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.


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]


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?



‘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’.

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Introducing Katie Forrester, our artist-in-residence!



This special blog post has been written by our new artist-in-residence, Katie Forrester. Katie is a PhD research student of Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland, UK. You can find her blog, ‘Katie’s Illustration’, here

Scotland’s Early Literature for Children Initiative (SELCIE) is an organisation which aims to rediscover Scotland’s heritage of publishing for children. Founding member, Sarah Dunnigan, kindly invited me to have a look in the Museum of Childhood archives held at the City Chambers, which I have been planning to do for a while and finally got the chance! In the basement, there is a room full of boxes which Sarah and her team have catalogued and another room with older books and chap books dating back to the seventeenth century.

The collection provides a historical context to my research project on cultural diversity in picture books made for children. In the archives, I am looking for clues of what ideologies may be included in children’s literature and how this may have changed over time. One of the books that caught my eye was a binding of Hungarian folk tales, which has a cornflower blue cover printed with yellow, green and red folk-style decorations (there is a picture below). It has a very orientalist (in the pejorative sense) preface written by Leo Sarkadi: “During all these centuries they [Hungarians] were the key to Europe, and as such often a mighty stronghold that held the wild eastern hordes at bay” (Pogany, 1913). At the time of publishing if this book, expanding empires were striving for cultural domination, which may be why Sarkadi describes these nations derogatorily and collectively as ‘eastern hordes’.

fairy book

Cover to The Hungarian Fairy Book, by Nandor and Willy Pogany

Clues to a propaganda against non-western civilisations- such as the Ottoman Empire – were evident in literature as can be deduced from this excerpt. It reveals a glaring example of western hegemony embedded through the subversive power of literature. The characters illustrated by Pogany  allude to charming tales told by wholesome and well-meaning storytellers such as the sketch I made below of a Hungarian woman below who is carrying baskets as if after a harvest – a familiar and modest role. However, the preface suggests the agenda of the book may not be as apolitical as it seems, instead it suggests certain cultures are of higher value than others, as well as that a conformist nature is a virtuous trait.

Hungarian Woman

My sketch of a Hungarian lady (maybe the source of the original stories?) who ornaments the end of some of the folk tales printed in ‘The Hungarian Fairy-Book’ by Nandor Pogany and illustrated by Willy Pogany

I also found an edition of Goblin Market (1893) by Christina Rossetti and illustrated by Laurence Housman with very intricate and spindly art-deco styled illustrations.The Goblin Market is a poem about two sisters, one of whom is seduced by the fruit of the goblins, and how they manage to overcome their ill-fate with sisterly care. I copied the typography on the front and a little goblin-like creature that seems to be hunched up in the heart of a chestnut:


My sketch of the typography and a goblin on the cover and front page of ‘The Goblin Market’ by Rossetti and illustrated by Housman (1893)

The illustrations by Housman are very decorative and, like the poem, heavy with symbolism and visual meaning. Christina Rossetti and Laurence Housman were both part of the Pre-Raphaelite movement which reacted against realism by revivifying medieval ideas of chivalry and romance, drawing heavily on archetypal imagery common in folktale and medieval romances (Roe, [online]). Archetypal imagery, or motif, is a subject I am particularly interested in as it tends form links between tales originating in disparate places (Propp, 1990 [1968]). For this reason, I use storytelling motifs to make illustration with the aim to create intercultural picture books. The SELCIE project allows me the opportunity to see how former illustrators have used symbol and engineered it to carry cultural meaning, which allows me in turn to question what ideological issues arise from my own work.

Goblin Market Cover Housman

The binding for The ‘Goblin Market’ designed by Housman



Figure 1: Laurence Housman’s cover design of The Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti (1983) [online] http://www.victorianweb.org/art/design/books/cooke8.html Accessed 17/03/2017

Figure 2: My sketch of a Hungarian woman (possibly harvesting, perhaps the storyteller).

Figure 3: My sketch of Housman’s typography and illustration for The Goblin Market by Rossetti.

Figure 4: Cooke, Simon (2014) Laurence Housman as a book binding [online]
designer http://www.victorianweb.org/art/design/books/cooke8.html


Pogany, Nandor and illustrated by Willy Pogany (1913) The Hungarian Fairy-Book
London: T. Fisher Unwin

Propp, Vladimir (1990 [1968]) The Morphology of the Folktale USA: University of Texas Press

Roe, Dinah The Pre-Raphaelites [online] https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/the-pre-raphaelites Accessed: 17/03/2017

Rossetti, Christina and illustrated by Laurence Housman (1893) Goblin Market London:Macmillan

Said, Edward (2001, [1978]) Orientalism  UK: Penguin



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…



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

Helen Douglas Adam (1909-93), child-poet of the pixie-pool


A portrait of Helen from the frontispiece of The Elfin Pedlar (1923)

Meet Helen Douglas Adam  –  the ‘infant poetess’ from Glasgow whose uncanny ballad poetry would find a home in the radical San Francisco artistic scene…



‘A little wee elf in coat of green / Dwelt in a tree so gray, / In the tiniest house that ever was seen, / Lit by the things that might have been, / And the light of yesterday’.[i]

This poem was written by a young girl called Helen Douglas Adam when she was between the ages of ten and twelve. Born in Glasgow, raised in Dundee and, for two years a non-matriculated student at Edinburgh University, she grew up to become a radical literary figure on the San Francisco Renaissance scene. Helen Adam’s life is a little like a fairy tale of a slightly surreal kind; but both she, and her work, have remained rather a well-kept secret.[ii] We discovered a copy of her first published volume, The Elfin Pedlar & Tales told by Pixy Pool (1923), whilst unpacking one Thursday afternoon in the Museum of Childhood’s book-vault.

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