It was idea of the publisher, Grant Richards, to produce small, pocket sized books for children. The tiny size and uniform covers of a little Dumpy book contain charming stories and poems, each one a little different. One of the most well known publications, “The Story of Little Black Sambo” by Helen Bannerman, was first published in 1899. The book was an instant success, running to four editions in its first year.
The Dumpy books were published by Grant Richards between 1897-1904. Forty of the little stories for children were released and seven larger Dumpy books were published later on. E.V Lucas, a writer and publisher, was the selector of authors and illustrators of the series. He clearly had a eye for good children’s books. His selection of the author and illustrator, Mary Tourtel for “A Horse Book” and “The Three little Foxes” is a good example as she later became the illustrator for the renowned Rupert Bear books. Also, Lucas went on to introduce his Punch colleague, A. A. Milne, to the illustrator E. H. Shepard who worked on the infamous Winnie the Pooh collection. A fellow critic, Frank Swinnerton, said of Lucas “Lucas had a great appetite for the curious, the human, and the ridiculous.” It certainly worked and the success of the Dumpy format encouraged other publishers to release small children’s books. For example, Frederick Warne, issued it’s Beatrix Potter series in 1902 with similar success even introducing a novel wallet format book.
We take for granted the range and format of children’s books today yet it is lovely to look through a collection of these little books as a small reminder of the history of publication history of children’s books.
Someone recently challenged Barbara Chalk, the proprietor of Rare & Antique Books, to choose five of the best books for children from the Rare and Antique booksite. This is what she had to say.
Where do I start as I love them all! However, in the spirit of the task I have endeavoured to narrow them down to the following five which are of particular interest to me at the moment.
Miniature Editions of Through the Looking Glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Illustrated by John Tenniel 1907 & 1908
Of course I am cheating here as this is actually two books but they make such a charming pair I couldn’t separate them! The reason for their appeal is their size – they look like they have been given some of Alice’s size reducing potion! The original Tenniel’s illustrations are intact and in their original black and white format. In 1907 Macmillan marked the expiry of the copyright of Alice’s Adventuresby issuing several new editions, publicising them with a Punchcartoon captioned ‘Tenniel’s Alice Reigns Supreme’. “The Sixpenny Series” was the first of these in December of that year. In 1903 they issued the “Little Folks Edition” with new colour pictures of Tenniel and an abbreviated text. The “Illustrated Pocket Classic” followed in 1904. This miniature edition published in 1907 was a real success and remains a highly collectable edition. A charming pair of books.
A Gallery of Children A. A. Milne
A selection of the best children’s books must surely include an A. A. Milne book. The well known Winnie the Pooh books are very endearing and an easy choice. However, Milne produced a wide range of novels, plays and short stories which merit celebration. One of these is this charming collection of children’s fantasy stories written between his poetry book of “When We Were Very Young” 1924 and “Winnie The Pooh” 1926. It was his first book of prose for children. This hardcover book was first published in 1925 by the Stanley Paul & Co. London and the David McKay Company in Philadelphia. The illustrator Saida, otherwise known as H. Willebbek Le Mair, was initially famous for her illustrations for toothpaste advertisements in magazines. Her delightful pictures complement Milne’s twelve stories making this edition a wonderful demonstration of the writing talents of A. A. Milne.
The Story of Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman 1901
Chosen for its perfect condition this little book is absolutely charming with delightful illustrations. Much of the appeal of the book lies in its size as the book measures only 5-5 3/4 inches in size making it appear like a toy book. Reading the book has an element of anticipation of what is to come as the writing and images are only one side of the pages. The book was initially published by Grant Richards as a series of small formatted books called The Dumpy Books for Children between 1897 and 1904. The classic and well known story is of a little boy and of course the terminology within the test is now obsolete and outdated. Yet in it’s time the book was a children’s favourite for more than half a century and so serves as a reminder of historical social change.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis 1950-1956
Again I think I am cheating by including more than one book! Yet this set of seven fantasy stories have featured in thousands of children’s bookshelves – over 100 million copies published in 47 languages. It remains a classic children’s work of literature covering themes of religion, race and gender and has been a source of controversial literary debate. Pauline Baynes’s fine pen and ink original illustrations, especially the maps of Narnia, are still used in publications today. The Chronicles tells of several children who are magically transported to the world of Narnia to protect the lion, Asian, from Evil and restore him to his rightful place on the throne. The adventures cover the entire history of Narnia ending in The Last Battle. The first five books were originally published by Geoffrey Bles over a few years. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe published first in 1950 and , although complete, the next books Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Horse and His Boy, were issued one at a time from 1951 to 1954. The Silver Chair was written after The Horse and His Boy but published after it in 1953. The Bodley Head published the last two books, The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle in 1955 and 1956. Again the Magician’s Nephew was written after, but published before The Last Battle. There has been much discussion over the years as to the order of reading the books as some publishers have produced them in chronological rather than first published order. Whichever way they are read they still remain an enchanting read!
The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant, with a preface by A. A. Milne 1934
Babar the elephant is one of the most delightful children’s illustrated books. This edition has the added value of an introduction by the author of Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne. In fact it was A. A. Milne who initially brought the little elephant to the attention of the British children’s book market. Milne first saw the French edition of the book at a friend’s house in 1932. He was so enthralled by the detailed illustrations and story that he persuaded his publishers, Methuen, to produce an English version. A. A. Milne wrote a charming introduction which helped to make the first edition an immediate success. “If you love elephants you will love Babar. If you have never loved elephants you will love them now. If you are a grown-up and have never been fascinated by a picture book before, then this is the one that will fascinate you. If you are a child do not take these enchanting people to your heart; if you do not spend delightful hours making sure that no detail of their adventures has escaped you; then you deserve to wear gloves and be kept off wet grass for the rest of your life. I can say no more. I salute M. De. Brunhoff. I am at his feet. A. Milne”.
Five of the best books for children? Well, they are my choice from the Rare and Antique book store today. As I love them all if you ask me tomorrow the list may well be different. See other Children’s books for more choices.