A Thinking Space

In this blogpost, Niamh Keenan presents a personal perspective on what the Museum of Childhood exhibition, Growing Up With Books, means  —   and how it can be a space for our personal reflection on the books that made us, and a way of connecting us with others.

 

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you should be aware that the SELCIE exhibition had its launch on 31st of May. As one of the team, I was allowed to bring a plus one to the evening and I brought a person who was the one really to introduce me to the world of reading. My choice of guest was my mother. How could I not bring the woman who got rid of the television at home and instead insisted on books, with stories on tape being the order of the day during supper time? Being my parent, she was always going to insist how special the exhibition was but it was apparent to me that she was actually intrigued by the nature of the books on display inside the cabinets and how they had been curated. We had a long discussion about that.

While my mother grew up in 1950s Co. Antrim, and I am an Anglo Irish baby from the 1990s, we shared many books that defined us. One such example is Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, found in the Other Worlds case; it is extremely close to both of our hearts and yet we appreciate different facets of it. Her funny bone is tickled with the jokes regarding logic and the mathematics that underpin it and I am brought to laughter by the nonsense verses.

This is what makes SELCIE so powerful, namely that it brings into focus how books create a sense of commonality, despite the threads of difference that, inevitably, run amongst us. At the launch, and now as the exhibition runs, visitors mill around and, rather than contain themselves as individual members of the public, anonymous to each other, men and women, families with young children, older couples, exchange reminisces about how this book meant something significant during his or her formative years or about that that volume is akin to one that provoked a visceral reaction when a child.

 

The quotation attributed to Edmund Wilson that ‘no two persons ever read the same book’ has a lot of truth to it and yet, in some ways, it is a rather superficial comment. It says nothing about how it is through these points of dissimilarity that texts impart to readers the attribute of common understanding.

There may be truth to the statement that we are more divided than ever and yet there is no need for fear in a world where people are open to literature. Books have the ability to bring people together to discuss differences in a completely non-hostile way, exploring who we are and why we are that way inclined. The SELCIE exhibition itself, just as with the volumes in it, provides a chance to look backwards, take stock and project forwards ideas and opinions. One can come to an understanding of another through his or her reading and interpretation and, from there, have discussions on the bases of the findings. Akin to a university tutorial, where various students express what a particular text means to them, the SELCIE exhibition creates a special space, where each person can explore what the text or the components of a case awaken in him or her.

I speak as someone who is fully aware of her bias when I recommend that you, dear reader of the SELCIE blog, visit our exhibition in the Museum of Childhood. Once there, perceive yourself through the texts and then engage with the inner world of another visitor.

                                                                    This post written by Niamh

 

For events inspired by the Growing Up With Books exhibition at the Museum of Childhood this summer, please see here for more details! The SELCIE team will also be at the Museum in July and would love to hear your own reflections, reminiscences, and reflections about your childhood reading! More information coming soon! 

 

 

Science, Nature, and Children’s Books: finding Jane Marcet in the archive

Our hours spent happily in the Museum of Childhood’s archive revealed the richness of its collection of nature and science books written for young people, and confirmed the magnitude and diversity of women’s writing for children. Both elements will be on show in the Museum’s forthcoming exhibition, Growing Up With Books, which opens on June 1st!

A detail from the cover of one of the loveliest nature books in the collection!

But they are strikingly combined in a very particular mode of writing —  one which combines a flourishing culture of science writing for children and young people in the c19th century with the creative and intellectual interests of women in scientific developments. Beatrix Potter is not alone in being a children’s writer with a keen fascination for natural science.

This was crystallised one day when we picked up a book called The Seasons written by a woman called Jane Marcet, first published in 1832.  Though its familiar-sounding title might echo Romantic literature, this is in fact a collection of stories intended  for ‘very young children’ . These present a world in which nature unfolds through the year’s natural cycle in active and participatory ways for the volume’s fictional child protagonists who are a boy called Willy and his sister Ann.  Encouraged by his mother — ‘You must open up your eyes, Willy, and observe as well as you can’ —  the child peers inside a bud picked from a horse-chestnut tree.

A portrait of Jane Marcet

In another chapter, a little mouse intrudes through a hole in a corner of the nursery to enchant Willy at first, then to provoke him to ‘tantrums’ when the terrified housemaid suggests feline intervention! A fairly happy compromise for all is reached by the end  –  but along the way the story suggests that children’s sympathy for, and kindness towards, animals should be combined with respect for their natural instincts and habitats. It implies a rhythm and harmony existing both within nature and the domestic order which even the nicest of little mice shouldn’t disturb.

