Monday, August 29, 2016

My INFO 268 Attic Adventure

In my INFO 268 History of Youth Literature course, we have been given a mission to locate the oldest children's book we can find. We have been challenged to find a book published pre-1900, if possible, and while I haven't been able to find one that old in my family's collections, I am sharing what I have managed to find.

All of the old children's books that I found were at my mother-in-law's home. She was excited when I asked for her help, and despite her mobility issues, she got down onto the ground to scour through the bookshelves. She's always been a reader, and so I like to think that looking at these childhood books brought back some good memories for her.

The oldest find was Wolf by Albert Payson Terhune, published in 1925. As you can tell from the cover of the book and the illustrations inside, the book is about dogs. Terhune was a dog breeder of collies and is perhaps best known for writing a number of fictional books featuring dogs. A Goodreads review that stood out to me is the following from Trey Alison, who rated Wolf with five out of five stars:

This book was a wonderful statement about being "different," and an introduction to the form of the tragedy. As a child it was my first tragedy and it taught me that endings are not always happy ones, but there is great comfort in the memory of a loved ones heroic last act. 

The self-acceptance and confidence of the outcast Wolf influenced me greatly and at the end, oh, how I wept!! And read it again and again. It was one of the formative books of my junior years. (Alison, 2013).

In terms of the timeline of youth literature, I would place Wolf in the modern age. Published in the 20th century, the story seems to be less focused prescriptively about morality and represents a sub-genre aimed at adolescents. Below are pictures of the inside cover, the title page, and the title verso. The artwork that is peppered throughout the book is charming and in this same style.


While some of the other books that I discovered are not as old as Wolf, they were still a lot of fun to flip through and explore. One of my favorite finds was my mother-in-law's copy of Little Women. I couldn't determine the publication date of the Heirloom Library edition, but it had her handwritten information inside the book with her maiden name, old home address (which I brought up on Google Maps, sparking my husband's memories), and "Grade 4." Since my son is just now starting fourth grade, it was fun to be able to show him how the book is one she enjoyed when she was his same age. Again, I also love the artwork, which you can get a taste of below.


The most primary level of the children's books that we unearthed was a copy of The Little Green Car from 1950. In that year, my mother-in-law would have been seven years old. Out of all of the books, this is the one that she seemed to reminisce about most fondly, as she said she can clearly remember reading it.

There books that I also have vivid memories of reading as a child. Looking back, they were not impressive writing-wise, but I knew that I liked them and connected with them. It is fun to imagine my young mother-in-law drawn into the world of this green car.

I find it apt that one of the few pictures we have of my mother-in-law as a child is her reading. Maybe the book that she is holding is The Little Green Car and when I read this same book to my own children, it's like the generations being connected in the same world, simply across time. For comparison, see the picture below to see my mother-in-law today with her three grandchildren.

Regarding books from my own side of the family, the only "old" ones that I have been able to find are not books for children, but books about children. I share this since I find it interesting to think about children's books within the context of the times they were created and published.

When I had my own children within the past decade, my mom gifted me the two childrearing publications that were once my grandma's and that I share below. I've included a picture of my grandma with my mom in the late 1940s, which is around the time she would have been reading the publications. I have also included a modern day photo of my grandma with my own daughter.


First, the Gerber's Baby's Book, revised in 1944, covers a number of topics related to caring for babies and toddlers. One thing that stood out to me is how it starts with a chapter "Attention, New Fathers." It was good to see "it is assumed that father is going to share the responsibilities and delights of caring for the newcomer," but more telling is when it continues:

If you are free on Sundays you have an excellent chance to help with the bathing and weighing and dressing and perhaps the formula making. Or on a Saturday afternoon why not take entire charge of the schedule for the remainder of the day?



The other child-rearing publication, Your Child From One to Six, was published as revised in 1945 by the Social Security Administration's U. S. Children's Bureau. Of note, there is a section that addresses children's books.


The passage below details helping young children learn how to handle books carefully and how "a child actually learns more easily to show respect for a good book than a cheap, flimsy one." Along these lines, it is stressed that book selection is important since "there are many poor, crudely colored ones that do nothing to encourage good taste." Adult guidance, or authority, for determining good taste is thus reinforced, which is interesting in light of my own experience that celebrates reading of any sort when it comes to children.


I will make a few more attempts to locate some older books in the next week, and I think I'll have my eye out in general moving forward. In the meantime, though, I have thoroughly enjoyed these family finds and how they have uncovered my new understanding of their earlier lives.


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