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John Newbery, Father of Children's Literature

John Newbery is properly considered the father of children's literature. Born in 1713 in Waltham St. Lawrence, Berkshire, England, he moved to Reading at age 16 to apprentice himself to a printer named William Carnan. When Carnan died in 1737, Newbery inherited part of the business and in 1745, at age 32, he moved it and his family to London.

There in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral, he opened his bookshop, The Bible and the Sun, where he spent the following 22 years publishing religious periodicals, newspapers, books, and children's books, some of which he wrote himself. His first children's book, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book ("for little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly") appeared in 1744, the first of a series of well-made little books --"pretty gilt toys for girls and boys"--that followed the notion stressed in his era that literature should both please and instruct.

In 1751, Newbery began the first periodical designed for children, The Lilliputian Magazine. As "Abraham Aesop" he wrote Fables in Verse in 1758 and as "Tom Telescope" he wrote The Newtonian System of Philosophy in 1761.

In addition to launching a newspaper in 1760 (The Public Ledger), Newbery published the first English version of Charles Perrault's Tales from the Past with Morals, subtitled Contes de ma mère l'oye, or "Tales from Mother Goose."

Finally, in 1765, shortly before his death, Newbery wrote and published his classic children's book, The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes, in which success is keyed to education, very much in the tradition of the time and the use of the term "morals" in the title of Perrault's original collection.

Postscript: In 1922, in recognition of Newbery's pioneering work as an author and publisher of children's literature, The American Library Association instituted the Newbery Medal to be awarded annually to the most distinguished work of children's literature.



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