 1919 (Louise Seaman) and 1922 (May Massee).

I'm thinking, once I emerge from my current swirl of deadlines, of developing a small project or three related to the history of children's books - possibly even a sermon. There are so many remarkable people and engaging stories. . .

One of the books I've been dipping into has been The Hewins Lectures: 1947-1962 (Boston: Horn Book, 1963), a series of papers on New England children's literature set up by the indefatigable and irrepressible Frederic Melcher. In the inaugural presentation, "From Rollo to Tom Sawyer," Alice M. Jordan outlined the types of books available to nineteenth-century children. According to Jordan, numerous "Sunday school libraries" helped provide a regular supply of additional books to children. To meet the demand, the American Sunday School Union encouraged the production of suitable stories; then as now, there was concern over whether the stories being published met the moral and religious standards the ASSU wished to sustain, particularly when secular publishers realized this was a market they ought to pursue:

The Sunday School Union suggested, uneasily, that churches appoint their own reading committees of persons qualified to make wise choice of books for their own parishes, for they perceived the evils of unregulated purchase. Catalogues of Sunday-school libraries of the 1860's and 1870's are largely made up of colorless titles by unknown writers whose books cannot be recognized as belonging to authentic literature for children. It is no wonder that recommendations that the libraries be discontinued were common, or that some parents looked with disapproval upon books brought home on Sundays.

But fortunately, once fully conscious of the widespread circulation of books overloaded with precocious goodness, morbid piety and sickly sentiment, certain enlightened organizations took the matter vigorously and competently in hand. One of the most influential of the societies was the Ladies' Commission of the American Unitarian Society, in Boston, whose admirable lists, published and renewed in the years preceding the opening of children's rooms, were an invaluable aid to public libraries as well as denominational ones. In these earlier lists are to be found the names of books by established English authors for children, George Macdonald, Charlotte Yonge and Mrs. Craik, as well as a selection by Dickens and Scott. Widely used, these lists did much to overcome the flood of sentimentality which flowed plentifully in the Elsie Dinsmore books and the less tearful stories by Pansy.

<< | >>
My book!




Copyright 2000-2016 by mechaieh / pld. This blog has migrated to

Hosted by DiaryLand.