Illustrating Summertime Fun in Children’s Books

Little Tot's Holiday Book (Warne: not before 1881) Cotsen 30357

Little Tot’s Holiday Book (Warne & Co.: ca. 1881) Cotsen 30357.

As the days of summer dwindle into a precious few, the long days of sunshine slowly get shorter, and a new school term impends, we all tend to wonder: “Where did the summer go?”

With that thought in mind, we might help keep summer alive a little longer by taking a look at how children’s book illustrators picture summer and its activities.

It certainly didn’t take children’s books to make school kids (and the rest of us) love the prospect of having time off from school and being able to enjoy all the activities available for a few precious months a year. But nineteenth-century books for children certainly stressed summertime fun and vividly pictured outdoor activities, some relatively ‘novel’ ones at the time, such as beach holidays at newly-popular (and accessible) ocean-side resorts. As such, they provide a terrific window onto life and leisure-time activities at the time.


Children at the shore (detail from Little Tot’s Holiday Book).

Frederick Warne & Co., one of the major nineteenth-century publishers of children’s books readily added “holiday” books picturing seasonal and summertime fun to its line of books. The large format (over 12″ tall) picture book Little Tot’s Holiday Book features vivid, full-page chromolithographed illustrations of children in all sorts of holiday activities (including some in winter). The bright red cloth front cover features a paper onlay of two Victorian children at a seaside locale. Note their fashionable, but modest, attire, fairly typical for the time.

“A Holiday at the Seaside.”

One of the illustrations inside the book shows children happily engaged in a range of contemporary seaside activities: playing on the beach and making sandcastles, taking donkey rides, and riding in a goat cart. I like the background detail of “On the Sands,” which shows a Brighton-like pleasure pier, one of the “novel” aspects of Victorian seaside resorts.


“Off to the Seashore”…via train.

Another full-page illustration features a train. While trains were always popular with children, particularly boys, why does a train appear in a holiday book? The answer lies in the caption: “off to the seashore.” Trains were a relatively novel form of transportation at this time, and one of the ways that middle-class and more prosperous working-class families went to the seashore in the 1880s.


Little Tot’s Holiday Book, alternate cover – Cotsen 30357 (c.2)

Little Tot’s Holiday was apparently a popular title, because Warne issued another version of the same title, with identical content, but a different cover, one showing a very different kind of summertime activity. Again, two fashionable and apparently affluent children (similar to the book’s target audience) are featured, but this time they’re presented in a rural setting, getting donkey rides from a young adult from the country (note, his mustache and “rural” attire).

Warne’s picture books repeatedly show children at the seaside, attesting to the popularity of the subject.  Another large-format picture book, Little Tots Playtime Book includes an illustration of a girl on a donkey, a sailor-suited boy, and the family dog on the beach, with sailboats in the background and a nearby patriotic Union Jack, which breaks the perfect (“boring”?) symmetry of the rectangular frame and creates visual interest via a technique sometimes used by painters.

At the seashore again… (Little Tots Playtime Book, ca. 1881) Cotsen 30359


Cover of Little Tots Playtime Book

The general design of the Playtime Book’s cloth cover is essentially the same as that of the Holiday Book (perhaps this was Warne’s stock design for these picture books?), but the inset chromolithographed medallion provides quite a different, more formal and stylized, view of little women in summertime — a somewhat Kate “Greenawayesque” presentation.

Cover of Kate Greenaway’s Book of Games, (Routledge & Co., ca. 1899) Cotsen 5633

Speaking of Kate Greenaway (whose presentations of children are famous), let’s take a quick look at how she pictures summer in Kate Greenaway’s Book of Games, issued by by George Routledge & Sons in 1889 (and later reissued by Warne in 1899). The cover shows a vignette of children on a rustic teeter-totter. The twenty-four colored wood-engraved illustrations by Edmund Evans show children in Greenaway distinctive style: extremely well-dressed, fashionable, and not very kinetic. The two illustrations below present several girls in caps playing “Battledore & Shuttlecock” (“badminton” to us now) and “Puss in the Corner,” both accompanied by brief descriptions of the games.

greenaway 1

“Battledore & Shuttlecock”

grrenaway 2

“Puss in the Corner”







I wouldn’t want to give you the impression that summertime and beaches are featured only in English books for children — that was definitely not the case! For instance, a German book, In Sommer, from about 1900 features a terrific, highly-saturated color depiction of children playing on the beach on its cover. And illustrations inside the book show children busily involved in other summer activities: flying kites, picking flowers, and making quite a fuss over an apple!


