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 Good, Little 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 One chapter of Lewis Carroll’s 1871 book Through the Looking-Glass, featuring a wasp in a wig, remained unpublished until 1990.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’.)
4. 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.)