University of Delaware Library


Stories: After 1850

The second half of the nineteenth century was the golden age of children's literature in England and the United States. Great writers teamed with great illustrators to produce the books we still consider classics. The industrial revolution led to advances in printing which made books colorful, affordable, and plentiful. The growing middle class, with its increased interest in education, expanded the audience for children's books.

Pictures and Stories from Uncle Tom's Cabin. Boston: John P. Jewett & Co., 1853.

Uncle Tom's Cabin, one of the most influencial books of nineteenth-century America, was first published in book form in 1852. Within a year, simplified editions for children appeared in both the United States and England. In this retelling, portions of the story are in verse. An introduction states: "this little work is designed to adapt Mrs. Stowe's touching narrative to the understandings of the youngest readers and to foster in their hearts a generous sympathy for the wronged Negro race of America."

Thomas Hughes, 1822-1896.
Tom Brown's School Days. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1911.

Tom Brown's School Days was the first of the great school stories, a genre still popular with teenaged readers. The problems of fitting in and dealing with bullies had a sense of reality that made it appealing to a young audience when it was first published in 1857. The frontispiece in this 1911 edition was painted by Frank Schoonover, the well-known Wilmington illustrator and student of Howard Pyle.

Charles Kingsley, 1819-1875.
The Water-babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-baby. London and Cambridge: Macmillan and Co., 1863.

An immensely popular book in its time which combines gentle fantasy with social commentary, The Water-babies tells the story of an abused child chimney-sweep who drowns and turns into an immortal water creature. The book's didacticism has made it seem old-fashioned today, particularly when compared to Alice in Wonderland, published two years later.

Lewis Carroll, 1832-1898.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. New York: D. Appleton, 1866.

While many books written for adults are enjoyed by children, Alice is the rare children's work which is equally appealing to adults. As illustrated by John Tenniel, many characters including the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, and the Red Queen are instantly recognizable. The story and many of its memorable and witty lines, have passed into our common vocabulary. This copy is one of the Second American issue of the first edition.

S. Weir Mitchell, 1829-1914.
The Wonderful Stories of Fuz-buz the Fly and Mother Grabem the Spider. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1867.

S. Weir Mitchell was a well-known Philadelphia physician, neurologist, poet, and novelist. His best known novel is Hugh Wynne Free Quaker which was illustrated by Howard Pyle. Fuz-buz was one of the two children's stories he wrote at the beginning of his career.

Louisa May Alcott, 1832-1888.
Little Women, or, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. Boston: Roberts, 1868.

Based on her own girlhood, Louisa May Alcott's domestic drama presented a family that seemed real. While there is some sermonizing in Little Women, there is also human reaction against the over-moralizing. The heroine Jo, is outspoken and independent, uninterested in ladylike behavior and an early marriage. The relationship between adults and children is more equal and less authoritarian than most other nineteenth-century books for young people. As the success of the recent movie version of Little Women shows, Alcott's story still has something to say to young people.

The Wonderful Leaps of Sam Patch. New York: McLoughlin Brothers, circa 1870.

McLoughlin Brothers published a series of picture books or toy books with large chromolithographic illustrations. This one is particularly interesting for its depictions of small town American life.

Mark Twain, 1835-1910.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Hartford: American Pub. Co., 1876.

Of all of Twain's stories, Tom Sawyer is the one most clearly written for children. An adult audience was also sought, as Twain writes in the preface: "Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try pleasantly to remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in."

Mark Twain, 1835-1910.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's Comrade). New York: C.L. Webster and Co., 1885.

The genius of Huckleberry Finn is its combination of an exciting narrative and a moral view that questioned the American society of its day. It was not written as a children's book, but young people can relate to the brave resourceful hero who rebelled against the hypocrisy of the adult world. Unfortunately, adults still have problems with the book; after a hundred years it is still one of the books most often banned.

Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936.
The Jungle Book. With illus. by J. L. Kipling, W. H. Drake, and P. Frenzeny. London, New York, Macmillan, 1894.

The story of a boy raised by wolves in India was enormously popular for over fifty years. Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan books were clearly inspired by Kipling. By the second half of this century, however, the imperialism and racism implicit in the stories made Kipling seem dated and inappropriate for children. Walt Disney's simplified movie version made it popular again for a much younger audience.

Palmer Cox, 1840-1924.
Brownie Year Book. New York: McLoughlin Bro's, 1895.

The Brownies first appeared in the pages of St. Nicholas, a children's magazine, but their tremendous popularity led to eleven Brownie books as well as Brownie clothing, decorations, and other items. The depictions of ethnic groups and nationalities were stereotypic as were most popular images of the time.

Three Little Kittens and Other Nursery Stories. New York: McLoughlin Bros., 1896.

A chromolithographic toy book, this is printed on linen to withstand wear and tear by its youthful audience. The charming illustrations show the clothing and home interiors of the late-Victorian era.

L. Frank Baum, 1856-1919.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Chicago: G. M. Hill Co., 1900.

While The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a fantasy, its rural setting and plain-speaking characters make it a truly American story. Like Tenniel's drawings for Alice in Wonderland, W.W. Denslow's illustrations have become firmly linked with Baum's tale. Baum and other authors continued writing books about Oz, but none came near the first, in either originality or popularity.

Peter Newell, 1862-1924.
The Rocket Book. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1912.