In Sommer: quite a fuss about an apple in the woods on a bright summer day


In Sommer: Children and their kites, including the “Man-in-the Moon” and giant clown face


Children on the beach: cover of In Sommer, ([Germany? ca. 1900]) Cotsen 52215









Another terrific book cover appears on Johnny Headstrong’s Trip to Coney Island, published about 1882 by New York’s McLoughlin Brothers, perhaps the preeminent children’s books publisher in the USA at the time. In the 1880s, Coney Island was a seaside resort for residents of New York City and Brooklyn Heights, a place reached by train and with the same sort of summery, festive ambience as Cape May or Cape Cod, if you can imagine that. The chromolithographed cover of this “toybook” presents an idyllic beach scene via illustrator William Bruton’s artwork, although something in Johnny’s own facial expression suggests another strand in the thread of the story…


Johnny Headstong’s Trip to Coney Island (McLoughlin Bros, ca. 1882) Cotsen 540

page 1

Johnny arrives at Coney Island with his family (note the masted sailing ships in the background)

Johnny Headstong’s story begins in much the same way as the other summertime books we’ve been looking at – a fashionable youth sets out for the Coney Island seaside resort accompanied by his sister, nanny, and father, a “kindly man of good repute…and wealth.”

But as his name suggests, Johnny is impulsive and lacking in self-discipline — he gets into all sorts of trouble… He climbs over the railing while sailing a toy sailboat, falls into a pool, and has to be fished out. He then “slips away” from the adults “to see things by himself.” More trouble ensues in the form of various misadventures, as Johnny hits another boy in the face with a ball, falls off a swing he pushed too high, and finds himself on a runaway donkey, causing mayhem on the beach and knocking over an apple-seller (as Bruton’s double-page illustration vividly shows). Eventually, covered in bandages, Johnny winds up back home, where his father admonishes: “You see what comes to heedless boys, whene’er they disobey.”


Bruton’s double-page illustration of Johnny Headstrong on the pony causing mayhem

So McLoughlin’s Brothers’ rendition of this “summertime story” is really one of the “cautionary tales” inspired by Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter for which the firm was famous: stories showing kids “acting badly” and suffering the consequences. Some of their other classics in this vein have titles like: Little Suck-a-Thumb, Naughty Girls, Lazy Sam, Inky Jake, Foolish Fanny, Paulina Pry, and Moping Mary. After all, “to please and instruct” was the company motto, even during summer vacation!

An Olympic Tribute to Builders of Strong Bodies in the Stacks


Nadia Comaneci on the uneven parallel bars at Montreal.

Collecting illustrated books on sports has never been a priority at Cotsen, but the research collection contains a wealth of material about the history of physical culture since the late 18th century.  But I had no idea how many treasures there were until I started poking around for things to feature in this post, which describes a sample of books and prints from Europe and the Far East.  They reveal a great deal about what kinds of activities were considered beneficial for young people and why, expectations for boys versus those for girls, attitudes towards display of individual bodies and collective identity, and the different conventions for representing athletic prowess.

