book covers, Children's literature a reader's history from Aesop to Harry Potter, ereader, frances hodgson burnett, Gutenberg Project, John Newbery, Marketing, Publishing, Secret Garden, Seth Lerer, Tasha Tudor
I was thinking I’d write about something different today. Today, I’m not going to be using (well, quoting) any children’s books. If you came here expecting an analysis of a children’s book, this is not the post where you will find it.
I’ve been out of school for how many weeks now? And I’m dying from lack of school. I went out, and I bought a whole bunch of literary criticism books at Chapters. I’m one of those people who can’t stand to be bored, or not doing something. You could say the whole reason I’m even posting right now is because I needed to do something- I listened to one of my past lectures and boom! out came some inspiration.
So all these pictures I’ve posted are mostly just to brag. Yup, I’m guilty of that. But the rest of the pictures from now on will be just as important as the words. And this is going to be my most image-heavy post yet.
I rarely look into the historical lens of literature. But I’ve decided for something different, the publication of children’s books needs to be talked about. In my children’s literature class last summer, we talked a little about John Newbery. “He published children’s books…very early eighteenth century. And most early printers published a version of Aesop’s fables and all children read Aesop’s Fables. And they did have illustrations in it of animals and lots of lessons… It sold very well… You had to get a royalty fee up until I think 1724… It…was very difficult…to mass publish because everything had to be checked. But that was lifted by Queen Anne in the early 18th century and that’s when mass print is born… Once it became a lot easier to print- … It used to be that you would have a lot of censorship…in late… seventeenth century and then… by…the early eighteenth century a lot of the…restrictions were lifted. And .. what sold well was…Aesop’s Fables…They…were meant to be read aloud. So literacy wasn’t an issue. There were pictures- That helped when you don’t have a highly literate population… So John Newbery was an English printer…he…decided that children’s literature… was published and it was cheaply done. It wasn’t… as well written as he would like and so he hired… established authors. He would print… books with gilt edges…He’s the one that really instituted the idea of having the illustrator and an author…collaborate and create these…wonderful books that they illustrated… And it looks familiar, right? You have the title, you have an illustration and… the quality of his books would far surpass any other children’s publisher and any publisher of the day. He made a lot of money because of that.” (Humphreys, lecture) He was so influential that an award was named after him. The Newbery medal given to one children’s book each year and is considered an honour.
It wasn’t only in the British empire where this was happening. “In France, the city of Rouen became a center for the children’s book trade in the eighteenth century, and by the late nineteenth the Paris firm of Pierre-Jules Hetzel set a standard for the making and the marketing of books for younger readers.” (Lerer, 8) Mass publication was happening everywhere. No longer just for the elite, middle-class people were starting to read, and it became a pastime for many groups. There was an explosion in books being written for the average person- but children’s books were an afterthought to publishers until the seventeenth century.
So, what I’m going to be doing is showing versions of The Secret Garden, and using some of those books in the three pictures above to help me explain them. Moving on from the history of how mass print started, even through the twentieth century there are subtle differences in publication of books, which I think says a lot about how children were viewed.
The cover is important when looking at a book. It’s one of the first things we see. Depending on the publisher or even the year of the book, the covers may be different.
The book was actually the first “grown up book” I ever picked up. Ever. It was in our living room, I would pick it up from the bookshelf, and look at the words. I thought it was a “grown up book” simply because the cover was so plain.
This version was published in 1938 by a company who evidently thought that they were more important than the title of the book… It does not look like “a children’s book” and I never expected that it was one until I received my own copy a few years later. (I was about 4 when I picked this one up off the shelves… I remember actually thinking that I would get into trouble for looking at it because it didn’t seem like a book for me, and it wasn’t in my room. So it was probably my mother’s book…) Covers can be deceiving.
This one was published in 1962. There were illustrations introduced in this one by Tasha Tudor, and it was published by the J.B Lippincott Company. The illustrations are full length, in colour, and take up an entire page. (I’ll be talking about illustrations later)
My version of the Secret Garden was published in 1998. It was paperback, and featured illustrations at the top of the page of each chapter. They were in black and white. However this one had the cover look more like a children’s book as we know it to be today.
“Children’s books are now the most profitable area of publishing, and links between traditional and innovative media establish younger readers as the prime market for imaginative writing. European and American demographics too, point to a rise in the number of school-age children and a corresponding interest among parents not just for new books to read, but for a sense of history to children’s reading….The categories of the children’s book are codified not just by writers and readers, but by booksellers, librarians, and publishing houses. To a large degree, the twentieth century history of children’s literature is a story of those institutions: of debates among librarians concerning audience and appropriateness; of medals and awards, reflecting social mores and commercial needs; of tie-ins, toys, and replications , in a range of media, of characters from children’s books. Such media phenomena attest not only to the governing commodity economy in which the children’s book now sits. They also constitute a form of literary reception in their own right. The marketing of Pooh or Pocahontas in the late twentieth century may not be too different from the harlequinades of the eighteenth, when booksellers sought ways of augmenting their readerships by offering these single-sheet, illustrated selections from well-known stories. The history of reading perennially links together commerce and interpretation.” (Lerer, 8) The books are not simply for reading- they are meant for publishing. Money and capitalism are the main goal for the publishers. In marketing, how it works is (And you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t explain clearly enough, I’ve basically grown up with this stuff, so it’s easier for me to understand than explain.) they will usually test a product first on a group to see how they like it. If enough people like it, then they will produce more- if people don’t like it, it’s back to the drawing board. They will have a limited sample at first, and then they will make more if more people want it- It’s all a part of supply and demand. Seeing as the Secret Garden is a “classic” there will always be versions of it, newer ones, abridged ones, online versions. The 1998 version is in paperback because it is from a publishing company as we know it- they need to turn out a specific profit to hit their numbers, (I’ll ask my father what that means later) or else they aren’t doing their job.
So, as for where it’s headed. The medium has definitely changed- from print to online.
Products like Kobo and Kindle have realized the way that we are advancing- into a digital age. The digital age makes it a lot easier to obtain different things that wouldn’t have been possible, and it’s cheap, or even free. However, there are drawbacks to this as well. Dealing with just the internet and different versions of things being made available online is always an issue. While in bookstores and libraries there is a physical copy of the book and copyright information on the front page, many places online don’t think of copyright and books read online that are not in the public domain may even be illegal. “We’re getting a lot stricter on the internet…You can’t say everything you want to say on the internet and you used to.” (Humphreys, lecture) So while on Kobo and Kindle there are an unlimited amount of books, several versions, more diversity than in a bookstore and at a cheaper cost, online versions found on a website may be sketchy, and even illegal.
I for one hope that these older books will always remain. Illustrated versions are beautiful, and the history of books is (I find) lost with the introduction of websites such as Gutenberg and the e-reader. I find that with the publication going the way it is now, we may have actually completely lost Newbery’s ideas in the next fifty years. There are less illustrations because people are becoming more literate, but we’ve lost the ability to appreciate things as simple as the cover- because we think that the words are more important.
I think I’ve just proved that the cover says a lot as well. Before even opening the book to the first chapter, books can be learned from and appreciated for the wonderful things they are.
They’re all mine.
- Lerer, Seth. Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History, from Aesop to Harry Potter. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2008. Print.
- Agoodbookortwo. “The Newbery Award: A brief history.” Web log post. A Good Book or Two… Or maybe 91. WordPress, 25 April. 2013. Web. 5 May. 2013.
- Humphreys, Sara. Class Lecture. Children’s Literature. Trent University. Oshawa. Ontario. May 17 2012. “History of “child” as a stage of human developments. Early concepts of Childhood.”