Five Fascinating Facts about Children’s Literature

We’ve often posted about children’s literature and the fascinating facts behind some of the most popular children’s authors, such as Lewis Carroll and Charles Kingsley. Now, as part of our Five Fascinating Facts series, we’d like to offer you five of the most interesting things about all of children’s literature. Given how broad a field this has to encompass, we may well need to do a follow-up post at some point, but for now, here’s our first foray into ‘Five Fascinating Facts about Children’s Literature’. We hope you enjoy.

1. The first Mr Men book, Mr Tickle, came about when author Roger Hargreaves was asked by his son what a tickle looked like. And so Hargreaves began one of the most popular series of books for very young readers. Mr Tickle appeared in 1971 along with five others in the sequence, priced at 20p each. Since then, nearly fifty titles have appeared in the series. Some of the lesser-known Mr Men include Mr GoodLittle Miss Somersault, and Mr Nonsense.

2. The books of Dr Seuss have sold over half a billion copies worldwide. This hugely popular children’s author also gave us the word ‘nerd’, which is the name of one of the mythical creatures in his 1950 book If I Ran the Zoo. He is perhaps most famous, however, as the man who created the Grinch, the character who attempts to steal Christmas (like Scrooge, this word has entered the language to describe someone out of sympathy with the festive spirit). The author – born Theodor Seuss Geisel in 1904 – has helped countless children to learn to read with his landmark book, Green Eggs and Ham (1960), which contains just 50 different words. (More facts about Dr Seuss here.)

3. One chapter of Lewis Carroll’s 1871 book Through the Looking-Glass, featuring a wasp in a wig, remained unpublished until 1990. Carroll took out this section from the book before its publication, possibly because his illustrator, John Tenniel, couldn’t ‘see [his] way to a picture’ (according to a letter Tenniel wrote to Carroll in June 1870). It was finally published nearly 120 years after the book first appeared. (And by the way, the ‘wasp in a wig’ is thought to be a play on the more usual phrase, ‘bee in a bonnet’.)

Pooh14. The Latin translation of Winnie-the-Pooh is the only Latin book to have made the New York Times Bestseller List. Titled Winnie ille Pu, the book hit the bestseller list in 1960. Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends (see the picture on the right for their originals) have often turned up in unusual publications: in addition to this Latin version of the classic, translated by Alexander Lenard, there have also been two books by Frederic Crews, The Pooh Perplex (1963) and Postmodern Pooh (2001), which take the form of fake ‘student casebooks’ which parody particular schools of literary criticism through a series of essays written by fictitious academics who read Milne’s book through Freudian, Marxist, and deconstructive lenses (and so on).

5. A girl called Francesca Gray wrote J. K. Rowling her first fan letter. The letter began: ‘Dear Sir…’ It is well known that Rowling published under the initials ‘J. K.’ because her publisher thought the book would be less appealing to boys if it carried a woman’s name on the cover. ‘J. K.’ struck a suitably androgynous note for the publisher. ‘J. K.’ stands, of course, for ‘Joanne Kathleen’ – but Kathleen is not Rowling’s middle name. She doesn’t have a middle name. She adopted the ‘K’ after her grandmother, whose name was Kathleen. ‘Rowling’, by the way, frequently appears in lists of the most pronounced names, so let’s settle it once and for all: it’s rolling, and so should rhyme with ‘bowling’ rather than ‘scowling’. (More facts about Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling here.)

Image: Original Winnie the Pooh stuffed toys. Clockwise from bottom left: Tigger, Kanga, Edward Bear (aka Winnie-the-Pooh), Eeyore, and Piglet. Author: Spictacularpublic domain.


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  5. I’ve seen the Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals in person. Eeyore I’m sure wouldn’t like his battered state of love.

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  7. Thank you for clarifying the Rowling pronunciation. I have gone back and forth on that one!

  8. Reblogged this on emmarichardson22 and commented:
    So interesting!

  9. The Rowling one got me. I had no idea how to pronounce her name.

  10. What a fun post!
    I had no idea of the correct pronunciation of Rowling.
    There’s also The Tao of Pooh which I really liked, but then I like Taoist thought. Then came The Te of Piglet: not so good at all.
    And I will never understand the appeal of Dr Seuss books. As a child I found them visually ugly and I still do!

  11. Fascinating! Thanks to you, I am now intending to re-read some chidren’s literature!

  12. Thanks for the really interesting fun info. I wonder where Curious George would be in that ranking…one of my faves. Really great post and cool site :)

  13. Absolutely love this post! My favorite memory of a Seuss book is my dad (a preacher/youth minister for the churches of Christ) rapping (and doing a little dance to) Green Eggs and Ham at a church camp talent show. He was the camp director for several years and those kids still ask him to do the rap.

    I have an old Tigger that I won’t let my toddler play with because he’s the ‘original’ remake of Tigger. She loves to talk to him though and she loved the picture!

    Thanks for the post.

    • Thanks for the comment! A rap of Green Eggs and Ham must be glorious – the text really lends itself to it :)

      I think Tigger really made Winnie-the-Pooh (curiously, he didn’t appear in the first book, but made his debut in the sequel, The House at Pooh Corner, which has always surprised me). In that picture of the original toys, he is by far the cutest, in my opinion. But then I am a cat- (and Tigger-) person anyway :)

      • Tigger is my favorite! According to my information (I did a HUGE unit on A.A.Milne during my course on Children’s Lit in college) Tigger didn’t arrive at the manor until after the original stories had already been spun. So he had to move in during book 2. I believe he was gift sometime after “Now We Are Six” was published and while I want to say it was from a nanny or family friend, it was probably just something from his dad! :D

  14. A very diverse set of fascinating facts

  15. Robert Louis Stevenson married Frances Matilda Van de Grift Osbourne in 1880 after saving enough to travel to America. Treasure Island was serialized in a children’s magazine the following two years. Wikipedia reports that 12-year-old “Lloyd and his stepfather painted a map of an imaginary island, and this was the inspiration for Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island.”

    I was told the story was that Samuel Osbourne found his new step-father’s work boring and asked him to write something he would like to read -this always made sense to me.

    • I think RLS went on to write several books with Lloyd, too – e.g. The Wrong Box. Great story of the genesis of Treasure Island! It was one of the first children’s novels – perhaps the very first – to contain a map, too.

  16. “It is well known that Rowling published under the initials ‘J. K.’ because her publisher thought the book would be less appealing to boys if it carried a woman’s name on the cover.”

    I didn’t know that. It’s interesting how, as humans, we let insignificant things like this have such a power over first impressions.

    • I know – it says a great deal about how the identity of an author, especially their gender, can affect how the book is marketed. I suppose the flipside would be romance fiction – you don’t see many romance writers with male names, Harold Robbins aside…

  17. Oh please do more of these for Children’s Literature!

  18. Nice post. Thanks.

  19. I needed the clarification on the pronunciation of Rowling. I’m sure I’ve heard it pronounce correctly before, but here in the midwest USA, it most often mispronounced. Hopefully we can be forgiven. I have a similar problem with my last name. It is pronounce ‘cane’ not ‘coe-in’.

    • That’s interesting – especially as my surname (Tearle) always seems to elicit different pronunciations from people too (sometimes because people read over the ‘r’ and think it’s Teale) :)

    • I believe it’s pronounced as though it rhymes with “bowling”. That’s how she tells we English to say it anyway. I’ve debated how it pronounced myself as a complete Harry Potter obsessive.