“To delight and entertain”: Children’s Literature in the Special Collections

This blog post explores texts in our special collections written and created for children, and the ways in which this genre has evolved through the centuries. These items span from Ancient Greek stories and 17th century fatherly advice, to Victorian adventurers and mischievous modern poems. Links throughout the post will allow you to learn more about subjects or view full texts online.

Aesop’s Fables

Aesop is believed to have been an Ancient Greek slave and storyteller between 620 and 564 BCE. The fables attributed to him were intended for adults, exploring ethics and philosophy. The 18th Century saw a shift in how the fables were used and presented after John Locke suggested that illustrations would allow them to “delight and entertain” children (Some Thoughts Concerning Education, 1693). Aesop’s Fables are now usually associated with the realm of children’s literature and fairy tales.

The Library holds a variety of versions of Aesop’s Fables, including a livre d’artiste created in 1936. This book marries an English 17th century translation by Sir Roger L’Estrange (1616-1704), often featuring slang to reflect the oral tradition attached to the fables, with illustrations by Stephen Gooden (1892-1955).

Aesop’s Fables and ‘A city mouse and a country mouse’

Earl of Warrington’s Advice to his Children

Henry Booth (1652-1694), the 1st Earl of Warrington, was a Member of Parliament throughout the English Civil War, during which he was imprisoned in the Tower of London three times. He was involved in Protestant uprisings, helping to install William of Orange as King. Following his death his writings were published, including His Lordship’s Advice to his Children. In this text, Warrington acknowledges that he will soon die and hopes to pass on the lessons he learned through his own life to his children.

“And now in my Thirty Seventh Year perceiving a boisterous Storm to approach, by which I may probably expect to be swept away in the common Calamity, and consequently must leave you all very Young; I think it to be the best thing I can do for you, to advertise you of the rocks and precipices which by means of my Troubles and Sufferings I have discovered.”

Among thoughts on religion and politics, his advice includes some practical instructions:

“If you are examined as a criminalconfess nothing, only argue against the insufficiency of what is objected against you.”

“To read a Play or Romance now and then for diversion, may do no hurt; but he that spends most of his time in such Books, will be able to give a very ill account of it.”

“Never go to your Study but when you find yourself very well disposed to it; for to do otherwise, is to go against the grain, and nothing that way can be well done.”

“Be the discourse merry or serious, let what you say be rather good, and to the purpose, than much: For he that talks a great deal, does rather expose himself, than divert or oblige the Company.”

“Be sure that your Expences be less rather, than that they do exceed your income.”

“Every Man that has several Children, loves one more than another; and if God shall bless you with many, take good heed that they may not discover the partiality of your affection, for the consequence of it will be fatal both to you and them.”

The works of the Earl of Warrington


Victorian Adventure

Robert Louis Stevenson’s (1850-1894) most well-known works are Treasure Island (1882) and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). He wrote across many genres, including several adventure stories and works of poetry for children. His protagonists, such as Treasure Island’s Jim Hakwins and Kidnapped’s (1886) David Balfour, were often teenagers experiencing the complexities of both thrilling expeditions and growing up. The library holds a number of early editions of Stevenson’s works.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ – 1886 illustrated edition.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘A child’s garden of verses’ (1885) – 1896 edition

Among the library’s collection of books by Rudyard Kipling is a first edition of The Jungle Book (1894). This collection of stories joins together two much-loved children’s storytelling forms: the fable and the adventure narrative. In 1914, Robert Baden-Powell was inspired by The Jungle Book to establish the first programme of Cub Scouts.

Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’

Robert Graves’ Treasure Box

Robert Graves (1895-1985), most famous for his poetry, memoirs and historical novels, studied English at St John’s College following the First World War. During this time he published Treasure Box (1919), his first book of poetry after the war. Only 200 copies were printed of this rare item.

Treasure Box is an unusual mix of solemn, mature poetry and childlike verse such as The Fiddler. It features dainty, doll-like illustrations by Nancy Nicholson, his first wife. While this text can’t fully be categorised as children’s literature, its unexpected mix of styles questions the divide between poetry for adults and children.

Robert Graves’ ‘Treasure Box’

Spike Milligan

The Library holds some of the papers and manuscripts of British-Irish writer and comedian Spike Milligan (1918-2002). Among these are a variety of stories, poems and illustrations for children, which often have an inter-generational inspiration. The manuscript pages featured here often include dedications, quotes and drawings relating to Milligan’s own children, and characters based on memories of his father.

Poems and drawings relating to Milligan’s children and father.

Pages and drawings from ‘Badjelly the Witch’, dedicated to Milligan’s daughter Jane.

Manuscript poems and illustrations by Spike Milligan.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: