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Feature Article A Brief History of Children’s Literature by Marlin & Laurie Detweiler

Educational Helps by Marlin Detweiler

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May 2008



Feature Article


A Brief History of Children’s Literature


As you may recall in the April epistula we initiated a reading contest. We are so excited to hear all the interest it has stirred. It has also raised questions about children’s literature and started some good discussions. We thought we might address some of them with a little history lesson on the world of children’s literature.


Children’s literature has not always existed as we know it today. Only a little more than two centuries ago children’s literature emerged as an independent genre. Prior to this, works were rarely created specifically for children, and when they were done, they were for education, not pleasure. In 1657 Les jeux et plaisirs de l’enfance (The Games and Pleasures of Childhood), a book dedicated to games for children, was published. Interestingly, as you look at the illustrations, the children are portrayed as little adults, indicative of how they were perceived then. The next notable book is a precursor of children’s picture books. Orbis Sensualium Pictus (The Visual World in Pictures), published in 1658, was written by Jan Amos Comenius. He was a reformer in education, and this was the first book that recognized that there was a difference between what children and adults would enjoy reading. We also know that another of the earliest forms of books for children was alphabet books. Before these,m children used hornbooks, wooden paddles that had the alphabet and a form of a prayer or catechism inscribed on them, to learn their letters.


Probably the most enduring of all genres in children’s literature is the fable. Originally, fables were passed down from generation to generation orally. Interestingly, these tales were frequently told in Latin in classrooms as the children were studying the language. We know that Aesop’s Fables wasere first published in English by William Caxton in 1484. We do not consider this the first work for children, because it was not specifically published with children in mind. The first edition for children was published in 1692 by Robert l’Estrange in England. We also know that Jakob and Wilhem would preserve the folktales of the Brother’s Grimm by publishing them in the early nineteenth 19th century.


Nineteen years after the Mayflower landed in Plymouth (1639), the first printing press in North America began operating in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The first book that wasey published was the Bay Psalms Book. It would be fifty50 years until the first children’s book, The New-England Primer, would be published in the Nnew Wworld. Benjamin Harris, an English publisher and bookseller, is believed to have been its publisher. He was a staunch anti-papist who fled England in 1686 when James II became king. Copyright laws did not exist then, and this primer was reprinted throughout New England. IBy 1830 it is estimated that by 1830 six to eight million copies had been sold.


Cultural norms of the day have their impact on children’s literature like others aspects of society. We see this clearly in alphabet rhymes. The “K” rhyme changed in many ways:


In 1727:


 “Our King the good/ No man of blood”


After the war for independence:


“Kings should be good/Not men of blood”


We also see changes after the Great Awakening in New England. Many of the rhymes reverted back to religious ideas. Looking back further to 1671 we see a major shift. James Janeway’s, A Token for Children, Being an Exact Account of the Conversation, Holy and Exemplary Lives and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children would change the face of children’s literature permanently. This book told the story of Christian boys and girls who died in a way that was honoring to Christ. It was written with the hope of influencing other children to walk in righteousness. Until this time children were never the protagonist in literature. While hard to imagine today, it was a groundbreaking idea. Of course, today much of children’s literature is about children for children.


Not long after this, John Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693) was published. He believed that childhood was distinctly different from adulthood. He believed that children should be treated as rational creatures. He also recommended that children’s reading should be an “easy, pleasant book.” Rousseau, the philosopher, who lived shortly after Locke, would also influence children’s literature as he believed the goal of education should be to preserve the child’s “natural state.” Locke and Rousseau ultimately pointed the way for a new genre of children’s literature in which amusement and enjoyment, not instruction, were the goal of the literature. By the 1770’s several of these books were placed in print in London by John Newberry. Innovations in typography and printing enabled the production of illustrated books at a new rate. One of Newberry’s books, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, came with a ball for boys or a pincushion for girls. It is considered a landmark in the pleasure reading market for children. Newberry used the marketing phrase “instruction with delight,” acting on Locke’s idea of a half-century earlier that learning could be fun. Of course, Locke was not the first one to have thought of it., Tthe Romans had been teaching their children this way for centuries, but that had beenwas lost by modern times.


