Scottish Folk and Fairy Tale Illustration

We’re delighted to welcome back our artist-in-residence, Dr Katie Forrester! Katie has been with us in the Museum of Childhood archive since Selcie‘s inception, sketching and drawing, and reflecting on her own practice as an illustrator and teacher. Although the pandemic has sadly kept us away from its book collection, Katie’s post shows how it’s continued to inspire and nurture her imagination in recent work which she shares with us here…


“Recently, I had the fortune to display illustrations made during my time studying in Edinburgh in an exhibition of work created by staff at the University of Gloucestershire, where I now teach Illustration.

The work I included were lino prints depicting recurring characters found in Scottish folktales that I explored in the archives of the Museum of Childhood during visits as artist in residence with SELCIE.

In particular, I was inspired by characters in Celtic Wonder Tales by Ella Young (1910), and a book that was gifted to me by friends entitled The Folk Tales of Scotland by Norah and William Montgomerie (2008). These publications spoke of characters such as Ghillie-Dhu, a mischievous woodland spirit, the infamous, illusive Selkies, and the Stoor Worm who greedily gobbled villages whole.

Folktales describe and make relatable the beauty and challenges of existing and surviving within the natural world, which are once again prevalent in our everyday conversations and stories in new ways. I hope to make a publication of the collection of Celtic creatures to capture experiences of the changing environment we are all encountering and hearing tales of. Reinvented stories of such creatures may enable us to grapple with and exist within nature’s forces, as all mysterious and magical creatures exist among us through storytelling in its many forms”.

Katie Forrester, August 2021

‘Ghillie Dhu’ (2020) by Katie Forrester

‘Stoor Worm’ (2020) by Katie Forrester

‘The Bull of Norroway’ (2020) by Katie Forrester

‘Scottish Women Writers and the Golden Age of Children’s Literature, c. 1865-1930’

In this blog post, Dr Lois Burke – longstanding SELCIE researcher and writer – introduces us to her exciting new postdoctoral project, undertaken at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) at the University of Edinburgh. ‘Scottish Women Writers and the Golden Age of Children’s Literature, c. 1865-1930’ emerges from working as part of SELCIE in the book stores of the Museum of Childhood, where an estimated 20,000 books are stored.

While working in the book store, I was struck by the number of works authored by women writers who I hadn’t heard of, and I was also surprised by the sheer range of these works. Fairy tales, histories and biographies, school stories, New Woman novels and pages in magazines like The Girls Own Paper were attributed to (often Scottish) women writers.

Some of these names were familiar to me, as a great deal of excellent research has already been conducted into women writers of the children’s periodical press. For example in her 2016 monograph Beth Rodgers uncovered the reach of the Irish author and girls’ magazine editor L. T. Meade and various contemporary writers.[1] Other scholars have published on the female-dominated periodical press of the late 19th century (Moruzi and Smith, 2014; Beetham, 1996).

Yet Scottish women authors of this era have not been fully incorporated into this body of work. Sarah Dunnigan’s and Shu Fang Lai’s edited The Land of Story Books: Scottish Children’s Literature in the Long Nineteenth Century (2019) outlined the importance of uncovering these writers, especially when certain Scottish children’s authors (like J. M. Barrie and R. L. Stevenson) are deservingly celebrated. In Scottish periodical studies, these prolific turn-of-the-century women writers are starting to adopt a more prominent position.[2] Yet, the absence of recent full-length book studies of Scottish women writers attests to the need for revived critical attention. For example, the only book on the Findlater sisters was published in 1964.[3] Not only are these writers out of print; scholarship on them is too!

I started my recovery project by simply locating biographical and bibliographical information of these women. Although this doesn’t sound like the most exciting part of the research, finding basic information about some of these writers is an important foundation for more in-depth analysis.

Given the limited access to libraries, archives and the museum of Childhood’s book collection due to the pandemic, my search for information began online. Websites and online catalogues including At the Circulating Library, Trinity College Dublin’s National Centre for Children’s Books, the Oxford Dictionary for National Biography, the British Newspaper Archive, and the Scottish Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women Writers were resources which I regularly drew upon.[4]

I added this information to a GraphCommons simple network map, based initially on Annie S. Swan’s connections through the periodical press. This helped to store my research and also start to visualise the connections between these women and the publications they were associated with.