One discovery was Children Love Sports, which appeared in 1977 when China was emerging from the long shadow of the Cultural Revolution (thank you Minjie!). This picture book’s celebration of Chinese children unified by a love of sports perfectly reflects the Olympic ideal.  The collection has the original Chinese edition and the more finely produced English translation for overseas readers.  Its full-color illustrations show children of different Chinese ethnic minority groups participating in all kinds of sports–some mainstays of international athletic competition, such as running, high jump, and basketball, others closely associated with particular cultures, such as wrestling with Inner Mongolia or shooting on horseback with Tibet.  Children in their gorgeous traditional costumes mingle in the spirit of friendly competition, reflecting pride in a unified, diverse Chinese citizenry, while also reminding us of the Games’ opening spectacular.  Another remarkable thing about the book is that girls are portrayed prominently as active participants. In a foot and a horse race, a slender Kam (侗族) girl and a daring Kazakh girl rider have both sprinted ahead of boy competitors.


Upper left hand corner: Hu Zhenhua, Nursery Rhymes of Chinese Ethnic Sports. Illustrated by Liu Bingjiang. Beijing: Ren min ti yu chu ban she, 1977 (Cotsen 93620). The other five illustrations are from the English translation, Children Love Sports. Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1978 (Cotsen 71696).

Celebrating sports is hardly confined to the twentieth century.  The beautiful Japanese print from the  Meiji era below documents the introduction of all kinds of competitive games and group sports from the West.  In the late nineteenth century, lawn tennis, croquet, cricket, field athletics, football, and baseball, were all integrated into the Japanese school curriculum.  Notice that the boys are working out in a mixture of traditional Japanese and modern European garments.  The ones in the first two rows are using various sorts of equipment, while the ones in the back seem to be stretching  (with a few sprinting in the upper left-hand corner).


Kinitoshi Baiju, Gakko taiso undo no zu [Illustrated picture of school gymnastic exercises]. Illustrated by Kiyoshuke Yamamura. Tokyo: Tsutsumi Kinchibei, 1886 (cotsen 101304). This print consists of three panels, each 36 x 25 cm.

 J. C. F. Guts Muth laid out a system of purposeful physical activity n Gymnastic fuer die Jugend (1793) and it is widely credited as one of foundational works of modern European physical culture. (It was came to Cotsen with the en bloc purchase of Kurt Szfranski’s  remarkable children’s book collection in the late 1990s.)  Guts Muth, who was a teacher at the famous progressive school Christian Gotthilf Salzmann founded in Schneptenthal, is also considered to be one of the fathers of modern gymnastics, along with his fellow countryman Friedrich Ludwig Jahn.  Guts Muth categorized gymnastic exercises as either natural, or those designed to keep the body healthy and strong and the artificial, the non-utilitarian physical activities that evolved into modern artistic gymnastics.


J. C. H. Guts Muth, Gymnastic fuer die Jugend. Schnepfental: Buchhandlung der Erziehungsanstalt, 1793 (Cotsen 40334). The frontispiece designed by Lips, shows naked adherents of Hygeia, or Health, circling around her statue.

Within a decade A. Amar Durivier and L. F. Jauffret,  an author of highly innovative children’s books during the revolutionary period, brought out a free French translation of Guts Muth.


J. C. F. Guts Muth, La gymnastique de la jeunesse. Adapted by A. Amar Durivier et L. F. Jauffret. Paris: A. G. Debray, 1803 (Cotsen 703). The fully clothed French lads look frivolous compared to the serious, naked boys in the German original.

Three years before that, Joseph Johnson, the radical London publisher issued an English-language translation, which is is sometimes attributed to Wollstonecraft, who translated Salzmann’s Elements of Morality.  The Hygeia frontispiece has been replaced with a copy of folding plate that appears at the very end of the 1793 German edition.


J. C. F. Guts Muth. Gymnastics for Youth. London: J. Johnson, 1800 (Cotsen 291). On the title page, the work is incorrectly attributed Salzmann, the headmaster of the school where Guts Muth taught and the error still persists. This copy came from the collection of the great children’s book collector Edgar Oppenheimer.

While Johnson’s engraver (thought by some to be William Blake) copied Lips’ engravings faithfully, the same cannot be said of the French engraver. Overall the quality of his work is much more schematic.  In certain plates, he combined the subjects of two of Lips’ plates into one new composition, reducing the number of figures and making little attempt to retain all the fine details.