In 1749 what is often described as the first novel for children was published. The Governess; Or, Little Female Academy by Sarah Fielding, follows the lives of nine girls and their governess through nine days together at their boarding school. For the first time we would see the impact that a novel could have on children. The novel’s underlying theme was that girls must think for themselves. Although obedience is the central theme, Fielding accomplished this by insisting that the girls reason and think through things on their own. If we were to read this today it would seem quite tame, but at the time it was quite the topic of conversation. It was then that we all saw literature originally written for adults be given and marketed to children. One example is Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory. We now enjoy this book in many versions about King Arthur and his knights of the Rround Ttable.


Jumping forward to the Victorian era (1830 -1900) we find that developments in printing technology madke producing books even less expensive. Juvenile sections became well established at libraries. The middle class was expanding, and these parents were willing to spend money on books for their children. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, many children’s classics appeared: Lewis Carol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868 -69), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883), Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckeleberry Finn (1884), and Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book (1894). Major publishing houses, already well-established, adopted children’s divisions. Names like Harper, Putnam, Scribner, and Houghton participated. By 1865 every one of these publishers not only published books, but had at least one magazine. The magazines would prove to be a testing ground for young authors, and many books we know today came from a compilation of articles that first appeared in a magazine.


Now let’s jJump to the period between the World WarsWWI and WWII.. These tumultuous times produced fantasy figures in mass-produced series. Tom Swift, the Hardy boys and Nancy Drew were born. Publishers would create the position of “juvenile editor” to oversee children’s publications alone. WWI World War I had distracted the culture from things like publishing, but that had now changed. In 1919 the editors of Publishers’ Weekly began having “Children’s Book Week” to promote children’s literature. Just prior, in 1918, the John Newberry Medal—the same Newberry mentioned earlier—was established as the world’s first literary prize for children’s books. The first Newberry award winner was Dr. Wittendick Willem Van Loon’s The Story of Mankind. As you may know, this award is still alive and coveted to this day.


Today we enjoy a robust and mature literature tradition for our children. We hope a little more understanding about where it came from will help you appreciate it just a bit more. Of course, we have seen considerable changes continue as culture has changed. We are frequently appalled by some of the titles we are privy to in the publication catalogs we receive. You would be, too. Yet, we can be thankful to live in a day where so much good literature is available to our children from both past and present. And we have every reason to believe that more good books are still to come.


Marlin & Laurie Detweiler



Educational Helps


Previously In a prior issue we made mention of the guy and his wife in the pew behind us at church. He has struck again, along with many others. People everywhere wanted suggestions in the form of reading lists in response to our reading contest announced in last month’s epistula.


Laurie won’t tell you this, but she has probably spent 100 hours putting lists together. What might have been an even more overwhelming task was greatly reduced by the helpful suggestions of some dear friends. Our thanks to Ned and Leslie Bustard (Ned iHe’s our graphic designer, and Leslieshe will be teaching online for us starting this fall.), Carl Petticoffer (our VP of Operations and an avid reader), Emily Fischer (former Veritas Academy teacher and wife of the headmaster there), and Julie Etter (She’s the wife of Bruce Etter, our online course administrator, and she will also be teaching online for us this fall.) for their suggestions.


There are books of all genres on this list and some that you may be surprised to see included. We believe for children to develop a love of reading, they need to get hooked. As a child Laurie spent countless hours pouring over good books. The only thing her mother ever told me she got into trouble for was reading when she was supposed to be sleeping. When one of our boys was little, he hated to read. If you think you feel bad about this, think how it feels when you sell books for a living andto havinge your child dislike reading. One of the things we realized was that too many of the books were too hard for him, even though our other children had devoured them at the same age. This particular child loved bugs, any and all kinds. Laurie remembers that he liked them so much that he stored them for in his pockets. Imagine what that looked like after washing and drying. So, she bought every easy reader about bugs she could find. Were these great literature? Absolutely not! But, we love those books, because they accomplished something great works had not,: they got him to love reading. Of course, you need to draw the line somewhere. If we showed you all the things that come across our desks for young children, you would cry. We do. There is some real trash out there. It is no longer okay to go to the local library and pull something off the shelf. That is why everyone wanted a list.


There areWe have assembled three lists:; Kkindergarten to 2nd gSecond Grade, 3rd Third to Sixth– 6th g Grade, and Seventh to Twelfth7th – 12th g Grade. Click on the one that interests you. Hope they help. Many of these books will bring back great memories. Happy reading this summer!