Such miniature nature narratives are sprinkled with a dose of moral conservatism. But they also try to teach their young readers to engage in close and empirical observation of the creatures, plants, and living things which encompass their world. The children’s curiosity leads them to discover everyday lessons about physiology, botany, the weather, and even the redness of robin feathers…

Illustrative detail from *The Child’s Zoological Garden*

Jane Marcet (1769-1858) passionately believed that science should be made accessible. With her husband, a medical graduate of Edinburgh University, she belonged to a scientific and intellectual community which had diverse creative and educational interests. She knew Maria Edgeworth, novelist, educationalist, and children’s writer (the Museum archive holds a number of her books), and the extraordinary Mary Sommerville —  the scientist, mathematician, and astronomer who came from the Borders and spent her girlhood in in Fife and Edinburgh.

As her extensive publications attest (such as the Conversations on Chemistry which took place between a teacher and her two female students), Marcet believed in the democratisation of knowledge. Her books reached a variety of readerly communities who usually suffered from various forms of social and cultural exclusion —  children and young people; women; members of mechanics’ institutes. And they were famously read by a youthful Michael Faraday when he worked as an apprentice bookbinder.

Marcet seemingly turned to writing for children and young people later in life. Ever mindful of the potential dullness of any subject, she enriched a grammar book by references to fairy tales and sponge cakes! For her younger readers, her enduring aim was to make science ‘familiar’. This intimacy can be seen in The Seasons where the child-worlds of garden and home become a playground for scientific revelation, and the mother is portrayed as a figure of learning as well as nurture.

In one way, this might be construed as a way of ‘talking down’ to children yet in another as simultaneously respecting and expanding a child’s worldview. Whilst obviously very different in form and style, one can see a connection between her work and Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales which so vividly convey a sense of wonder and life in natural things. [As demonstrated above in SELCIE’s banner image, taken from the botanically-themed front cover of an Andersen edition!]

And it also brings to mind the beautiful nature illustrations of Jemima Wedderburn (1823-1909), the Edinburgh-born artist, ornithologist, children’s illustrator, and constructor of scientific toys.

Jemima Wedderburn – painstaking artist of the natural world, and cousin of the Edinburgh physicist, James Clerk Maxwell

In such ways, then, a single book chanced upon by the SELCIE team in the Museum archive opens up a world of interconnecting skeins between scientific creativity, children’s books, and the women who were so frequently their makers and illustrators.

                                                                                    This post written by Sarah

Further reading

Debbie Bark, ‘Science for Children’, in The Routledge Research Companion to Nineteenth Century British Literature and Science, edited by John Holmes and Sharon Ruston (2017)

Elizabeth J. Morse, ‘Jane Haldimand Marcet’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Kathryn A. Neeley, Mary Somerville: Science, Illumination, and the Female Mind (2001)

‘Jane Marcet’, Science History Institute, https://www.sciencehistory.org/historical-profile/jane-marcet

The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science. Pioneering Lives from Ancient Times to the Mid-Twentieth Century, edited by Marilyn Ogilvie, Joy Harvey and Margaret Rossiter (2000)

The Art of Labeling

As preparation for Growing Up With Books, opening at The Museum of Childhood on June 1st, busily continues, Niamh presents a personal reflection on the art of writing about the collection’s treasures.

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This week finds the SELCIE team typing up museum-appropriate labels for our respective cabinets at the exhibition. This activity has presented me with an excellent opportunity to learn a new skill, that of writing for an audience made up of the general public. So very often I find that I have to check myself as my writing veers towards verbosity with its colour verging on purple. This self-censoring grounds my prose and prevents it from flying off into swirls of academic affectation. The most important aspect for me is that the tone is appropriate for the readership. This exhibition is all about children’s literature and therefore it aims to cover the gamut of ages, with texts suitable for little ones as well as for more adult readers. That being so, writing in a register more appropriate for a monograph would exclude a great number of the visitors. A child wants to know what he or she is seeing but does not need to be drowned in information. As such, a happy medium has to be struck.

Along with Sarah Dunnigan, I am in charge of the Other World cabinets. One of my research interests is fairy tales and another is national identity in the arts and therefore I can very easily find myself going to town with details that would interest only a very specific group. This occasion was no exception but, thankfully, I managed to notice where I was going and rein myself in before getting too far down the rabbit hole. No one likes extreme didacticism! Lyn Stevens has been so very helpful with providing museum guidelines, as well as numerous hints and tips on what to do. The most useful trick Lyn furnished me with is to think of the case as a story and the label as the narration of that tale. I absolutely adore creative writing but this activity is no mean feat. I have been trying to find a story to tell. It took me a while to narrow down the many ideas that I had bouncing around in my head. I decided that I wanted the viewer to expand their appreciation of what was already present in their literary knowledge, whether it be about authors already famous in Scotland or about the style of illustrations, already recognisable. Consequently, I have chosen to talk about … well … you, dear reader, shall have to come to our displays and find out. With that enigmatic ending, I am going to finish this blogpost. I do so hope that you visit our exhibition, which is opening very soon now.