The plate facing p. 510 in the 1793 edition of Guts Muth (Cotsen 40334). Are the boys wearing some kind of padding in the seat of their pants to break any falls?


Plate II from the adaptation of Guts Muth by Amar Durivier and L. F. Jauffret (Cotsen 703).

I was delighted to find a copy of the 1804 improved third edition of Guts Muth in the collection.  At 20 cm. high, it is 3.5 centimeters taller than the first edition.  All the plates by Lips are gone and twelve plates in a radically different style by Guts Muth himself inserted.  Where Lips artfully arranged groups of boys into compositions of boys, Guts Muths drew schematic diagrams of individual boys practicing specific exercises.


Lips’ plate illustrating activities to improve balance facing p. 401 in the 1793 edition of Guts Muth (Cotsen 40334).


The author’s illustration of boys climbing ropes facing page 312. J. C. F. Guts Muth, Gymnastick fuer die Jugend. Zweyte vermerhte Ausgabe. Schnepfenthal: der Buchhandlung der Erziehungsanstalt, 1804 (Cotsen 33248).

A few plates do illustrate multiple activities, such as this one on pommel horse exercises.


Guts Muth’s illustration of moves on the pommel horse (with tail) facing page 229 in the 3rd edition of 1804 (Cotsen 33248).

As the century progressed, illustrators did not necessarily copy the master.   In the first plate below, complicated moves on the pommel horse are demonstrated by stick figures, while the second in the style of a slate drawing shows boys working on the bar and the rings.


Peter Parley’s Book of Gymnastics. London: Darton and Clark, ca. 1840 (Cotsen 83636). This work is dedicated to the boys of Great Britain “the future sinews of the state.”


Plate III by N. W. Taylor Root for School Amusements: or How to Make the School Interesting. New York: A. S. Barnes & Burr, 1860 (Cotsen 30641).

All this manly activity gives the impression that the early proponents of physical culture excluded girls from the pursuit of strong, healthy bodies, but this was not so!  But determining who was responsible for which manual addressing the needs of young ladies is a bibliographic puzzle, which someone else will have to solve.   From what I can tell, Phokion Friedrich Clias resided in England between 1822 and 1825 and through his inspired teaching established the Guts Muth system.  Both a Signor Voarino and Gustavus Hamilton, a self-styled “Professor of Gymnastics,” claimed to have  been employed by Clias, and in 1827 both of them published works on gymnastic exercise for ladies.  Voarino was accused of having lifted his material without significant alteration from Clias’ work on gymnastics for males.  The plates in the young ladies section of  Hamilton’s treatise look exactly like the ones in Calisthenie, ou Gymnastique des jeunes filles published 1828 in Paris, which may be a translation of a work by Clias originally written in German.   It’s enough to make your head spin, so now let’s see what these authors thought girls were capable of.

The frontispiece of Calisthenie ou Gymnastique des jeunes filles shows girls performing a popular activity that went by the name of flying or giant steps.  It was also recommended for boys and would have provided quite an upper body workout.  The second plate shows wand exercises, which if less strenuous that running around the pole, would have helped to keep shoulders flexible and limber.  The third plate shows a young lady taking a little hop to mount the horizontal bar.


“Pas volant ou l’enjambee du geants” from Calisthenie ou Gymnastique des jeunes filles. Paris: Audot, 1828 (Cotsen 33230).


Plate XXXVII from Gustavus Hamilton, The Elements of Gymnastics for Boys and of Calisthenics for Young Ladies. New edition. London: A. K. Newman and Co., 1839 (Cotsen 15347). The Science and Art Department of the Educational Library deaccessioned this copy at some point.


Plate XXXIX in Gustavus Hamilton’s The Elements of Gymnastics (Cotsen 15347).

What would those bold young ladies of the 1820s made of their counterparts today?  Would they have been embarrassed? Or amazed?


Simone Biles on the balance beam at the Rio Olympics.