An exhibition is open at the British Library which looks at how books for children transformed from boringly educational for young adults through to entertaining children

Early children’s books were educational, teaching young people how to behave themselves. Der Struwwelpter teaches children the outcomes of rebellious behaviour — and the child in the book is never the hero.

The oldest item in the exhibition is from 1680, a Latin language school book — with doodles in it from evidently bored pupils.

Unlike more recent children’s books which entertain, and indeed celebrate throwing off parental shackles. From Oliver Twist’s request for more food to the many familiar characters from the Beano.

But they can still be educational, but in a softer manner than the tedious books of old.

One of the modern books, Julián is a Mermaid is very topical, showing a boy who is enchanted by three glittering passengers on a tube train and announced to his gran that he’s a mermaid. The book is an allegory and aimed at helping young trans and gender questioning children come to terms with their emotions.

Visually though, it’s the pop-up books that, literally, stand out in the cases. If you haven’t seen a pop-out book recently, prepare to be astonished at the complexity of the design as flat books full of imagination come alive for a few pages.

It’s an exhibition that both appeals to the kids, for whom lots of space is set aside for extra activities, but adults will enjoy a trip down nostalgia avenue from a visits. The exhibition, Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature’s Young Rebels is at the British Library until 1st March and entry is free.


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  1. JP says:

    Not seen a pop-up book? That would mean that this poor reader wouldn’t have seen the Paddington films either. I hope that that particular Venn diagram is vanishingly small.
    I also hope that those classics sans pop-ups such as Æsop’s fables where the images magically appear in you as a child’s brain are given an airing too.

    • ianvisits says:

      “Not seen a pop-up book?” <-- I said "recently", I saw plenty of them as a kid when they were rather simpler in design.

    • JP says:

      A miscommunication. For “your reader” please, um read “your readership”

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