Historic Children’s Books Online: What They Reveal

Original cover. Mine is a reprint.
Original cover. Mine is a reprint.

If you are writing a book set in the Victorian era, I have a marvelous resource for you.  The Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature of the University of Florida has made over 6,000 books available online.  Visit and you will find books in all the major Victorian categories — books on how to behave, fairy tales, readers and spelling books, religious instruction and even adventures.

Personally I was really happy to discover the Zig Zag books published in Boston.  I stumbled over one of these books at a used book sale.  I had never seen the series but I collect old books.  Now I have access to several more titles.

You can look books up by subject (poetry or animals), geographic area (Scotland, Pittsburgh and Arabic Lands) although these are often what the book is about and not where they are from, as well as year of publication.

Historic books like these are a mine of information because they reveal a great deal about what people at that time thought of children.  What were they capable of?  What did they need to know?  What errors might need to be corrected?  What dangers did they face?

Childhood was not always recognized as a distinct “time of life.”  By Victorian times it was, at least for middle and upper class children.  Because of that, there are a wealth of books designed to teach children what they needed to know to take their place in society.  If you are writing a story set in the past, try to find material published then. It may not be easy to read but it will provide a mirror into the world at that time.