Peter Newell's work was unusual in that he wrote, illustrated, and designed the books so that the novel aspect of the books, in this case a die-cut hole going throught the book, becomes an integral part of the story rather than a gimmick. The story tells of a rocket which travels upward through twenty floors of an apartment building. The Rocket Book is also unusual for depicting children living in an urban environment.

Henry Gilbert.
Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood. Edinburgh and London: T. C. & E. C. Jack, 1912.

The adventures of Robin Hood have thrilled children since their first appearance around the year 1500. Many illustrators have also been inspired by the exciting tales. This collaboration between Gilbert and the illustrator Walter Crane is aimed at the older child or young adult reader. Crane's style with its clear black outlines and bright but limited color palette, captures the medieval flavor of the story.

Jacob Grimm, 1785-1863.

Little Brother & Little Sister and Other Tales by the Brothers Grimm; illustrated by Arthur Rackham. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1917.

Arthur Rackham was the most successful of the early twentieth-century English fantasy artists. Sixteenth-century German artists, Albrecht Dürer and Albrecht Altdorfer inspired Rackham, as did the Pre-Raphaelites and Art Nouveau. Rackham illustrated over ninety books, primarily classics and fairy tales; but he is best known for his illustrations for Peter Pan.

Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894.

Treasure Island. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.

This edition of one of the greatest adventure stories ever written is illustrated by N. C. Wyeth, one of this century's best fantasy artists. A student of Howard Pyle, Wyeth combined his teacher's dynamic designs with his own brilliant use of color.

Mary Mapes Dodge, 1830-1905.
Hans Brinker, or, The Silver Skates, illustrated in color by N. C. Wyeth and Peter Hurd. Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing Company, 1932.

Although best known for this story of a Dutch boy, Mary Mapes Dodge was most influential as the editor of St. Nicholas, the leading children's magazine of the late nineteenth century. Peter Hurd, the illustrator, was the son-in-law of N. C. Wyeth. While influenced by the Brandywine School artists, Hurd's greatest inspiration was the light and landscape of his native New Mexico.

Sir Thomas Malory.
The Boy's King Arthur: Sir Thomas Malory's History of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, edited for boys by Sidney Lanier; illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. New York, Scribner's, 1917.

This popular retelling of the Arthurian legend modernized the spelling in Malory's original and made other cuts "as seemed necessary for propriety," but attempted to keep the original tone. N. C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle's greatest student and founder of the Wyeth artistic dynasty, excelled in the use of color to create atmosphere.

A. A. Milne, 1882-1956.
The House at Pooh Corner. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1928.

Among the most beloved books for young children for nearly three quarters of a century, the stories of Christopher Robin and Pooh have become more familiar to today's toddlers than Mother Goose. Sadly, the gentle drawings by Ernest Shepard seem to be overshadowed by the cartoon images of the Disney version.

Maurice Sendak.
Where the Wild Things Are. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Hughly popular with children, Where the Wild Things Are has been viewed warily by adults who see it as frightening. As with fairy tales, however, children are not put off by monsters when the story ends happily.

Chris Van Allsburg.
Jumanji. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981.

One of the most talented modern American illustrators of children's books, Van Allsburg filled his early works with a surreal and mysterious atmosphere.


Stories of adventure have always attracted children, from the oral tales of Robin Hood and King Arthur to the early novels, Gulliver's Travels and Robinson Crusoe. By the middle of the nineteenth century, novelists were beginning to write specifically for a young audience. In England, the growing popularity of adventure stories coincided with Britain's emergence as a great military and naval power which had an expanding empire and growing foreign markets for its manufactured goods. Middle-class boys expected to work abroad in commerce, the army, or as public servants. In the United States, the opening of the frontier provided American boys with the possibilities of an exciting future. While girls did not have the job opportunities, they could at least see themselves as wives and mothers living in these exotic locales.
The great scientific and societal changes of the early twentieth century had a great influence on the adventure story. The exploits of the World War I fliers replaced the cowboy and big game hunter in the dreams of young boys. The more active role of women in society was reflected by the growth of female heroines like Nancy Drew. Science fiction began to develop as a separate genre, although the story lines remained the same whether the locale was India, the Yukon Territory, or Saturn. Many of these adventure stories were published in long series, written by different writers all using the same name. The best known was the Stratemeyer Literary Syndicate which produced such series as the Rover Boys, the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, the Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew between 1906 and 1984.

James Otis, 1848-1912.
Ralph Gurney's Oil Speculation. New York: A. L. Burt Co., 1911.

Fran Striker, 1903-1962.
The Lone Ranger at the Haunted Gulch. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1941.

Franklin W. Dixon.
The Hidden Harbor Mystery. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1875-1950.
Tarzan the Untamed. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1920.

A. E. Van Vogt
The Mixed Men. New York: Gnome Press, 1952.

Robert A. Heinlein.
Space Cadet. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948.

Ruby Lorraine Radford, 1891-.
Kitty Carter, Canteen Girl. Racine, Wis.: Whitman Publishing Company, 1944.

Carolyn Keene.
The Clue in the Diary. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1932.

Lela Emogene Owens Rogers.
Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak; an original story featuring Ginger Rogers, famous motion-picture star, as the heroine. Racine, Wis.: Whitman Publishing Company, 1942.

Introduction Early Works Fables and Fairy Tales Books of Instruction Primers Poetry Popup and Movable Books Stories before 1850


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