School Days in Children’s Books…

One of the interesting aspects about cataloging children’s books is that you get to see quite an amazing variety of materials–“children’s books” includes fiction, stories, poetry, history, as well as books about history, science, technology, nature, animals, birds, insects, not to mention illustrated books of all shapes and sizes, and books meant to educate children, “juveniles” and what we would now term “young adults”.  Some scholars don’t really consider instructional books and materials to be children’s “literature” per se, but these non-classroom educational books and materials constitute an important part of the Cotsen collection too–along with certain kinds of  games, and ephemera… The list goes on and on…

When cataloging, I often encounter a dizzying array of material on a semi-random basis, since books are generally cataloged in the order that they’ve been acquired by a curator or collector.  The sheer variety is part of the fun.  But sometimes, I serendipitously encounter books on similar subjects that seem to complement each other or to suggest connections that wouldn’t have occurred to me if only looking at one alone.  Just this week, I saw several  educational books about teaching children that also pictured children themselves in the accompanying illustrations.  Let’s take a look…

Frontispiece : The Boys' School

Frontispiece: The Boys’ School, or Traits of Character in Early Life / by Miss Sandham (London: John Souter, 1821?) Cotsen acc. no. 6100564

The engraved frontispiece of The Boys’ School, or Traits of Character in Early Life (undated but published about 1821) shows a well-appointed (and generally quite orderly!) school-room–notice all the books and several globes on the shelves in the background.  A well-dressed boy expounds an astronomical problem to a smiling master sitting at his desk in front of a small class.  Note the compass the boy holds, the telescope, and the other astronomy, navigation, or  time-keeping paraphernalia in the foreground too.  Looking at the illustration, it’s not clear to me how much attention the other boys are paying to the recitation though, but at least they’re in their seats!  Generally, a scene of enlightened decorum is effectively presented.

The frontispiece pretty much speaks for itself, but the text it accompanies tells us that this is a private school for a “limited number of boys,” and that Mr. Morton, the master was “good-natured” with a “steadiness of temper.”

It’s worth pointing out that, while the process of education is depicted in the frontispiece, the real object of this book is the moral education of its readers, as the author makes clear in her preface. The main character is one of the “children of affliction”–an orphan named William Falkner of small size and weak body–who is at first ridiculed by other students for his “personal defects” at the school, but who shows his mental and moral strength in the course of the story via his accomplishments.  In many respects, this presentation is characteristic of English “moral tales” for children of its era.

Moving back in time, Elementary Dialogues for the Improvement of Youth (published in 1790 as the first English version, of Joachim Campe’s Kleine Seelenlehre für Kinder) is presented in the form of a dialogue between a tutor and his students.  While generally benevolent, the tutor employs some educational techniques not exactly in accord with current practices today.  At one point, for instance, he appears at the beginning of the day “with a knotted handkerchief in his hand; and without speaking, strikes each of the boys with it.”  This isn’t as punishment for misbehavior though, but to demonstrate cause and effect to the boys in a way they’ll remember.

"the poor blockhead at his wit's end

“The poor blockhead at his wit’s end”: Elementary Dialogues for the Improvement of Youth / by J.H. Campe (London: Hookham and Carpenter, 1792) Cotsen acc. no. 6334569

One of the illustrations depicts what I first thought was a studious boy in a library or study–maybe a model scholar?.  There’s no caption to key a response, but notice the books, including one open on the desk before the boy. Take a look for yourself and see what you think!

Yet the accompanying text tells a different story.  The tutor’s narrative describes the boy as a “poor blockhead at his wit’s end.”  Unable to do a merchant’s apprenticeship text in writing and arithmetic, the boy “struck his forehead to correct himself for want of diligence … having profited little by education and…lost his time in running about and at play.”

As the text makes explicit, the tutor first shows this illustration to his students–as he does with the fifteen others presented in the book–and then elicits responses from them as he explains the context–which is immediately apparent to the boys in this case, who “read” the illustration more correctly than I did!  Perhaps the moral here–at least for catalogers–is that you can’t tell a story by looking at one picture!

In some books, the illustrations make visible in graphical terms what the author is trying to describe in the text–they play a secondary or supporting role.  In other books, such as toybooks by Caldecott, the illustrations ironically comment upon, or even undercut, the text; they can even become the primary narrative element.  (And, to be honest, in some children’s books, there’s little relation between text and illustration; the illustrations are essentially decorative.)  In Elementary Dialogues, text and illustration work together, the pictures intended to “make sensible” to children the “ideas” that the author wants to present.  This method is meant to leave “the pleasure of discovering [the ideas] to the children,” and is consistent with the theories that Locke presented for using illustrations and objects for children’s education.

