Fascinating trivia about classic children’s books and their authors
Below we’ve compiled some of our favourite facts about classic children’s literature. For more fascinating insight into the history of children’s books, we recommend the excellent A History of Children’s Books in 100 Books (British Library).
Hans Christian Andersen once stayed at Dickens’s house for five weeks; when he eventually left, Dickens wrote on the mirror in the guestroom: ‘Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks — which seemed to the family AGES!’
Contrary to popular belief, the girls’ name Wendy existed before J. M. Barrie wrote Peter Pan.
In 2006, the writer of the Babar the Elephant books released a book called Babar’s Yoga for Elephants. It has sold 100,000 copies.
Anna Sewell’s novel Black Beauty is described on its title-page as ‘translated from the equine’.
The author of The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, was one of the writers on the 1990s children’s TV show Clarissa Explains It All.
When J. R. R. Tolkien’s son enlisted in the army, he described his writer father’s occupation as ‘wizard’.
Lewis destroyed the first version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when his friends criticised it; he rewrote it from scratch.
The first Mr Men book, Mr Tickle, came about when author Roger Hargreaves was asked by his son what a tickle looked like.
Dr Seuss’ first book was rejected by over 20 publishers; his books have now sold over 500 million copies worldwide. (More Dr Seuss facts here.)
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter was rejected many times, so she self-published 250 copies. It has now sold 45 million.
When he was six, Roald Dahl made his mother take him to meet Beatrix Potter. Potter, who reputedly disliked children, told them both to ‘buzz off.’
Roald Dahl’s book The Twits was triggered by his desire to ‘do something against beards’ – he had an acute dislike of them.
Arthur Ransome, author of Swallows and Amazons, married Leon Trotsky’s secretary.
In 1931, the governor of Hunan province in China banned Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland because ‘animals should not use human language’.
The Alice who inspired Through the Looking-Glass was a different Alice from the one who was the inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
The Harry Potter books were the first children’s books on the New York Times Bestseller list since E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web in 1952.
On average, a copy of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar is sold somewhere in the world every minute.
Michael Bond bought Paddington Bear in 1956; he felt sad for the bear as it was the only toy left on the shop’s shelves on Christmas Eve.
The Latin translation of Winnie the Pooh, titled Winnie ille Pu, is the only Latin book to have made the New York Times Bestseller List.
The first Harry Potter book has been translated into Latin under the title Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis.
When J. K. Rowling visited the chatroom of Mugglenet, she was told by regulars to keep quiet as she didn’t know enough about Harry Potter.
Sylvia Plath wrote a book of nonsense poems for children called The Bed Book, about different kinds of beds.
Pippi Longstocking’s full name is Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking.
Before Google bought it from them, the domain name ‘gmail.com’ was originally used by Garfield.com to reply to fans of the comic strip.
Goosebumps author R. L. Stine once received a letter from a child which began, ‘Dear R.L. Stine, I’ve read 40 of your books and I think they’re really boring.’
Hungry for more trivia? We have lots more interesting facts about classic children’s books in our book, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History. For more children’s literature, see our pick of the best classic children’s poems.