Teaching with Historical Children’s Books

The Library of Congress recently launched a unique collection of select children’s books published more than 100 years ago. These include classic works that are still read by children today and lesser-known treasures drawn from the Library’s extensive collection of historically significant children’s books. You can read more about the collection or watch a livestreamed event featuring local authors reading a few selections from the collection.

The cats’ party.

The process of selecting books published long ago for a present-day audience provoked thoughtful conversations among our staff. We knew that the style of writing, the subject matter, and even the jokes found in century-old books might be difficult for young readers today to engage with. We knew that every book that we selected would inevitably reflect some of the attitudes, perspectives and beliefs of its own time, as well as failing to represent diverse authors and audiences. We thought it was important to note that the Library of Congress does not endorse the views expressed in these books, which may contain content offensive to users.

Each of these considerations, though, also presents valuable opportunities for careful student analysis and discussion. Each book is a primary source representing the time in which it was created; reading the books through historical lenses can deepen student understanding of the past and can offer opportunities for students to consider what has – and what has not! – changed. As a colleague noted in this blog post a number of years ago, “engaging with the difficult aspects of these historical primary sources might also enrich the students’ exploration of the topic at hand.”

Plenty of these books offer simple entertainment, of course! But even those offer an opportunity to discuss what has and has not changed over time. Consider these teaching ideas:

  • While many illustrations will still appeal to a current-day audience, word choice and sentence structures might challenge readers. Select one or more pages with an engaging illustration as well as text. Read it with students and then ask them: “If you were telling this story today, what would be different? What would be the same?”
  • To engage students in thinking about what books were available to children at different times, select a few from different eras – Collection Highlights offers a good starting point – and ask students to examine them and put them in chronological order. What changes do they notice in layout? In word choice?
  • Teaching the absences can be a powerful tool, whether looking at children’s books published 100 years ago or in the present day. Ask students to look at the collection as a whole to identify whose perspectives are missing from the books, and challenge them to consider why that might be.

Let us know in the comments what particular favorites your students discover.

Classic Children’s Books Collection Now Online at the Library of Congress

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Children’s Book Week (April 29 to May 5, 2019), the Library of Congress has launched a unique online collection of 67 historically significant children’s books published more than 100 years ago. Drawn from the Library’s collections, Children’s Book Selections are digital versions both of classic works still read […]

Primary Sources for Musical Learning: Celebrating the Public Domain and Engaging Creatively with Primary Sources

By understanding a work’s original context, intent, message, and audience, creators can use cultural referents to frame new ideas. Public-domain classics achieve a continually evolving immortality as they are re-imagined by new generations of creative minds. Public domain works, through creative adaptation, can be used to create a commentary on the original work, engage contemporary issues, create opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue, and promote cultural change.

Celebrate Children’s Book Week with Us! Special Livestreamed Event 10am April 29th

To kick off our celebration of Children’s Book Week (April 29-May 3), we invite you to tune into our live stream on Monday, April 29th, beginning at 10 am EDT.

We will be livestreaming a special program from the Young Readers Center in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. Local authors who are members of the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC, will be reading twenty special children’s books from the Library’s collections.

The Evolution of Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!”

The Library of Congress houses the largest archival collection of Walt Whitman materials in the world, all of which have are now available online. Seeing portions of Whitman’s poems in various stages of composition reveals both his very active creative mind and his innovative ways of seeing the world and crafting poetic expressions.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Fugitive Slave Act

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was widely influential when it was published in 1852. The Library’s “Sources and Strategies” article in the May 2014 issue of Social Education, the journal of NCSS, discusses the influence of the novel. Perhaps just as important as its effect, however, was Stowe’s original impetus for writing it.