Rare children’s books digitized by the Library of Congress
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Franklin K. Matthiews went on a nation-wide tour. He went to get support for better standards in children's literature. That was in the early 20th century. Matthews was a librarian. He was with the Boy Scouts of America. There were few kids' books published each year at that time. That was partly because printing color illustrations was costly. Matthiews was a firm believer in the importance of children's literacy. His advocacy led to the launch of Children's Book Week. That was in 1919. It is an annual celebration of books for kids.
It still takes place today. The Library of Congress honored its 100th anniversary. It digitized a collection of children's books. They were published prior to 1924. That's according to Perri Klass. She is with the New York Times. Some of the stories are classics. They will likely be familiar to readers. Examples include an 1888 copy of Rip Van Winkle. It also includes a 1911 copy of The Secret Garden. Other books are not as familiar. The Cat's Party is one example. It was an 1871 picture book. It was about festive felines.
The oldest book in the digital collection is A Little Pretty Pocket Book. It is said to be the first book written for children. It was originally published in 1744. It was by John Newbery. He was a pioneering English bookseller. He is credited with carving out a market for children's literature. The Library of Congress' edition was printed in 1787.
"Well into the 19th century, most of children's literature in America came from Britain," Jacqueline Coleburn told Klass. She is the rare book cataloger. She works at the Library of Congress.
"It wasn't till the 1830s and 1840s that we really focused on producing American books."
They did eventually take off in the United States. The reading material was creative. It was fun. It was like the books kids read today. There is an 1863 copy of Red Riding Hood. It was cut in the shape of a girl. There is a wolf wrapped around her feet. The Slant Book was published by Harper & Brothers. That was in 1910. It follows a little boy. He gleefully causes havoc. He careens down a hill. He is in his pram. The book was published in the shape of a rhombus. This was to convey little Bobby's race down the slope. That's according to Atlas Obscura's Jonathan Carey.
American illustrator Peter Newell published The Rocket Book. That was in 1912. It was about a "bad kid." He name was Fritz. He launches a rocket. It flies through the floors of an apartment building. There's a hole on every page of that book. This is to reflect the rocket's movement through the building.
"It's so tactile and yet so old," Lee Ann Potter told Klass. She is director of the learning and innovation. She works at the Library of Congress.
The collection shows how children's' books past and present are alike. Kids today will surely get a kick out of Fritz's rocket. It carrys away an old man's wig. But the books can feel out of sync with today's feelings. They aren't diverse. And sometimes they reflect tricky ideas of gender. A Little Pretty Pocket Book is one example. It was once sold with a ball for boys. It was sold with a pincushion for girls.
"They are historical documents which reflect the attitudes, perspectives and beliefs of different times," the Library takes care to note.
The institution's experts hope that parents will use them to teach their children important lessons. That's instead of shying away from the books' difficult themes.
As Potter tells Klass, "We're celebrating the fact that these books provide us with the opportunity to have conversations about what is appropriate or inappropriate. That they help us understand a different time."