iPhoneOgraphy – 23 Jul 2016 (Day 205/366)
Children’s literature or juvenile literature includes stories, books, magazines, and poems that are enjoyed by children. Modern children’s literature is classified in two different ways: genre or the intended age of the reader.
Children’s literature can be traced to stories and songs, part of a wider oral tradition, that adults shared with children before publishing existed. The development of early children’s literature, before printing was invented, is difficult to trace. Even after printing became widespread, many classic “children’s” tales were originally created for adults and later adapted for a younger audience. Since the 15th century, a large quantity of literature, often with a moral or religious message, has been aimed specifically at children. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries became known as the “Golden Age of Children’s Literature” as this period included the publication of many books acknowledged today as classics.
Early children’s literature consisted of spoken stories, songs, and poems that were used to educate, instruct, and entertain children. It was only in the 18th century, with the development of the concept of childhood, that a separate genre of children’s literature began to emerge, with its own divisions, expectations, and canon.
French historian Philippe Ariés argues in his 1962 book Centuries of Childhood that the modern concept of childhood only emerged in recent times. He explains that children were in the past not considered as greatly different from adults and were not given significantly different treatment. As evidence for this position, he notes that, apart from instructional and didactic texts for children written by clerics like the Venerable Bede and Ælfric of Eynsham, there was a lack of any genuine literature aimed specifically at children before the 18th century.
Other scholars have qualified this viewpoint by noting that there was a literature designed to convey the values, attitudes, and information necessary for children within their cultures, such as the Play of Daniel from the 12th century. Pre-modern children’s literature, therefore, tended to be of a didactic and moralistic nature, with the purpose of conveying conduct-related, educational and religious lessons.
During the 17th century, the concept of childhood began to emerge in Europe. Adults saw children as separate beings, innocent and in need of protection and training by the adults around them. The English philosopher John Locke developed his theory of the tabula rasa in his 1690 An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In Locke’s philosophy, tabula rasa was the theory that the (human) mind is at birth a “blank slate” without rules for processing data, and that data is added and rules for processing are formed solely by one’s sensory experiences. A corollary of this doctrine was that the mind of the child was born blank, and that it was the duty of the parents to imbue the child with correct notions. Locke himself emphasized the importance of providing children with “easy pleasant books” to develop their minds rather than using force to compel them; “children may be cozen’d into a knowledge of the letters; be taught to read, without perceiving it to be anything but a sport, and play themselves into that which others are whipp’d for.” He also suggested that picture books be created for children.
Another influence on this shift in attitudes came from Puritanism, which stressed the importance of individual salvation. Puritans were concerned with the spiritual welfare of their children, and there was a large growth in the publication of “good godly books” aimed squarely at children. Some of the most popular works were by James Janeway, but the most enduring book from this movement, still widely read today, was The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) by John Bunyan.
In 1634, the Pentamerone from Italy became the first major published collection of European folk tales. Charles Perrault began recording fairy tales in France, publishing his first collection in 1697. They were not well received among the French literary society, who saw them as only fit for old people and children. In 1658, Jan Ámos Comenius in Bohemia published the informative illustrated Orbis Pictus, for children under six learning to read. It is considered to be the first picture book produced specifically for children.
The first Danish children’s book was The Child’s Mirror by Niels Bredal in 1568, an adaptation of a Courtesy book by the Dutch priest Erasmus. A Pretty and Splendid Maiden’s Mirror, an adaptation of a German book for young women, became the first Swedish children’s book upon its 1591 publication. Sweden published fables and a children’s magazine by 1766.
In Italy, Giovanni Francesco Straparola released The Facetious Nights of Straparola in the 1550s. Called the first European storybook to contain fairy-tales, it eventually had 75 separate stories and written for an adult audience. Giulio Cesare Croce also borrowed from stories children enjoyed for his books.
Russia’s earliest children’s books, primers, appeared in the late 16th century. An early example is ABC-Book, an alphabet book published by Ivan Fyodorov in 1571. The first picture book published in Russia, Karion Istomin’s The Illustrated Primer, appeared in 1694. Peter the Great’s interest in modernizing his country through Westernization helped Western children’s literature dominate the field through the 18th century. Catherine the Great wrote allegories for children, and during her reign, Nikolai Novikov started the first juvenile magazine in Russia.