Adventures in children’s literature

July 15 / 162

Reading Adventures is a new exhibition that draws on the Baillieu Library’s large collection of children’s literature.
Reading Adventures is a new exhibition that draws on the Baillieu Library’s large collection of children’s literature.

 

A new exhibition in the Baillieu Library showcases iconic items from the University’s collection of literature for children.

 

Grace Moore, lecturer in English and Theatre Studies, and researcher in the Centre for the History of Emotions, is curator of Reading Adventures, a new exhibition that draws on the Baillieu Library’s large collection of children’s literature.

 

Dr Moore says some researchers identify A little pretty pocket-book, published by John Newbery in 1744, as the first book created in English specifically for children.

 

“This lovely little volume sought to both entertain and instruct its young readers, following Locke’s educational model,” she says.

 

Dr Moore says the cheap paper, more efficient printing techniques and the affluent middle class that emerged with industrialism allowed the idea of childhood to develop. Prior to that time children were considered to be incomplete adults.

 

“There was a growing recognition that an infant’s early years should be characterised by learning through play,” she says, “while books such as Rousseau’s Émile (1762) emphasised the key role of play in helping children to think independently and to understand the world around them.

 

“As a result, privileged children were encouraged to relish their early years, to draw upon their imaginations, and enter a world of fantasy.”

 

Dr Moore says the exhibition uses the theme of adventure because of the genre’s prevalence in children’s literature over the centuries, but also because it demonstrates the way books for children were used to transmit ideas about the world and people’s roles in society.

 

Military, naval and chivalric stories are found among the earliest books for children, but the growth of the British Empire – particularly after 1870 – cemented adventure as a central theme of interest for children, according to Dr Moore.

 

The University’s holding of children’s literature developed from the donations of several collectors, including former state MP Ian McLaren. It includes the Public School Fiction Collection, a rich and varied source of school stories, and the Frederick Morgan Collection, a collection of 4000 volumes, many of which are adventure stories.

 

Reading Adventures is on show in the Noel Shaw Gallery in the University of Melbourne’s Baillieu Library until February 2016.

 

http://www.lib.unimelb.edu.au/collections/special

 

Story by Katherine Smith

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