Having had all this moral and conceptual education, it’s time for a break, don’t you agree?

And so apparently do the students shown in the engraved frontispiece of Christmas Holidays: a Poem Written for the Amusement & Instruction of All Good Masters & Misses in the Known World by Tommy Tell-Truth, B.A., published circa 1767 (some titles are too good to shorten!).

Frontispiece: Christmas Holidays

Frontispiece: Christmas Holidays: a Poem (London: H. Roberts & H. Turpin [ca. 1767] (Cotsen acc. no. 6143802

Here we see an eighteenth-century English class on the verge of their Christmas break.   A benevolent-looking master gives out a prize, or treat, to one student, perhaps a star pupil? The rest of the students look like they’re about to explode with delight.  (Remember that feeling yourself when in school?) One boy skates out of the picture at lower right, school-bag and hat in hand; other students stand and cheer (Huzza!) or chatter amongst themselves–a sense of festive jollity prevails over order or decorum. Compare this scene with that depicted in the 1820’s Boy’s School frontispiece above, in particular the number of students, their clothing and the general classroom decor.  (We’ve moved from the world of Jane Austen back to the world of Tom Jones, or so it seems to me.)

Detail of frontispiece: (Cotsen acc. no. 6143802)

Detail of frontispiece: Christmas Holidays (Cotsen acc. no. 6143802)

Of particular interest to me are the boys shown on the left side of the engraving.  In the foreground, one boy stuffs his school-bag (his back completely turned to the master) while another sprawls on the floor, holding his stomach in laughter while clutching a paper, perhaps his term grades?  Meanwhile, two boys feed the fire with what appears to be the master’s birch rod and disciplinary paddle.  The whole scene is one of blissful abandon and festive misrule, not inappropriate considering that another engraving in the book, titled “Twelfth Night,” depicts the festivity of a group of carousing adults, some apparently in their cups.

Cotsen Research Projects: Lothar Meggendorfer’s Mechanical Books

The text below was kindly provided by Amanda M. Brian, recipient of a 2012 Princeton Library Research Grant, following her August 2012 research project with Cotsen Children’s Library special collection materials: “The Wider & Whiter World in German Mechanical Books.”  Dr. Brian is currently assistant professor of history at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC.

Lothar Meggendorfer’s Mechanical Books

by Amanda M. Brian

Beginning in the 1970s, pop-up books enjoyed a kind of renaissance in the United States. Within this trend, the name of Lothar Meggendorfer (1847-1925) was continually floated as an early master of movable illustrations in children’s books. Meggendorfer began his career as an illustrator for the Munich-based humor magazines Fliegende Blätter and then Münchener Bilderbogen. Like several of his colleagues at these publications, Meggendorfer became a crossover success in the world of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century children’s literature. His books became bestsellers during his lifetime; the most popular went into multiple editions and were translated into many languages.

Lothar Meggendorfer, Gute Bekannte (Stuttgart: W. Nitzsche, c. 1880), p. 25.

Lothar Meggendorfer, Gute Bekannte (Stuttgart: W. Nitzsche, c. 1880), p. 25.

It seems he was aware of both his influence and its monetary reward, for he included a telling self-portrait in which he stood at an easel and received a commission in Gute Bekannte. This discovery was one of several unexpected and deeply satisfying moments that I experienced as a researcher in the Rare Book Division at the Princeton University Library.

Moreover, Meggendorfer’s books were frequently reproduced and widely distributed along a German-British publishing network, which then collapsed in the face of World War I. After the war, Meggendorfer continued his work in puppet theater, a passion that had clearly influenced his figures’ exaggerated physiognomy, especially their large noses and wide mouths.

Then in 1975, the New York book dealer Justin G. Schiller purchased and prepared a catalog of a cache of production files found in J. F. Schreiber’s Esslingen warehouse for what was believed at the time to be the entire surviving Meggendorfer archive. Maurice Sendak provided an aptly named “Appreciation” in Schiller’s The Publishing Archive of Lothar Meggendorfer, adding to a certain frenzy for Meggendorfer’s books, particularly his movable books. Following this advertising, between 1979 and 1982, five of Meggendorfer’s most popular movable books were reissued and reproduced, culminating in 1985 in a kind of anthology of his most intricate and humorous pull-tab illustrations, The Genius of Lothar Meggendorfer. This relatively recent attention has cemented Meggendorfer’s reputation as a paper-engineering master on both sides of the North Atlantic. It is, therefore, not too surprising to find such an extensive collection of Meggendorfer’s children’s books in the United States; the Cotsen Children’s Library has perhaps the best examples of his works States-side, which is particularly impressive considering the wear and tear movable illustrations from over a century ago have taken.

