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

The secret lives of SELCIE’s books

Every Thursday afternoon the SELCIE team descend the long winding stairs which lead down into the Museum of Childhood’s book vault, as if entering a series of secret chambers! Every box of unpacked books holds secrets  –  you never know what lies inside. So too does every book. Except sometimes when opening them up we find little traces of their once-upon-a-time reader(s), and a hidden life can be glimpsed. Here, Niamh introduces one of her favourite ‘secret’ books, proving that appearances can be deceptive….

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Not every book for children can be a story of great ‘derring-do’ or of an escapade; sometimes, they have a serious edge. It was one of this latter group that I found in our terrific trove: the book Hymns for Children of 1814. It may not look like much from the cover but it became rather dear to me for underscoring one of SELCIE’s great facets.

 

children's-hymnbook

The Museum’s seemingly inauspicious, but well-worn, early c19th children’s hymnbook

 

Not every treasure found with SELCIE yields up information about itself but this one bestowed two such gifts. Upon opening it, the name ‘Jane Barrowman’ could be seen. Whose heart doesn’t leap upon finding a name and have a thousand images come together to create a possible life?

 

jane-barrowman-signature

The volume’s owner had carefully inscribed her name within it

 

Further, there was a charming blue bookmark. I do love finding personal objects in texts, as they tend to shed a light on an owner. I have found many markers, tokens and dried flowers over my time working with books on the SELCIE project. I instantly wanted to know which pages were being saved by the reader of this particular book. The two pages it was marking contained the hymn ‘Against cruelty to the Creatures’ and ‘Against Idleness and Mischief’.

 

the-blue-bookmark

This little blue bookmark is touching testimony to a reader’s former presence – did it belong to Jane perhaps?

 

While not exactly a joyous read, either of them, the two pieces and Hymns for Children as a whole show that the owner, or someone connected to the owner, deemed it fitting to read these works. Naturally, I have no way of knowing whether it was an enjoyable read to its owner but I can presume that it was scanned at the very least. This book, seemingly so insignificant initially, reminded me of one of the most wonderful things about SELCIE, namely that one gets to discover what another held in his or her hands and perused like us only many years ago.

This post written by Niamh

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