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Early Beginnings of Childeren's Literature

Anglo-Saxon Period

As far as back as the Anglo- Saxon Period, monks and other learned men wrote "lesson books"
for children. These lesson books were designed for teaching. The first man to write lesson books
for childrenwas Aldhelm (640-709), abbot of Malmesburry and bishop of Shernorne. His De
Septenario, de Metris, Enigmatibus, ac Pedum Regulis contained the meaning and use of the
number seven in the bible, riddles, and puzzles in Latin which children were asked to solve.

Anglo-Saxon literature has gone through different periods of research in the 19th and early 20th
centuries the focus was on the Germanic roots of English, later the literary merits were
examined, and today the interest is with paleography questions and the physical manuscripts
themselves such as dating, place of origin, authorship, and looking at the connections between
Anglo-Saxon culture and the rest of Europe in the Middle Ages.

The most famous works from this period include the poem Beowulf, which has
achieved national epic status in Britain. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a collection of important
early English history. The poem Hymn from the 7th century is the oldest surviving written text in

The Medieval Period

By the fifteenth century, books on manners and morals began ro appear in England by 1430.
One of these was William Caxton's Boke of Curtayse published about 1477. Another was The
Babies Boke which had the subtitle Manners and Meals in the Olden Times. This book contained
rules of behavior for boys who trained to become knights during the Age of Chivalry.

ABC Books

In the sixteenth century, ABC books or primers appeared. They were so called because they
were used at the hour of prime as a book of private devotions in the Angelican Church. Henry
VIII had ordered the printing of both Catholic and Protestant primers that contained the
alphabet and Christian principles. Thus, the term primer came to be applied to all the first books
for children in school.

Horn Book

The horn books which were not really books, appeared toward the end of the sixteenth century.
These were the first books designed for children to handle. They were about 3 by 4 1/2 inches
long and 2 inches wide. Capitals letters are followed by vowels and their combinations with
consonants were printed across the top. The Lord's Prayer was printed at the bottom. The paper
used for this was covered with a transparent horn, hence the name "horn book" and was held in
place by metals like silver, brass and copper. These books could be hung around the necks of
children. The horn books were used to teach the alphabet and combinations of letters and to
continue religious instruction


In the sixteenth century, printing became cheaper. Single sheets of paper printed on one side
only called broadsides were issued. These broadsides contained ballads of Robin Hood. In 1697
Charles Perrault, a Frenchmen, published his collection of tales entitled Comtes de Ma Mere L'
Oye or Tales of My Mother Goose. Translations of these tales were published separately as
chapbooks in England. These books were called chapbooks because they were sold by itinerant
peddlers called chapmen.

Puritan Period

In England and American, books for children were influenced by Puritan ideas. The books
stressed fear of God, religious instruction and preparation for death which the children did not
enjoy. Children read books that interested them although the books that interested them
though the books were for adults like John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678), Daniel Defoe's
Robinson Crusoe (1714), Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726), Mallory's Death of King
Arthur, Reynard the Fox, and Aesop's Fables.

Between 1683 and 1691, the New England Primer, a book made especially for the children of
the American colonies qppeared. It was a small book, about 3 by 4 1/2 inches and had about
100 pages. It contained the alphabet, words and syllables for spelling lessons, the Lord's Prayer,
catechism, hymns and verses, rhymes for each letter of the alphabet.

First Picture Book

In 1658, the first illustrated school book appeared. It was known as Orbis Sensualum or orbis
pictus ( The Word in Picture). It was invented by Johann Amos Comenius, Bishop of Moravia and
an educator who believed in teaching children by letti g them see things with their own eyes.
The book was originally written in Latin and German, but was later translated by Charles Hooke
in England in 1664.

• 17th Century and 18th Century

Books in the sevententh century stressed religion and morals due to the rise of Protestantism. In
1715, Dr. Isaax Watts published Divine and Moral Songs for Children, a companion volume to
The New England Primer. Sone writets consider Isaac Watts as the starting point of the history
of children's literature, and "The Cradle Hymn" as the first children's poem.
The battledore (1746-1770) succeeded the hornbook. It was a 4 by 6 1/2 three-leaved
cardboard that folded like a pocketbook. It had the alphabet abd easy-reading mattet that made
it popular until 1840.

John Newberry Era

John Newberry (1713-1767) was a writee and publisher who first thought of publishing books
solely for children. He was calle the "father of children's literature" for he concieved the idea of
publishing books for the enjoyment and entertainment of children. In 1744, he published his
Lite Pretty Pocket Boom, the first book that can be truly called a child's book. He also published
a collection of nursery rhymes and called it Mother Goose Melody. An award for the most
distinguished children's book. The Newberry Award was named after him in 1922.

Didactic Period

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was a French philosopher who startes a new philosophy in
the education of children. His book Emile embodied the philosophy that children be given
freedom to develop their natural interests and learn from actual experience. He advocated that
children be taughtabout the real things and the world in which they live. Another writer of this
perios was Thomas Day who published his History of Sanford and Merton, a story about a good
little boy and his teacher and both tried to reform a bad boy. The Peter Parley books were
informational books about countries of the world, about a wonders of science and about
historical figures.

The Return of Fairy Tales Old and New

The influenced of didacticism was unable to control permanently children's love for fairy tales .
The publication of Grimm's Fairytales revived the interest for the imaginative stories not for the
entertainment of children but to record them scientifically for posterity. These stories were
translated in English in 1823 and were called Grimm's Popular Stories.

Hans Christian Anderson published his Fairy Tales in 1846. He was regarded as the great master
of the literary fairy tale. Among his tales were "Thumbelina", "The Emperor's New Clothes", and
"The Nightingale".

Edward Lear's Book of Nonsense marked the need for laughter in the normal development of

Lewis Carroll was a mathematics professor at the Oxford University who made up stories for a
little girl named Alice Lidell whom Lewis became very fond. Alice was so delighted with the
stories and she asked Lewis to write them down for her. He called his collection of stories. Alice
in the Wonderland. It was followed by Through the Looking Glass.
Realistic Literature

This period was marked with the appearance of stories of boys and girls in simple home
situations, stories of adventure, of brave men and women, history and growth of countries, the
wonders of nature and science. The best example of realistic story was Louisa M. Alcott's Little
Women in 1868. This is the story of four little girls, their pettu quarrels, their courage and their
affection for one another. This was followed by Little Men.