Bored with Nothing to Do in 1799: Projects from The Young Gentleman’s and Lady’s Magazine

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a child with time on its hands must be in need of something to do.  This was a truth understood very well by Dr. William Fordyce Mavor, the editor and chief compiler of The Young Gentleman’s and Lady’s Magazine, which appeared in monthly numbers between February 1799 and January 1800.  One of the features that sets The Young Gentleman’s and Lady’s Magazine apart from its predecessors, The Lilliputian Magazine (1751) and The Juvenile Magazine (1789-1790) was the promotion of learning through doing across the disciplines.

One of the magazine’s chief selling points was its engraved plates.  Their function was to encourage accurate observation and artistic activity.   A subject from botany or natural history was reproduced in two versions, one professionally hand-colored, the other in outline “intended as an Exercise for the juvenile Pencil.”  The passion flower graced the pages of the seventh issue, and the male bird of paradise the third.

No instructions to the juvenile wielding the pencil were offered, as if Mavor assumed most of his readers’ parents employed drawing masters. Perhaps to remedy this oversight, in the sixth issue Mavor ran an article with directions for mixing colors.  It seems to have been contributed professional artist, who noted that he hoped this would alleviate the frustration he had observed in children attempting to complete the plain copies.

Brainteasers could be found in every issue.  There were complicated charades and enigmas to solve, with the understanding that readers were invited to submit their clever verse answers or original specimens for possible publication. In the correspondents’ sections, Mavor always politely acknowledged the receipt of readers’ efforts, but accepted only the best ones (most of them were probably by himself).  Arithmetical word problems only appeared in the first three issues and they may have been too forbidding to have very wide appeal (how many children in the audience were burning to learn how to convert French livres to pounds sterling?).  Another more engaging example of a different kind of brainteaser was a piece that consisted of a model dialogue of two boys playing “Twenty Questions.”

Raising the spirit of enquiry was among Mavor’s other educational priorities.  He did not  want to spark his readers’ passive sense of wonder through descriptions of inventions and discoveries, he wanted them to roll up their sleeves and try to replicate the results of easy experiments.  One that many children probably would have wanted to try at home was making “sympathetic (i.e. invisible).”  The recipes are vague as to quantities, so I suspect there were unsuccessful trials and tears of rage.  One of the suggested uses of sympathetic ink was the sprucing up of artificial flowers, an inducement to the young ladies in the audience.  They probably employed them in the writing of letters whose contents were supposed to be kept secret.. Much messier would have been the preservation of birds and butterflies caught in the field.  Directions for butterflies follows, being the less gory of the two.  I wonder how well this method actually works and if similar methods can still be found in children’s books now.

While none of these features looks revolutionary to us now, it gave The Young Gentleman’s and Lady’s Magazine a much more modern feel than eitherThe Lilliputian or Juvenile Magazine, whose contents were very similar to any eighteenth-century miscellany.  Dr. Mavor’s attempt to include more hands-on projects for children may well have been a response to the increased anxiety in the 1790s about making sure children did not waste leisure time in stupid, cruel, or unproductive ways, at least in families that were sufficiently well-off not to need children’s paid labor for the unit’s maintenance.  Dr. Mavor may not have been among the great writers for children of this era, but he certainly deserves recognition in the history of British magazines for children for mixing up the contents of The Young Gentleman’s and Lady’s Magazine with non-fiction materials to appeal to a much broader range of interests..

Pizza, the Perfect Food

Children should eat less pizza, according to the American medical profession.  Unless they can be coaxed into consuming pizza with more kale and less cheese…

Or like junk food, pizza can be enjoyed in a picture book instead of on a plate.

Jan Pienkowski. Pizza! A Yummy Pop-up. Paper engineering by Helen Balmer and Martin Taylor. (Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, c.2001). Promised gift.

To some illustrators, the idea of making a pizza is an invitation to collaborate with paper engineers.  Some animals put pizza on the menu when the king of beasts announces that he is dropping by for lunch.  A penguin kneads the dough with his  feet, thanks to a pull-tab.  Other moving parts make it possible for the kitchen crew to sprinkle over the dough “creepy, crawly, tasty toppings” like caterpillars, bugs, tadpoles, worms, and a peppy frog.  A flap lets the polar bear and mouse pop the pie into the oven and close the door.  Too bad the pizza doesn’t fill up the lion…

William Boniface, What Do You Want on Your Pizza? Illustrated by Debbie Palen. (N.p.: Price Stern Sloan, c2000). Promised gift.

This unusual board book lets children “order” a slice from the pizza man. The laminated pages are so deep that they have recesses in the shapes of all the different toppings.  Readers can follow the suggestions for finishing the pie in the text or put what they like on it, helping themselves to the pepperoni, anchovies, and veggies in the plastic box attached to the inside of the rear board.

Cover illustration by Roberta Holms for Pizza Math (Alexandria, VA: TimeLife for Children, c1992) Promised gift.

Believe it or not, Jean-Jacques Rousseau suggested using waffles to teach children mathematical concepts. His spirit lives on in the “I Love Math” series, which tries to make the subject “a hands-on, interactive learning experience” by inventing “entertaining characters” and placing them in scenarios that “invite your child to solve math challenges.”  One of the activities in Pizza Math  is a board game called “Tic-Tac-Pizza” printed on the rear endpaper.  Ask mom for some macaroni and jelly beans and play along with the octopus in a chef’s toque and a cat in a trench coat and pink heels.

Endpapers by Sharron O’Neil.

The game Pete’s parents invented to distract him the day the ball game with his friends was rained out looks like a lot more fun than “Tic-Tac-Pizza”  and it was tested extensively by William Steig on his youngest daughter Maggie.

William Steig. Pete’s a Pizza. (New York: Michael di Capua Books, HarperCollins, 1999, c. 1998). Promised gift.

Dad picks up his sulking son off the couch and plops him down on the kitchen table so he can be made into a delicious pizza!  Once the “dough” has been thoroughly kneaded, then it is tossed into the air and stretched into a translucent circle.

Now the “pizza” can be topped with “tomatoes” (checkers) and “cheese” (bits of paper) before it is put in the “oven” (the sofa).  But by the time it is nice and hot, the sun has come out and the “pizza” runs outdoors to find his friends.

 For some people, the only thing better than eating pizza, is being one!

But maybe not…

Charlotte Voake, Pizza Kittens (Cambridge: Candlewick Press, c2002). Promised gift.