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‘I will make sweet for you the little cheeses’: A History of Children’s Books in 100 Books

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle goes down the rabbit-hole in this enthralling history of children’s books of all kinds

Around £2.2 billion is spent on books in the UK each year, and about one-fifth of this is spent on children’s books. The publishing industry is big business, and it can be very big business where a younger readership is concerned. Some of the bestselling authors of the last hundred years, such as Dr Seuss, Enid Blyton, and J. K. Rowling, have sold in huge numbers; indeed, those three names alone have probably clocked up over 1.6 billion books when their sales are combined. But when was the first children’s novel published? And how have successive generations and eras sought to edify, and entertain, their children through the written word? A History of Children’s Books in 100 Books (British Library), by Roderick Cave and Sara Ayad, explores the history of all sorts of books written for children, from the purely entertaining to the strictly educational, from the ancient to the modern, from the inventive to the downright bizarre.

A History of Children’s Books in 100 Books is the kind of book the British Library do so well: an expansive coffee-table book, with large pages and high-quality paper, making the Read the rest of this entry


10 of the Best Children’s Novels Everyone Should Read

The best children’s books

What are the top ten greatest children’s novels ever written? This is going to prove a contentious list, but below we’ve compiled what we think are ten of the best works of children’s fiction in all of English literature. We’ve had to make some (regrettable) omissions, but we think these are all classic books which children of around the ages of 5-11 would especially enjoy (though, being classics, they’re for ‘children of all ages’). They span from the 1860s until the 1990s. We’ll offer some interesting background trivia about each book as we go.

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Along with Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll was the master of Victorian nonsense literature, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is his best-known book. First published in 1865, the story originated in a boat trip that took place in Oxford on 4 July 1862, on which Charles Dodgson (the real name of Lewis Carroll) entertained the children of his friend Henry Liddell – children who included Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in the book – with a humorous story involving illogical conversations and nonsensical events. The Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, and the Cheshire Cat have been firm favourites with readers of all ages ever since. Read the rest of this entry

10 Classic Victorian Fairy Tales Everyone Should Read

The best nineteenth-century British and Irish fairy stories

Say ‘fairy tales’ to most people and several names will usually spring to mind: Charles Perrault (who gave us Cinderella, among others, in his Tales of Mother Goose), the Brothers Grimm (Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin – though the latter is now thought to be some 4,000 years old), and Hans Christian Andersen (the Snow Queen, the Ugly Duckling). But Victorian Britain gave the world its fair share of classic fairy tales too – but these are often eclipsed by those that originated in mainland Europe. The following classic Victorian fairy tales are taken from the wonderful Oxford World’s Classics anthology, Victorian Fairy Tales (Oxford World’s Classics), edited by Michael Newton.

Robert Southey, ‘The Story of the Three Bears’. Southey is remembered more for his poetry now, or rather for being Poet Laureate from 1813 until 1843 (titles of few of his poems spring readily to readers’ lips). But he was also an important figure in the history of fairy tales, and was the first to put the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears into print. Except that ‘Goldilocks’ doesn’t appear – instead, the female trespasser into the ursine property is an old woman rather than a blonde-haired girl. Read the rest of this entry