News – Orkney’s Victorian children’s library

A new exhibition has opened at Orkney Museum in Kirkwall which makes for a rich new addition to the history of Scottish children’s literature  –   and to the role of children themselves as writers and readers.

In the 1860s, three young Orcadian girls  –   Maria and Clara, and their cousin, Isabella  –  created their own library. Held by Orkney Library and Archives, this extraordinary collection of short stories, poems, plays, and fairy tales  –  which the children astutely named  ‘The Minervian Library’!  –  can now be seen.

We are delighted that Lucy Gibbon, Orkney Library and Archive’s Assistant Archivist, will be sharing more of the history of this wonderful collection with us in a future blogpost.

Meanwhile, you can find out more at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-40247004, and follow the Library’s dedicated blog here.

The beauty of pawprint tracking: c19th nature books for children

One recent box-unpacking afternoon led Niamh to discover the Museum’s extensive collection of nineteenth-century naturalist writing for children. Here, she reflects on the beauty and vibrancy of these books which encouraged their child readers to be keenly alert to, and understanding of, nature’s wonder and diversity. Something more than ever worth being reminded of, given the fragility of our own world   –   and all our connections to, and within, it. 

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Just the other day, while rummaging around the boxes deep in the bowels of the City Chambers, I came across some books on wildlife. Their covers were far from all-singing, all- dancing but I am a real sucker when it comes to things that seem all too neglected.

 

c19th nature book by Eliza Brightwen

The Museum’s copy of a volume by Eliza Brightwen, published in 1897; the self-taught Aberdeenshire-born naturalist illustrated her own writing

   

 

J.A. Atkinson's *British Birds, Eggs, and Nests* (1861)

John Christopher Atkinson’s *British Birds, Eggs, and Nests* (1861); both naturalist and children’s writer, he was also fascinated by the local legends, lore, and dialects of his Yorkshire parish

 

On opening one of them, I was rewarded for my taking pity; this volume had been awarded as a prize for Physics. The choice of books awarded for scholastic achievement is often very indicative of the values that Victorian schools, and thus that society, held dear. Natural History occupied a very privileged place in the education of that group. It was a discipline that ‘fascinated the Victorians … [it] was a fashionable activity and significantly participated in the construction of a bourgeois ethic’ and for the Victorians was key to exploring ‘ways in which … literary tales are informed with natural historical knowledge’ (Laurence Talairach-Vielmas, Fairy Tales, Natural History, and Victorian Culture [2014], pp. 1, 3). This branch of learning, once rather mainstream, has dwindled; it is now a discipline largely reserved to those who have chosen this aspect of science.

 

1892-3 school prize book

William Wright of George Heriot’s school, Edinburgh, was awarded Brightwen’s book in 1893 for coming second in his Physics class

  

It seems, to me, more and more important that we look back, not in a nostalgic misty-eyed way, but in a spirit of reassessment of our current situation, in order to live better, that is to say truly to live. Slowly, slowly, as a species, we are letting technology exert more and more influence over our day to day existence. This is not wholly lamentable but it does strike me that there is need to take stock. A people glued to social media may be more informed about certain things but they will miss out on the beauty of life all around them. Surely, a world viewed in the raw and unprocessed is one that is much more beautiful than one subjected to the filters and tints of technology because it is all the more real.

 

Animal tracks from c19th nature book

Tracking paw-prints! c19th naturalist writing taught children to be keen readers of the visible life within their landscapes

 

                                                                                This post written by Niamh

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

 

little-jack

‘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: http://www.gla.ac.uk/0t4/~dumfries/files/layer2/glasgow_broadside_ballads/.  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’.

