The start of something big

THINKING ABOUT IT

October 21, 1998

The first English book for children appeared in 1744, assembled by publisher John Newbery - who also sold school textbooks and patent medicines. The popularity of "A Little Pretty Pocket Book" led to the growth of publishing for children through the rest of the 18th century. Some critics consider these early volumes to be more propaganda than literature because their real goal was to help parents in the religious and moral upbringing of their children.

The idea of producing entertaining children's books has always been at war with printing books that are supposed to be instructive or inspiring. The great children's books that we recall from the 19th century, such as "Treasure Island" and "Coral Island," actually were written for adults to be read with the entire family. It wasn't until the end of that century that children's book writers finally conceded that entertainment might be slightly more important than instruction. Some present-day teachers and librarians still aren't so sure about this.

- From "Raising a Reader" by Paul Kropp

Editor's note: The Newbery Award for excellence in children's literature, given since 1922 by the American Library Association, is named for John Newbery.

Baltimore native Karen Hesse took the 1998 Newbery Award for her latest story about young girls rising above hardship or confronting tragedy. Hesse, who grew up in Pimlico, won for "Out of the Dust," her story of a 14-year-old girl mourning her mother's accidental death.

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