When your children have completed their readings, enter them into the contest by clicking here.


Marlin Detweiler 



Free Offers


Free CD

We have created a CD that includes a song to memorize the Ten Commandments, a song to memorize the U.S. Presidents and a talk explaining classical Christian education by Marlin Detweiler. You may have a free copy by requesting it with a May order of $50 or more. When ordering on the internet enterour web site, add the item COMMANDCD to get one. _ as an item code to get one.





Q. A few friends and I were having a debate over what kind of books our children should read over the summer. What do you think categorizes good literature for children??

A. Funny you should ask thatAs we mentioned above, because we have been getting that question a lot since announcing the reading contest. I will give you my opinion, but please realize that opinions vary on this subject. I do not believe that everything that your children read needs to be in the category of GREAT literature. Some of my most precious memories as a child come from times I spent reading a book on our boat while my father fished, and the books were not all great literature. Things like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Bboys are a great way to get your child hooked on reading. When If you only give your children things to read that are difficult for them to read and understand, they may never develop a love of reading. At the same timeLike anything else, I sometimes fed my children Wendy’s or McDonald’s, but if that was all I ever gave them, they would not be very healthy.


Q. I have been looking at your online classes, but my children have not been classically educated because we just became familiar with the idea. They are in junior high, and I’m concerned it may be too late, but would really like them to take some of the classes. Any suggestions?

A. Don’t worry about the fact that they have not had a classical education. We always say, “Some is better than none.” You did not say what classes you wanted them to take, but Latin I, for instance, starts at a beginning point. Obviously, they will have to work harder that someone who has already learned elementary Latin, but we have students doing it all the time. The same is true of other subjects. Give us a call, and we will be happy to help you prepare your child and help place them in the right classes.


Please submit any questions you’d like answered here to




2008 – 2009 Catalog

Our 2008 – 2009 catalog is at the printer. Yippee!! You should expect it in the 2nd second or 3rd third week of May. We hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoy putting it together.


Veritas Press Teacher Training Conferences

By now you may have received our brochure for the teacher training conferences we are hosting.


You can enjoy one here in Lancaster with all local flavor of things like shoo-fly pie, and one online. Voddie Baucham, author of Family Driven Faith, will be the featured speaker at the 2008 Teacher Training Conference July 21–23 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Or you can attend our online-only teacher training conference on August 6–8 which will feature Joel Belz, Douglas Wilson and Oliver North as keynote speakers.


We are also offering Latin-in-a-Week, Omnibus I-In-A-Week and Omnibus II-In-A-Week July 21–25th. Some of the In-A-Week conferences are offered online at different times, too. The teacher training conferences link above provides helpful information for the In-A-Week classes, too.


Veritas Press Scholars Online Classes

Registration for  online classes has already exceeded our expectations for the fall and our catalog is yet to mail. Many classes have filled. Thankfully,  in many instances we’ve been able to add another when needed. Please take a moment to click the link above to learn more. And don’t hesitate if you are planning to participate. We hate telling folks that they are on a waiting list.


16th Annual ACCS Conference: Recovering Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

The Association of Classical and Christian Schools (ACCS) Conference will be held June 2628, 2008 in Austin, Texas. It is designed to provide the principles of a classical and Christian education, and practical instruction in a broad range of subjects. Plenary sessions will feature Ken Myers, Douglas Wilson, George Grant, and Matt Whitling. Practical workshops will teach the implementation of classical Christian education. Click here for more information or contact the ACCS office at (208) 882-6101.


Job Openings in Lancaster, Pa., and Online

Online Teachers – Veritas Press Scholars Online continues to have teacher openings for the 2008–2009 school year. We are also interested in hearing from you if you are interested in discussing subsequent years, even if you can’t teach this coming year. Experienced teachers can work from home, the beach, or anywhere high-speed internet is available. Send resume to


Customer Service, First Phone – Here is a great chance to join the fun at Veritas Press. We have a great full time job available that we dub as “First Phone.” Imagine being able to help all those moms, dads and schools to make their curriculum choices for the year. Duties include customer service, answering customer emails, processing orders, and of course being the first to answer the telephone when customers call. Send resume to



Visit us on the web at or call us at 1-800-922-5082.