                                                                      Archive bookshelf

                                                                                     This post written by Niamh

 

Simon Sommerville Laurie: Edinburgh Educationist

One of the more interesting recent finds from the Edinburgh Museum of Childhood’s book store is, perhaps surprisingly, a school book – The Sixth English Reading Book (fig. 1).

Figure 1

The book, which used to belong to Euphemia M. Millar, contains a timetable of various classes attended by the girl at school (fig. 2), as well as some cut out characters, objects and animals (fig. 3), possibly used as educational aids. All of this most wonderfully shows the owner’s use of the school book and suggests her interactive approach to learning.

Figure 2

Figure 3

Euphemia’s ownership, however, is not the only interesting story hidden within The Sixth English Reading Book. The book’s author, Simon S. Laurie, A.M., F.R.S.E., Professor of Theory, History, and Art of Education in the University of Edinburgh (fig. 4), may seem like one of many similar educational writers of the time, currently all but forgotten, if not entirely forgotten, but in his day he was an vigorous campaigner for various educational reforms.

Figure 4: Simon Somerville Laurie (1829–1909), by George Fiddes Watt, 1904
© reserved / courtesy of the University of Edinburgh’s Collections. See https://goo.gl/7tNH6B.

Edinburgh born and raised, Laurie eventually became secretary of the Church of Scotland’s education committee in 1855, and a year later a visitor and inspector in rural parish schools in the counties of Banff, Moray and Aberdeen. At the same time he began his writing career, which, along with his work as an inspector, made him Scotland’s leading expert on education by 1870, and in 1876 he was appointed to the university chair of education in Edinburgh.

Figure 5: 22 George Square – the house that used to belong to Simon S. Laurie. Currently University of Edinburgh School of Social and Political Science.

Perhaps through his work as an inspector, Laurie came to believe that teachers should be able to receive a university education, equal to other professions, such as doctors or lawyers, and he campaigned for it as the president of the Teachers’ Guild of Great Britain and Ireland (since 1891). As a secretary of the royal commission on Scottish endowed schools he worked towards the creation of a chain of secondary schools, and his project partially succeeded in 1878, with the newly-passed legislation. He also proposed a reform of educational ‘hospitals’, where a limited number of children could be enrolled on a charitable basis, which later influenced the foundation of large day schools. Last, but not least, in the 1860s, Laurie advocated the creation of higher education courses for Edinburgh women.

All of the above presents a portrait of a man thoroughly engaged in the betterment of both Scottish and national education system, who understood the importance of providing teachers with the best possible education, and the importance of higher education for all, including women. It seems fitting that one of Simon S. Laurie’s books used to belong to a young woman, whose education might have benefited through the reforms he proposed, and the changes his campaigning influenced.

Simon S. Laurie’s grave at the Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh.

Bibliography 

Anderson, R. (2004-09-23). Laurie, Simon Somerville (1829–1909), educationist. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved Jan. 2018, from https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/34422.

You can see this copy of The Sixth English Reading Book in our Growing Up With Books exhibition, opening June 1st, 2018!

This post written by Joanna Witkowska

Katie Morag goes to Edinburgh University

The little red-haired girl who lives on the Hebridean island of Struay, always attired in her welly boots and Fair Isle jersey, is an icon of contemporary Scottish children’s literature. This, of course, is Katie Morag, the much loved creation of Mairi Hedderwick.

SELCIE was therefore delighted at the news that Edinburgh University had awarded the writer and illustrator an Honorary Degree at a graduation ceremony held at the University of Edinburgh on Monday 27th November. Every one of Hedderwick’s stories opens up a vivid world world for its young reader; in Katie’s companionship, the distinctive culture and heritage of Scottish island life is also brought to life. And Hedderwick’s illustrations also capture a child’s perspective of landscapes, weather, and environment. This striking combination of the visual and verbal was adapted for television in 2013, and a new generation of children discovered Katie Morag in a new medium.