I then put together a database including all Scottish women writers who published children’s literature between 1865 and 1930 (my roomy interpretation of the first ‘Golden Age’ of children’s literature). I decided to include all of their works published between these dates, whether they were ostensibly aimed at a youth audience or not.

I will create some data visualisations of this database and contextualise these writers and their works in broader debates in late-Victorian culture. I will also examine these women writers’ explicit engagement with young readers and writers. Most of them wrote for children’s magazines, some even acted as ‘agony aunts’, responding to children’s written enquiries. Plus, my database shows that many of these women writers wrote and even published during their girlhood. Youthful creativity and culture was important to these writers in more ways than one.

I will share the progression of this work in another blog post soon. If anyone is interested in this project I can be contacted by email at or on Twitter at @LoisMBurke.

[1] Beth Rodgers: Adolescent Girlhood and Literary Culture at the Fin de Siecle: Daughters of Today. London: Palgrave, 2016.

[2] Charlotte Lauder, a Strathclyde University PhD student, is considering some of these women writers in the context of Scottish national culture at the turn of the 20th century. I thank her for her helpful advice and collaboration on this research project.

[3] Eileen Mackenzie, The Findlater Sisters: Literature and Friendship. London: John Murray, 1964.

[4] I thank IASH for funding my subscription to the British Newspaper Archive.

‘time changes’: Visitor Responses to the ‘Growing Up with Books’ exhibition

SELCIE’s first exhibition ‘Growing up with Books’ ran from June until December 2018 at the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh. It celebrated the culmination of SELCIE researchers’ cataloguing and research work in the Museum of Childhood’s book collection.

We had been exploring the collection since 2016; reading everything from 17th century Latin grammar books to 20th century ‘classics.’ The collection is uniquely special in its representation of Scottish writers, publishers, and readers (evident in marginalia and book plates). In the exhibition we had the task of showcasing these strengths in the collection, and also communicating an engaging potted history of children’s books in Scotland to a diverse museum audience. The exhibition was also accompanied by a range of interactive events for children and adults alike.

Visitors were invited to give feedback on the exhibition via postcards. This blog post collates some of the visitor feedback; hopefully you find the responses as enlightening, touching, and funny as we do!


Naturally many of the feedback cards were populated with scribbles, doodles, and drawings. These can still provide insight into exhibition interpretation, such as this drawing of a school girl with the caption ‘time changes’.


It is clear that particular display cases had an effect on visitors – the fairy tale section was particularly popular. One postcard read: ‘I like reading and writing and I love all sorts of fairy tales. This exhibition inspired me to take my old fairy tales books and read.’ Another gestured to the display of scrapbooks and other examples of children’s marginalia and manuscript culture: ‘I love the scrapbooks thank you so much!’

The historical books on display were favoured by some young visitors. Sienna Lamont, age 8, from Glasgow, wrote: ‘I have lerned [sic] lots of history and I am only 8 years old and it [sic] so amazing.’


One visitor wrote that they learned ‘how small books were in olden days’ and another observed that ‘the old books are in such a good condition.’ Ella commented that ‘it was more fun then [sic] I thought it would be’, which is a positive result!

Some young visitors expressed that they had learned something from the exhibition. Constance commented that it was ‘very intresting [sic] very educational.’

Isabella, age 7, from Stranraer, wrote: ‘This inspired me because I dident [sic] know the reading books where [sic] like that.’ We think that in this drawing Isabella is recreating the colourful early nineteenth-century alphabet books which were on display.

