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School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

The John Rylands' Children's Literature Collections

PhD student Fabiana Loparco (University of Macerata, Italy) and Dr Caterina Sinibaldi (The University of Manchester)

The first children's magazines appeared in England around the 1820s

The Children's Literature Collections and the Children's Printed Collection at the John Rylands Library provide scholars with an in-depth overview of 19th and 20th century English children's literature. The thousands of books, magazines and manuscripts held in the Library offer valuable insights into the literature for boys and girls produced over two centuries. The richness and variety of materials allow us to trace literary and stylistic changes, as well as social and cultural developments, at a time when children’s literature was used as an instrument to promote literacy and moral education. Among these materials, magazines are particularly interesting. The first children's magazines appeared in England around the 1820s, following an unprecedented growth in population between 1801 and 1820. As a result, the education of the working classes, and especially of all those children who grew up involved in labour, became a pressing issue.

The Children's Printed Collection is of outstanding interest for all those researching children's magazines, as it includes rare materials including unique copies of 19th and 20th century periodicals. Some of the most interesting and valuable magazines can be found in the Methodist Printed Collections, showing us how religious education played a key role in early children’s literature of the 1820s and 1830s. Two periodicals have been chosen as particularly significant: The Child's Magazine and Sunday Scholar's Companion (1824) and the The Primitive Methodist Children's Magazine (1825). Both magazines were created with the objective of promoting Christian values among the working class children who attended the Sunday schools set up by Methodist and Anglican movements. The only copy of The Primitive Methodist Children's Magazine available in the UK is held in the John Rylands and dated October 1827. By comparing this periodical with The Child's Magazine and Sunday Scholar's Companion, it is possible to outline the main values that informed religious magazines for children.

The Child's Magazine and Sunday Scholar's Companion

The Child's Magazine and Sunday Scholar's Companion consisted of sixteen pages, measuring 6x10 centimetres, filled with short stories and poems. Biblical episodes are portrayed in the small number of black-and-white images. The editors' intentions are expressed in a brief preface to the magazine:

It has been our endeavour, throughout the whole, to select such subjects as appeared to us to possess intrinsic worth, and to be calculated, not merely to engage the attention for the moment, but also to impart lasting benefit to the reader. The articles are short, none of them extending beyond one Number; the language, we trust, has generally been rendered as easy and simple as possible, nor have we ever lost sight of our original pledge, which was to attempt “to lead the infant mind to the knowledge of the only true God […]

Preface, 'The Child's magazine', Vol. I, 1824, pp. III-IV

The Primitive Methodist Children's Magazine

As the title makes clear, The Primitive Methodist Children's Magazine was more explicitly related to Primitive Methodist movement. The one surviving copy from October 1827 consists of 16 pages and measures 7x13 centimetres. The format is similar to The Child's Magazine and Sunday Scholar's Companion, presenting young readers with short moral tales informed by religious messages. However, the magazine also contains references to historical and political events and strongly promotes puritan values. For instance, one of the short stories makes reference to the Great Ejection following the Act of Uniformity in 1662, and in several instances the magazine denounces the church established by Henry VIII as sinful and corrupted. Finally, while The Primitive Methodist Children's Magazine addressed children as a primary audience, its stories stressed the need for spiritual salvation of the soul for adults and children alike. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that the magazine was published in conjunction with an adult publication,The Primitive Methodist Magazine, both of which were printed in Bemersley by Hugh Bourne.

We hope that scholars will continue to explore the special collections in the John Rylands Library and to open new avenues for research in the growing field of Children's Literature.

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