Chapbooks for Children: the missing link in the history of Scottish children’s literature?



‘The Entertaining and Instructive History of Little Jack’. Courtesy of GUL Special Collections

Children’s literature has a long history of being ‘entertaining and instructing’. I’ve taken this week’s blog title from a specific chapbook: The Entertaining and Instructing History of Little Jack.  This copy belongs to Glasgow University Library’s Special Collections, and I am very grateful for their permission to include some images from their Scottish children’s chapbooks here.


The story of Aladdin was a favourite amongst Scottish chapbook makers! Courtesy of GUL Special Collections.

I first came across children’s chapbooks myself while working alongside David Hopkin, on chapbooks and broadsides for adults. As part of a teaching project, we digitised two hundred items from the David Murray collection:  I noticed one or two titles which might appeal to children—a version of ‘Cinderella’, for instance, as ‘Catskin’, and mentions of pieces such as ‘Aladdin, or the Magical Lamp’.

little chapbooks

A selection of beautiful little chapbooks. Courtesy of GUL Special Collections

One of the more sensational chapbooks produced by the Glasgow company, J. Lumsden. Courtesy of GUL Special Collections

Later, I discovered that some chapbook printers specialised in materials for children. James Lumsden & Sons of Glasgow, for instance, active between 1783 and 1892 produced a variety of material aimed at children, including ‘dabbities’, or coloured pictures—children would stick a pin into a book and if they found a picture, they won it. They also printed ‘Toy Books’. These are small, around 8 inches long by 4 wide. There are Fairy tales and well known children’s tales we would recognise today: Cinderella, Jack the Giant Killer, the story of Aladdin. They also printed Abridgements, for instance of Gulliver’s Travels, and sensational tales, such as Obi, or Three-Fingered Jack, dealing with a Jamaican outlaw of the late nineteenth century. There is a large set, too, of moral and didactic tales, including the ‘Entertaining and Instructing Histories’ of my title.


This is an under-collected, and under-researched type of chapbook literature—perhaps, because of their intended audiences, they were particularly ephemeral. With a few exceptions—Walter Scott’s library at Abbotsford contains over one hundred children’s titles, some from his own childhood—Scottish children’s chapbooks are underrepresented in what can be really sizeable collections.  Moreover, the only substantial consideration of Scottish cheap print literature for children, to date, is an unpublished M.Phil dissertation by Kirsteen Connor, ‘Youth’s poison?  The creation and evolution of children’s chapbooks in Scotland, 1800-1870’ (2010):


Scottish children’s chapbooks raise more questions than they answer. Parallels could be drawn, for instance, between the more humorous illustrated chapbooks and the work of Julia Donaldson, between tales of adventure and John Buchan and, perhaps, between some stories of dark magic and the work of J.K. Rowling.  I’m not going to suggest that either writer has a deep knowledge of chapbook literature but I do wonder if, perhaps, children’s chapbooks are a missing link between early children’s books in Scotland, and children’s literature today.


                                                                                        This post written by Valentina




2 thoughts on “Chapbooks for Children: the missing link in the history of Scottish children’s literature?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *