October 1988 – November 1988

Where does Wonder wait? In the story, a universe constructed with words and pictures where the reader discovers a world that extends beyond the everyday. Character and narrative interact with imagination, creating a sense of wonder that transcends the barriers of youth, maturity, and time itself. This is the triumph of story. The child who read and dreamed about Lewis Carroll’s Alice On Wonderland thirty years later can travel across the galaxy in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. This exhibition features selections of historic and modern children’s books from the University of Iowa Libraries collections, with a special section devoted to authors who have been in Iowa City during the past twenty years.

A Brief History

The earliest stories were myths and folktales, often considered too significant for mere children, but with no particularly distinct audience in mind. The bards, minstrels, and storytellers were students of the world, of society and mankind, and performed for princes and peasants alike — whether in castles or cottages or village squares. Even today, tales and stories from around the world are being told and retold (to the delight of modern children) by accomplished storytellers like Ashley Bryan, whose works include The Ox of the Wonderful Horns and Beat the Story Drum, Pum-Pum.

Some of the earliest printed stories were retellings of folktales and fables. William Caxton, who in 1476 introduced printing into England, made Aesop’s Fables a favorite among English speaking children when he published the tales in 1484. Nearly 200 years later, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) was seen by children to contain an appealing and exciting adventure story, despite the fact that its theological moralizings were written for adults. In the early 1700’s, in the latter part of Louis XIV’s reign in France, fairy tales were in vogue and very popular among the sophisticated ladies and gentlemen of the court. Ma Mere l’Oye later became Mother Goose in England, and parts of Antoine Galland’s expurgated French translation of the Arabian Nights appeared in English as a chapbook in 1708. Chapbooks were inexpensive booklets, usually printed on cheap paper, intended for children and families.

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was publishe in London in 1719 and was unbelievably popular, spawning countless adaptations and derivations (usually called Robinsonades). Another often adapted book was Jonathan Swift’s earthy adventure Gulliver’s Travels, which appeared in London in 1726 with the appended title: Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. Most books up to this time were written for adults, but some were so appealing to children that it is no wonder the stories have survived the test of time.

John Newberry, a London bookseller and publisher, has been noted as the first to give children books of their own — he eventually published about 106 children’s books. Newberry was influenced by the writings of John Locke, who declared children “should be allowed their liberties and freedom suitable to their ages. . . . They must not be hindered from being children.” (Some Thoughts Conceming Children, 1690.) In 1760, Newberry gave children the immortal volume Mother Goose’s Melody a compilation of familiar rhymes from the oral tradition that would survive even the controversial educational theories of France’s Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau believed that education should follow a child’s natural sympathies but that literature should be introduced in a strict regiment calculated to develop virtue. Rousseau’s didactic theories continued to influence authors and educators through the French Revolution and into the nineteenth century. During this time, hundreds of stories (both religious and non-religious) were written in an attempt to inculcate values and educate good citizens. Educational theorists frowned upon fairy tales and other fanciful literature, insisting that stories should teach by example and realistically portray life. Religious writers often believed in the validity of Rousseau’s theories but also believed that the prime reason for education was religion. Some of the writers representative of this period include Maria Edgeworth, Thomas Day, Sarah Kirby Trimmer, Mary Martha Sherwood, and Hannah More.

By 1810, small and relatively inexpensive books were being widely published and were not at all similar to the dreary didactic works of the period. Charles Lamb and his sister Mary disagreed with the premise of moralistic literature and, when they rewrote and published Tales from Shakespeare (1807), wanted to bring the story and spectacle of the classics to children. In Germany, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm were collecting and recording traditional tales for “adults and serious people” (as well as for children) during the years 1812-1818. In America, by the middle of the nineteenth century, the works of Sarah Josepha Hale, Lydia Maria Child, Lydia H. Sigourney, James Fenimore Cooper, and Washington Irving were popular among young readers–probably because of the widespread custom of family reading. English translations of Hans Christian Andersen’s original and creative fairy tales began to appear in England in 1846.

The mid-Victorian period of children’s literature is called the “Golden Age” and produced the nonsense works of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, the moralistic fantasies of Charles Kingsley and George MacDonald, the “rags-to-riches” stories of Horatio Alger, and the domestic tales of England’s Charlotte Mary Yonge and America’s Louisa May Alcott. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) appeals to adults and children alike, presenting its ageless, universal humor without any hint of a didactic undertone. Charles Kingsley’s Water Babies (1863), on the other hand, is highly moralistic and difficult, touching upon the social and human conditions in Victorian England. George MacDonald, a friend of Lewis Carroll, was a minister who wrote many fairy tales and fantasies to support his large family and supplement his meager church salary. His most famous book, At the Back of the North Wind, was published in 1871. Today, MacDonald’s books are more popular among adults than children. In 1868 Louisa May Alcott, daughter of an American educational theorist and teacher, wrote Little Women, a book that is still widely read and appreciated.

Books from the last quarter of the nineteenth century include Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (1884), Kate Douglas Wiggin’s Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1900), Lucretia Peabody Hales’ The Peterkun Papers (1880), L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of-Oz (1900), Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky & Co. (1899), Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty (1877), and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883). Some other significant works are Pinocchio (1883) by Carlo Collodi, Heidi (1884) by Johanna Spyri, and Around the World in 80 Days.(1873) by Jules Verne.

The twentieth century has given readers a wealth of stories and genres often published for children but loved as well by adults: Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (1908), Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods (1932), Jean DeBrunhoff’s The Story of Babar (1933), H.A. Rey’s Curious George (1941), Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain (1943), Theodore Geisel’s The Cat in the Hat (1957), J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1938), Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (1962), Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1963), Ursula K. LeGuin’s Wizard of Earthsea (1968), Richard Adams’ Watership Down (1974), C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1961), Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince (1943), Richard Peck’s Are You in the House Alone (1976), Robert Cormier’s I Am the Cheese (1977), Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lay (1972).

This exhibition was prepared by Richard Cooper, Rijn Templeton, Judith Macy, and Sandy Ballasch with the assistance of Harlan Sifford and David Schoonover.