Interestingly, though, the stories didn’t come directly from Hedderwick’s own childhood. The nearest she came to island life was the view through the window of her Gourock home across the Firth of Clyde to Dunoon and the Cowal peninsula: ‘I knew I wanted to go there, across the water and over the hills and far away’, she has remarked. As a student she studied mural painting and ceramics at the Edinburgh Art School (now ECA), graduating in the early 60s. It was an experience that would give her ‘sudden freedom […] It was totally classless […] You had room to develop your personality’.

During this time, she first visited Coll, the small Hebridean island lying to the west of Mull and the real-life inspiration for Katie’s island. Working as a ‘mother’s help’ to the laird’s family, she lived without electricity or drinking water but it was still ‘joyous’, she recalls. She subsequently returned and stayed for ten years where she raised a young family and began her career as an illustrator of children’s books by writers such as Rumer Godden and Jane Duncan, and of collections of Gaelic stories and Scottish folktales. Though the family left Coll in the early 70s, its inspiration was deeply seeded, and the first of the Katie Morag series appeared in 1984.[i]

It forms one strand of a rich body of work which encompasses other stories for children (as well as her travel writing which often draws on this rich seam of island experience). Thanks to Hedderwick’s captivating blend of word and image, the material presence of Katie Morag’s world is everywhere — not just in bookshops and television but in cups and calendars. The books belong to the classroom too, and Hedderwick herself is a regular and popular visitor (along with Katie’s teddy bear!) to primary schools and local book festivals; as she herself has said, ‘storytelling [is] a shared activity’.

These stories have become an intimate, homely presence in children’s lives — a vital contribution to a longstanding tradition of Scottish children’s writing, all the way back to Robert Louis Stevenson and A Child’s Garden of Verses, which so memorably captures a child’s view of the world. And, happily, that tradition is still flourishing across the  diversity of contemporary Scottish children’s literature, and the small, independent publishing houses which so often nourish and sustain it.

                                                               This post written by Sarah

[i] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-26483303

A Doll’s Life

The book vault of the Museum of Childhood spans the globe both imaginatively and geographically. Russian fairy tales and handmade Japanese books nestle in boxes alongside home-grown favourites such as Peter Pan or Treasure Island. This often makes our task of sifting through the archive one of curiosity and unexpected delight. And the common thread that links these volumes is that each has somehow made a journey to the Museum’s collection. In that sense, there is always a local connection to each book, no matter how far-flung or remote it might seem.

Part of our exhibition, ‘Growing Up With Books’ (opening June 2018), will celebrate the well-travelled nature and diversity of the Museum’s archive —  a little history of the binding and interconnected story of children’s literature. In today’s blog, Sarah presents a ‘taster’, or miniature, of that aspect in describing a small illustrated French book which we pulled out of a box one day. Continue reading

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

Juliana Horatia Ewing – an inspiration in the reading lives of Victorian children

One of the authors whose well-thumbed books we frequently discover in the Museum’s long-untouched boxes is Juliana Horatia Ewing. Once a popular and celebrated writer of late Victorian children’s fiction, her achievements  –  as so often the case with women writers of  –  have been overlooked. Here, Lois marks Ewing’s importance in the history of children’s literature as well as her influence and inspiration.


Ewing-flat-iron

One of the Museum’s many books by Ewing – testament to her popularity with readers

 

In 1853, Reverend John Todd published a conduct book, The Daughter at School, in which he stipulates what good girls ought to read. He writes that:

       There are but two kinds of books in the world, – such as are designed to instruct,     and such as are intended to amuse; and when a book blends amusement with instruction, it is not for the sake of amusement, but for the sake of instruction, – just as you mix sugar with your medicine, not for the sake of the sugar, but to make the medicine go down.[1]

Ewing-Lob-by-the-Fire

Many of Ewing’s stories drew on folk and fairylore

One writer who arguably achieved both amusement and instruction in her writing was Juliana Horatia Ewing (née Gatty, 1841-1885), who burst into the lives of reading girls in the final three decades of the nineteenth century. Some of her children’s books sold more than one hundred thousand copies during this time period, yet she is still relatively obscure to Victorianists today.[2]

Born in Yorkshire, Ewing’s father was a clergyman and her mother encouraged Juliana and her sister Horatia to write creatively. Juliana was known by many of those closest to her as ‘Aunt Judy’, and she first published most of her fiction in Aunt Judy’s Tales (1859), Aunt Judy’s Letters (1862), and Aunt Judy’s Magazine (1866–82), which her mother edited. After her mother’s death, Juliana became joint editor of the magazine with her sister. In the early 1860s Ewing was also published in The Monthly Packet, the Anglican magazine edited by Charlotte Yonge. Continue reading

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