Children’s print culture: tradition and innovation
The social, cultural, and material transformations that followed in the wake of the development of movable type came later for children and adolescents than they did for adults. Prior to the eighteenth century, authors and publishers took little interest in the particular needs of youth, in part because these needs were seldom distinguished from those of adults until Enlightenment philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau posited that childhood was separate and distinctive from adulthood. This intellectual shift accompanied-in Western Europe and North America at least-both a rise in literacy and a growing entrepreneurial spirit among publishers that led to child-centered publications such as the English book merchant and publisher John Newbery’s A Little Pretty Pocket Book (1744). Newbery’s book combined alphabetic structure with rhyming descriptions of children’s games, profuse illustrations, and moral lessons. Although the book was not wholly original, building as it did on various moral and educational texts from preceding centuries (cf. Darton, 1932), it fulﬁlled Newbery’s purpose of Delectando monemus (Latin, “instruction with delight”) and marked a starting point for a distinctive print culture for young people. Broadly conceived, print culture includes complex and interwoven social, cultural, historical,
and material considerations surrounding the production and consumption of texts including literary novels, popular magazines, and educational manuals. Print culture historian Wayne Wiegand (1998) proposes that this discipline incorporates diverse aspects that include changing conceptions of literacy, book as commodity, the impact of technological developments on authorship and reading practices, and the circulation of printed texts. The concept of print culture itself is not antithetical to technological innovation-moving type was just such an innovation-but the term can obscure the role of technology. Thus, one must be clear that print culture includes not only “traditional” printed texts but also developments such as digital books. Similarly, the concept of print culture can sometimes seem to privilege “print” over “orality,” although scholars such as Betsy Hearne (1991) have demonstrated the artiﬁciality of this distinction, especially regarding folktales, where a story may cross between orality and print multiple times. Given its broad scope, print culture as it pertains to children and adolescents requires
signiﬁcant delimitation for a chapter such as this one. This overview of print culture for children and adolescents will emphasize contemporary issues in the material culture of print while indicating their historical precedents. Taking Newbery as a starting point, the chapter focuses on
books, periodicals, and related products published and distributed by trade publishers, as opposed to educational and textbook publishers. Its emphasis will be on the United States (US) and Great Britain, which dominate many aspects of children’s print culture on a global level, although examples from other countries and regions will be integrated where possible. There will be no attempt to address child-produced materials, self-published works, materials produced chieﬂy for the educational market, reference works for or about young people, or games and toys that are often part of the broader youth print culture.