By Kira Taylor @kirataylor15
Made up of 2,000 books, mainly dating before 1940, The Devon’s Collection of Children’s Books will be exhibited in the library between October and December.
The collection will be displayed in the quiet room of Exeter Central Library and has been built up over time. None of the books have been specially purchased for the collection, but have been bequeathed and donated. Because of this, there is no real genre or theme. Some books bear the signs of being in general circulation and there are whole collections of family favourites, representing how trends and ideas have changed over the years.
“I think the kind of longevity of books is something that’s so important and I love the idea that different generations can enjoy the same books,” said Joanne, who is organising the exhibition.
The books date back to before 1850 and have a detailed listing by children’s book historian Marjorie Moon, available in the library. Authors include Frances Hodgson Burnett, Rudyard Kipling and Beatrix Potter. Recent additions include a set of Rupert Bear books and the collection continues to grow.
“It may be that in a hundred years’ time, there’ll be books that children are growing up with now – things like Harry Potter,” said Joanne. “I would hope that it would continue to grow and expand and reflect the popularity and the trends that people have.”
The collection was put together by Marjorie Moon, a children’s historian, well known in her time. Instead of sorting them by a decimal system, as most libraries do, she sorted them so all the books of animal stories are together and all of the poetry is together. As she drew up the catalogue, she added information and context for them, including how they link together.
“It’s quite a unique catalogue that’s kind of just for us, but [Marjorie] was very knowledgeable about the books … it just gives a really lovely context and development to the collection that adds a lot of value and depth to the books,” said Joanne. “People come in and they want their best sellers and they want their cook books and that’s why we’re here, but it’s lovely that there are things here that they didn’t expect to stumble across.”
Although mostly made up of fiction, with stunning front covers and gilded spines, the collection also contains picture books and non-fiction instruction books. Some of these books were used in the 1800s to educate children outside of school, as it was fashionable to add to children’s education through leisure books alongside their school texts about geography or science.
The collection includes the Infant’s Cabinet of Flowers and Infant’s Cabinet of Birds – part of the Infant’s Cabinet Series from the 19th century. These are ornate wooden boxes, containing cards with the different names of flowers or birds on them. Another of the series teaches children the alphabet with cards holding different letters. When the children learnt a letter, they would get a little packet from their parents.
“It says something like ‘now that you’ve read the letter A, wouldn’t it be great if you move on to the letter B when you might get another little present’ and it’s so cute and that’s from about 1840,” said Joanne.
“There’s books that I loved as a child that certainly weren’t written for my generation,” said Joanne, explaining why children’s books are so important. “You know all the classics, Enid Blyton and Heidi and Anne of Green Gables and things like that that still have that timeless quality that children will forever love even though they have no conception of that sort of time or of the life of the children who are being written about. It’s really sort of lasts forever.”
Joanne’s favourite book is Anne of Green Gables, which she borrowed from her own local library.