By Kira Taylor @kirataylor15
Tucked away in the depths of Exeter Central Library arelittle gems of writing that have survived for decades. The Devon’s Collection of Children’s Books is currently on show in the Quiet Room on the First Floor of Exeter Library and will be on display until December. It is made up of 2,000 books, most of which date from before 1940.
Looking at the ornate, browning covers, you wonder just how many fingers have turned the pages in front of you, how many eyes have devoured knowledge from the fragile leaves.
It’s striking how small some of the books are. When it comes to fiction, I don’t like to use the word “cute” or any synonym of the word, but some of the books are adorable. They are child sized children’s books and could quite easily fit into little hands.
There are also some brilliantly bizarre titles. From The Adventures of a Donkey (1815) to Reuben Rambles Through The Counties Of England (1845), the books certainly cover a range of interests. Each of the books is accompanied by a little history, covering how it was received, what it’s about and how it was used.
The display also includes information about Marjorie Moon, a children’s historian, who provided the information for the books, as well as their listing. Instead of sorting them by a decimal system, like most libraries, she sorted them so all the books of animal stories are together and all of the poetry is together, adding information and context for each.
The collection has been built up over time by donations. This gives it a sweet feel, as there is no set theme. Some books are from whole collections of family favourites, representing how trends and ideas have changed over the years. The books bear the signs of being read.
One of the most fascinating parts of the display is the the Infant’s Cabinet of Flowers and Infant’s Cabinet of Birds – part of the Infant’s Cabinet Series from the 19th century. It’s made up of 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.
Recent additions include a set of Rupert Bear books, and the collection continues to grow.