Classic Children’s Books Now Digitized and Put Online: Revisit Vintage Works from the 19th & 20th Centuries

Children’s books are big busi­ness. And the mar­ket has nev­er been more com­pet­i­tive. Best­selling, char­ac­ter-dri­ven series spawn their own TV shows. Can­dy-col­ored read­ers fea­ture kids’ favorite com­ic and car­toon char­ac­ters. But kids’ books can also be fine art—a venue for well-writ­ten, fine­ly-illus­trat­ed lit­er­a­ture. And they are a seri­ous sub­ject of schol­ar­ship, offer­ing insights into the his­to­ries of book pub­lish­ing, edu­ca­tion, and the social roles chil­dren were taught to play through­out mod­ern his­to­ry.

Dig­i­tal archives of children’s books now make these his­to­ries wide­ly acces­si­ble and pre­serve some of the finest exam­ples of illus­trat­ed children’s lit­er­a­ture. The Library of Con­gress’ new dig­i­tal col­lec­tion, for exam­ple, includes the 1887 Com­plete Col­lec­tion of Pic­tures & Songs, illus­trat­ed by Eng­lish artist Ran­dolph Calde­cott, who would lend his name fifty years lat­er to the medal dis­tin­guish­ing the high­est qual­i­ty Amer­i­can pic­ture books.

The LoC’s col­lec­tion of 67 dig­i­tized kids’ books from the 19th and 20th cen­turies includes biogra­phies, non­fic­tion, quaint nurs­ery rhymes, the Gus­tave Doré-illus­trat­ed edi­tion of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, and a num­ber of oth­er titles sure to charm grown-ups, if not, per­haps, many of today’s young read­ers.

But who knows, King Win­ter—an 1859 tale in verse of a pro­to-San­ta Claus fig­ure, in a book par­tial­ly shaped like the out­line of the title character’s head—might still cap­ti­vate. As might many oth­er titles of note.

A sly col­lec­tion of sto­ries from 1903 called The Book of the Cat, with “fac­sim­i­les of draw­ings in colour by Elis­a­beth F. Bon­sall”; a book of “Four & twen­ty mar­vel­lous tales” called The Won­der Clock, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Howard Pyle in 1888; and Edith Fran­cis Foster’s 1902 Jim­my Crow about a boy named Jack and his boy-sized crow Jim­my (who could deliv­er mes­sages to oth­er young fan­cy lads).

An 1896 book called Gob­olinks intro­duces a pop­u­lar inkblot game of the same name that pre­dates Her­mann Rorschach’s tests by a cou­ple decades. Oth­er high­lights include “exam­ples of the work of Amer­i­can illus­tra­tors such as W.W. Denslow, Peter Newell… Wal­ter Crane and Kate Green­away,” writes the Library on its blog. The dig­i­tized col­lec­tion debuted to mark the 100th anniver­sary of Children’s Book Week, cel­e­brat­ed dur­ing the last week of April in all 50 states in the U.S.

“It is remark­able,” says Lee Ann Pot­ter, direc­tor of the LoC’s Learn­ing and Inno­va­tion Office, “that when the first Children’s Book Week was cel­e­brat­ed, all of the books in the online col­lec­tion… already exist­ed.” Now they exist online, not only because of the tech­nol­o­gy to scan, upload, and share them, but “because care­ful stew­ards insured that these books have sur­vived.”

Dig­i­tal ver­sions of today’s kids books could mean that there is no need to care­ful­ly pre­serve paper copies for pos­ter­i­ty. But we can be grate­ful that archivists and librar­i­ans of the past saw fit to do so for this fas­ci­nat­ing col­lec­tion of children’s lit­er­a­ture. The theme of this year’s Children’s Book WeekRead Now, Read For­ev­er—“looks to the past, present, and most impor­tant, the future of children’s books.” Enter the Library of Con­gress dig­i­tal col­lec­tion of children’s books from over a cen­tu­ry ago (and see the oth­er siz­able online archives at the links below) to vis­it their past, and imag­ine how vast­ly dif­fer­ent their future might be.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Dig­i­tal Archive of 1,800+ Children’s Books from UCLA

Hayao Miyaza­ki Picks His 50 Favorite Children’s Books

Enter an Archive of 6,000 His­tor­i­cal Children’s Books, All Dig­i­tized and Free to Read Online

Grow­ing Up Sur­round­ed by Books Has a Last­ing Pos­i­tive Effect on the Brain, Says a New Sci­en­tif­ic Study

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.