Continue reading

Jessie Saxby (1842-1940) – Shetland’s first children’s writer

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8th, our blog this week is the first in a series on the unmarked contributions of early women writers to the history of Scottish children’s literature. Today it’s the turn of the prolific Jessie Margaret Edmonston Saxby (1842-1940) who transposed the Victorian boys’ adventure story to the Shetland islands, where she was born, and invented beautiful worlds of fairytale wintriness in her poetry and short stories for younger children…

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celtic-ballads-katherine-cameron

Katherine Cameron’s beautiful cover for *Celtic Tales told to the Children*

J.K. Rowling is the inheritor of a neglected tradition. From the early nineteenth century onwards, women have written children’s literature in Scotland but their books, and their lives, have largely been forgotten. Scottish women have also played a significant role as the illustrators and designers of children’s books —  Jessie M. King (1875-1949), for example, who created images for Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales, among many other works of fantasy and fairytale, or the less well-known Katherine Cameron (1874-1965) who produced illustrations for Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies as well as for collections of Celtic ballads for children. And for centuries, of course, they have been the transmitters and inheritors of oral tradition and its wealth of ballads and folktales who are occasionally remembered as the nurses, (grand)mothers, or sisters acknowledged by nineteenth century folktale collectors and antiquaries. Robert Louis Stevenson was grateful to his nurse Alison Cunningham for sharing her storehouse of stories and lore.

RLS-Alison Cunningham

RLS dedicated *A Child’s Garden of Verses* to Alison Cunningham, who nursed him as a child

 

Scottish women writers also played a role in the emergence of the literary fairy tale in print at the turn of nineteenth century in Britain (as opposed to the longer chapbook tradition or transcribed collections of folktales and ballads). Catherine Sinclair (1800-64), for example (who has a commemorative monument to her in North Charlotte Street in Edinburgh) published Holiday House. A Series of Tales in 1839.  This was innovative in its presentation of two orphaned siblings as ‘two of the most heedless, frolicsome beings in the world’. Harry and Laura (who is Alice-like in her insatiable ‘curiosity’ for things) are often disobedient, unruly, and untidy —  but their wholly child-like spirit for play and freedom is not chastised in conventional moralistic fashion. Even the fairy tale encased within the realist narrative is wry and funny and dark at the same time.

And because equality is not just for one day, SELCIE will be introducing many more female poets, novelists, short-story writers, and artists for children as we work towards our 2018 exhibition! Continue reading

Lions and tigers and unicorns?

Happy New Year! We thought we would start off 2017 with a closer look at this 1759 edition of A Description of Three Hundred Animals. We were very excited to find this lovely book on a trip to the Museum of Childhood’s stores late last year. Alongside the descriptions it features some amazing illustrated animals.

Animal Book

A Description of Three Hundred Animals, 1759

Many of the animals are quite charming, like this duck and his friends:

illustrated animals (duck)

There are also some strange ones, such as this chameleon that looks like a monkey:

Illustrated animals (cameleon)

Even stranger is the elephant with human toes:

Illustrated animals (Elephant)

Our hands-down favourite, however, had to be ‘an unicorn’, which is featured right at the start of the book, alongside the rhinoceros!

Illustrated animals (unicorn)

We find a lot of nineteenth-century treasures in the stores, and have found some eighteenth-century gems in the past as well. However, this one will remain a firm favourite. Nothing beats finding an unicorn!

 

This post written by Danielle

Welcome to SELCIE!

Welcome to the blog of the Scotland’s Early Literature for Children Initiative! SELCIE is a project that aims to explore the forgotten history of Scotland’s literature for children.

Our current work is in conjunction with Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood, which has the UK’s largest collection of childhood associated objects. Within these collections are some 11,000 books that members of SELCIE are helping to catalogue.

The City Chambers

Our meeting point outside the City Chambers

Every week, our team head down into the Museum’s stores in the City Chambers to sort through the boxes of books housed there.

The store in the City Chambers

Morgan working in the Museum of Childhood’s store in the City Chambers

The collection is full of hidden treasures and every week we find special items that bring us closer to the children of Scotland’s past. From funny doodles to touching inscriptions, we never fail to find beautiful reminders of the ups and downs of childhood during our visits.

A special find

One of our special finds: a book that has been hand-painted by its owner

Please join us on our journey to make these objects more accessible to the public! On the right, you can sign up to our newsletter, which will let you know when we make our fortnightly post. You can also follow us weekly on Twitter here!  We hope you will enjoy the special items we find as much as we do.

 

This post written by Danielle