Several postcards from older visitors suggested that the exhibition stirred up childhood memories for them. One visitor wrote: ‘It was such a lovely time remembering about long forgotten times, I leave hear [sic] today remembering who I am, thank you.’ We’d love to hear more stories of childhood reading. You can share your memories with SELCIE via this link:

Finally, we received the one critique which we had all feared:


This post written by Lois



‘Riding the First Wave of Children’s Literature’

Kathryn Downing, a Masters student in Book History and Material Culture at the University of Edinburgh, spent the spring amidst the pre-1850 book collections at the Museum of Childhood. You can read her fascinating reflections on the different trends and impulses in children’s literature which she observed at the Museum’s own blog, Stories of Childhood


Book Launch

SELCIE is delighted to announce that a new publication –  The Land of Story-Books: Scottish Children’s Literature in the Long Nineteenth Century, edited by Sarah Dunnigan and Shu-Fang Lai (Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2019) –  will be launched on Friday 14th June at 5pm at Edinburgh University, kindly hosted in association with the Department of English Literature’s SWINC [Scottish Writing in the Nineteenth Century], alongside the launch of Edinburgh University Press’s Commemorating Peterloo. Please join us for this joint celebration.

Location: 50 George Square, second floor, in the space outside room 2.43.

Please contact Sarah for more information:

For details on the 1819 symposium which precedes the event, see  


This collection of twenty essays is the first extensive study of the range and diversity of Scottish children’s literature in Gaelic, Scots, and English, encompassing chapbooks, poetry, popular fiction, fairy tales and more by both well-loved and unknown writers. It also includes a chapter by some of our very own SELCIE team on some treasures from the Museum of Childhood’s archive. Beautifully illustrated, it brings to life the materiality of children’s reading lives and culture in the period.



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,

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)

Picture This

Picture This 

What’s the relationship between text and image in illustrated children’s books? In this blog, Niamh reflects on this question, thrown up by having to choose between a multitude of beautiful different editions of the same text for our ‘Growing Up With Books’ exhibition.


As you know, the SELCIE group has been deciding which books will end up in the exhibition and the catalogue next year. I have no need to tell you how hard it is to making such choices. However, during this time, I have come across a difficulty that I had not really thought about until now: how to evaluate volumes that contain the same text but have differing illustrations.

Dr Sarah Dunnigan and I are putting together the “other world” cabinet, a box that will showcase magic, fairies and various other enchantments; we decided that, for this, the Scottish author J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan would grace us with its esteemed presence. However, in our numerous boxes, there are countless versions of the text. This got me wondering how far does illustration work in conjunction with the text of a book.

Some writers are particularly demanding in what they want the pictures in their books to demonstrate, as was the case of author Lewis Carroll and cartoonist-cum-illustrator John Tenniel: ‘The charts [Carroll] drew up for the sequence of llustrations [sic] include not only meticulous numberings, endlessly scratched out, redrafted and revised. … He wrote copiously to Tenniel to monitor his progress and control his interpretations’ (Warner). So many questions spring from these actions. To list a few: (i) How far do illustrations work independently of the text? (ii) What happens after the work no longer must be printed with these illustrations? (iii) How much power does the illustrator have over the narrative of the story? (iv) If the author has demanded a set of drawings be commissioned for his or her text, then does it become a different piece of work if other illustrations are used? I think these are very important issues, which demand close consideration but that does not mean I have any settled opinions on the matter.

If one were to argue that such things are unimportant then he or she would do well to consider the situation as applied to picture books or comic books: two components that work less with the written word and more with the illustrations. As one who is currently researching postcolonial paraliterature, including Hugo Pratt’s ‘Corto Maltese’ series, I would say that a lot of information is implicit in what appears in the frame, as opposed to what is explicitly declared in speech bubbles. Indeed, within a comic strip, ideas can subtly be diffused to and absorbed by the reader/viewer, in just as many ways as the written words of a text can be transmitted.

In choosing which Peter Pan text to exhibit, this idea of the importance of illustrations and their differing values and meanings has really come into focus for me. With that in mind, which volume of Barrie’s text should be chosen to show the general public? I am hoping that we can exhibit as many as possible, in part to manifest these ideas but, additionally, to give a showcase to as many different artists’ ideas as space allows.


Warner, Marina. ‘Curiouser and curiouser.’ Tate Etc. 1 Sept. 2011 <> Web.