Cotsen Children’s Library also houses an almost equal number of Meggendorfer’s non-movable books to his movable books. This acts as a kind of corrective to the amount of attention afforded his pull-tabs and panoramas at the expense of his overall production of texts and images. His self-portrait, after all, was in the non-movable Gute Bekannte. A collection that just focused on Meggendorfer’s elaborate pull-tabs–which, do not misunderstand me, are impressive with their simultaneous movements achieved by paper levers attached to small copper rivets hidden between the pages–would overlook the non-moveable (in the scholarly definition of movable parts) but equally interactive Nimm mich mit!

Lothar Meggendorfer, Nimm mich mit! Ein lehrreiches Bilderbuch, 5th ed. (Munich: Braun & Schneider, c. 1890), cover and p. 173.

Lothar Meggendorfer, Nimm mich mit! Ein lehrreiches Bilderbuch, 5th ed. (Munich: Braun & Schneider, c. 1890), cover and p. 173.

This small, 8 centimeters by 24 centimeters, picture book was designed for the non-reading, or read-to, child to “take along” around the home and into the field to compare the drawn object to the real object. It presented a comprehensive catalog of things in the child’s “garden and room” to be examined “with love,” as the introduction explained. For example, pages 125 to 184, the largest section of the book, portrayed animals with skill at expressive caricatures. Many of these animals could have been found in the child’s backyard (e.g., chicken and grasshooper), nearby woods (e.g., deer and hedgehog), or traveling menagerie (e.g., elephant and parrot), but some of these animals (e.g., whale and ostrich), the child would not have seen in nature.

In Meggendorfer’s oeuvre, animals were the most pervasive theme, followed by music. Focusing on the content and not just the mechanics of his works, it is clear that Meggendorfer’s audience was expected to identify and enjoy both domestic and foreign animals. But there were clear differences between how he portrayed domestics–meaning both native to Europe and pervasive in his audience’s lives, like dogs, horses, and sparrows–and exotics–meaning non-native to Europe and perceived as wild by his audience, like elephants, lions, and apes. How domestic and exotic animals behaved differently became instructive in Meggendorfer’s books, representing hierarchies among and between Europeans and non-Europeans, and teaching his middle-class youthful audience about their place in the world.

Lothar Meggendorfer, All Alive. A Moveable Toybook (London: H. Grevel, c. 1891).

Lothar Meggendorfer, All Alive. A Moveable Toybook (London: H. Grevel, c. 1891).

To offer but a single example, compare the poem with the movable illustration “Good Friends” [above]  in the British production All Alive, which featured rabbits, a goat, and a cat as a “happy family,” to the poem with movable illustration “Die Heimkehr” [below] in the original German version Reiseabenteuer des Malers Daumenlang und seines Dieners Damian.

Lothar Meggendorfer, Reiseabenteuer des Malers Daumenlang und seines Dieners Damian. Ein Ziehbilderbuch (Esslingen: J. F. Schreiber, 1889).

Lothar Meggendorfer, Reiseabenteuer des Malers Daumenlang und seines Dieners Damian. Ein Ziehbilderbuch (Esslingen: J. F. Schreiber, 1889).

In “Good Friends,” the ideal middle-class home was portrayed by domestic animals “living in such harmony.” Domestic animals continued to model appropriate behavior for bourgeois children in Meggendorfer’s works. By contrast, in “Die Heimkehr,” the young lord, Daumenlang, and his servant, Damian, have traveled the world, including Africa, and have headed for home loaded down with booty, including the skins of the tiger and black bear that they had encountered and mastered, and live apes and birds. They found danger, but not harmony, among exotic animals, which were perceived as part of the conquerable landscape of certain non-European territories. I first saw the illustration of the tiger “attack” from Reiseabenteuer in the Cotsen Library; those pages have been excised in the late-twentieth-century reproduction of the book.

The books by Lothar Meggendorfer that delighted audiences in the late nineteenth century and were embraced with enthusiasm in the late twentieth century were not simply examples of paper acrobatics. Rather, they both reflected and shaped the historical context of the expanding German empire at the turn of the twentieth century.