A History of Picture Books
March 5, 2011 7:39 AM   Subscribe

A timeline of children's picture books, from their beginning in 1658 to present.
posted by helloknitty (23 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
The pictures are interesting but the captioning is terrible. One book is described as 'the first picture book for children"; a book made over 100 years later is described as "the first book for children." The entry for a man named Brooke tells when and where he was born; the next sentence is simply, "Brooke died." And so on.
posted by not that girl at 8:05 AM on March 5, 2011

The idea is nice, picture books have some wonderful art, but the execution isn't great.

On preview: I agree with not that girl about the captioning as well.
posted by Fence at 8:08 AM on March 5, 2011

The real tragedy is that they keep inserting birthdates into the timeline. Unless Beatrix Potter wrote "Peter Rabbit" from her crib, her entry does not belong at 1866.
posted by explosion at 8:43 AM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

The library I work for has an incredible children's literature collection that is part of the larger Allison-Shelley collection of German literature in English translation. And one of the highlights of that collection is the hundreds of rare and historic editions of Stuwwelpeter, including Mark Twain's translation called Slovenly Peter. I really wish some of those were online, they are amazing and very bizarre. But here's an edition of an English translation available at Project Gutenberg. Or stop by the rare books room at Paterno Library. To the left of the entrance and past the elevator.
posted by Toekneesan at 8:51 AM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kewl beans -- and bonus points for not mentioning Max and Moritz...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:02 AM on March 5, 2011

I'd have liked to see The New England Primer included. It's as much a picture book as the other very early items. Nice trip down memory lane, though (but agreed that the captions and birthdate entries are goofy).
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:18 AM on March 5, 2011

I would have liked to see more entries about books written in a language other than English. And better captions, of course. Otherwise interesting.
posted by diogenetic at 9:41 AM on March 5, 2011

No Paddington, no Mr Men, no Miffy, no Gruffalo, no Charlie and Lola...
posted by rory at 11:48 AM on March 5, 2011

The execution wasn't too hot as other people said. But I was suprised to see how old some of those books were. I remember The Five Chinese Brothers from when I was a kid, but I didn't know it was from 1938. And Mike Mulligan, 1939.
posted by marxchivist at 1:09 PM on March 5, 2011

In looking into the history of children's lit for a history of the book class, one of the most interesting things to learn was how popular Foxe's Book of Martyrs was with children.
posted by clerestory at 1:37 PM on March 5, 2011

The timeline format is cool, but I agree with explosion -- it's really hard to get a sense of when things were happening in the world of picture books when birthdates are included.
posted by cider at 1:45 PM on March 5, 2011

A history of American children's books, perhaps, but quite partial even then.

And what, exactly, is the fuss about Goodnight Moon? Indifferently illustrated gibberish. I've nothing against gibberish - I love gibberish! - but it's quite second-rate gibberish.
posted by Grangousier at 2:12 PM on March 5, 2011

I have to disagree. Good cadence and simplicity, when applied ritualistically, make the most powerful children's sedative ever prescribed. It's popular because it works. It doesn't matter if it's gibberish. It's not poetry. It's a comfortable way to fall asleep.
posted by Toekneesan at 2:26 PM on March 5, 2011

I wondered if Struwwelpeter would be on this list. My German grandfather gave me a copy of it in English translation when I was about 8. I was already reading at a junior high level, but the book horrified me with its dying children and amputation by an evil tailor with giant scissors. My mother, who had read it in German as a child, remembered it as delightful. I found the illustrations to be among the worst parts of it and my mother had thought them charming.

Out of the land of Grimm, I guess.

I always thought the point of Goodnight Moon, which I didn't read until I read it to my own children at bedtime, was to illustrate the ritual that must take place in many homes as children go to bed: that we have to say goodnight to everything. My kids loved it and we read it many, many times.
posted by angiep at 2:33 PM on March 5, 2011

No Paddington, no Mr Men, no Miffy, no Gruffalo, no Charlie and Lola...

No Milne, or Hardy Boys, or Nancy Drew, or even The Brothers Grimm?
posted by cooker girl at 6:52 PM on March 5, 2011

And what, exactly, is the fuss about Goodnight Moon? Indifferently illustrated gibberish. I've nothing against gibberish - I love gibberish! - but it's quite second-rate gibberish.

I didn't grow up with Goodnight Moon, but my wife did, and her North American father gave it to our son not long after he was born. The illustration is very much of its time - it's probably the most dated-looking picture book on my son's shelf - but it's not gibberish any more than any work of fiction; it's a bedtime scene full of the kinds of details that would have been familiar to children in the 1940s particularly, and still mostly would be to many small children today. For books aimed at the very young, who are just beginning to piece together language, it's a perfect bedtime story (as in, the very last one to read before lights out) - the mouse appearing in different places on the page keeps their interest, the unexpected moments ("goodnight nobody") keep ours as we read it to them, and the repetition lulls them into the right sleepy mood. When you're reading picture books again and again and again and again you want them to work in many different ways, and Goodnight Moon does.

Like so many picture books aimed at pre-schoolers, you have to time its introduction well. My son was about one and a half or two, I think, when he first took to it. Now that he's almost four, he doesn't take it off the shelf often, but he surprised me the other night be choosing it over the older stuff he usually wants nowadays. It's comforting.
posted by rory at 10:28 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

No Milne, or Hardy Boys, or Nancy Drew, or even The Brothers Grimm?

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew aren't picture books, though; they're quite a bit older than the sorts of books in this timeline. The Brother Grimm's stories aren't a specific book, but have appeared in many different versions. Milne is possibly on the cusp, but even Pooh is really for slightly older children than the picture book audience that this timeline seems to deal with; I tried it with my son when he was 3 and a half, but he's not quite ready yet - he likes the stories and characters, but the chapters are too long to hold his attention all the way through. Milne's poems were a better place to start. Peter Rabbit, on the other hand, he took to a year or more earlier, even when I thought it might be a bit wordy and old-fashioned (I wasn't a Peter Rabbit child myself).
posted by rory at 10:41 PM on March 5, 2011

After posting two comments on Goodnight Moon and Pooh and Peter Rabbit, I should add that overviews like this too often look like gift-giving guides for older relatives who want to hand on the favourites from their own childhood. I understand - and share - that impulse, but the classics should only be a small part of a child's bookshelf when we live in a time when so many excellent picture books are being published. Include some Seuss by all means, but don't neglect Julia Donaldson and Jez Alborough and Lauren Child and Polly Dunbar and Jane Chapman and Kim Lewis and Martin Waddell - and if you're a North American unfamiliar with those names and looking for something new for a small child, check them out.
posted by rory at 11:01 PM on March 5, 2011

(Actually, Jane Simmons was the one I meant to highlight there, not Jane Chapman, although I like some of her work too.)
posted by rory at 11:10 PM on March 5, 2011

Previously, Goodnight Dune.

Also, Michelle Sinclair Colman created quite a brouhaha over her article on using the children's section of Borders as a quasi-daycare. Quite a bit of spleen in the comments section.

And, International Children's Digital Library. You can read some classics online. There's also an app.
posted by cephalopodcast at 2:18 AM on March 6, 2011

Well the history is almost exclusively from the English language. I think a lot of [omitted] early illustrated kids lit is bound to be from Germany and France. I'm still surprised that a full digital copy of the 1658 work -- 'Orbis Sensualium Pictus' -- by Jan Comenius hasn't been posted online. Shame that.
posted by peacay at 2:21 PM on March 6, 2011

Oh, yeah. Good point on the "picture book" part. I missed that somehow and read it as "children's books."
posted by cooker girl at 4:55 PM on March 6, 2011

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