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

 

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

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

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

 

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‘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 Duncan 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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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