Today children read a wide variety of books. Public libraries have large sections just for kids that have not only mysteries, adventure stories and science fiction, but also biographies and reference materials aimed just for them. Many years ago, however, the only books written for them were text books meant to teach them reading, grammar, spelling, goegraphy, arithmetic, and good morals.
In early American history, children were taught to read from the Bible. But some children also learned from a primer. One of the most commonly used was the New England Primer , written by early Puritan settlers. Puritan children read from books such as Spirtitual Milk for Boston Babes and A Token For Children , being : Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives, and Prayers and Graces , fit for use by little children.
Now, children's primers have taken a different form, that of books such as The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss helped to change books for children. He used a simple set of basic words to create humorous rhyming tales that would interest those learning to read. For instance, he wrote Green Eggs and Ham using only fifty different words because a friend bet him fifty dollars that he couldn't do it. Another thing that makes his books popular are the colorful illustrations which he did himself.
It was not until about one hundred years ago that picture books began to be published. Before, some children's books had been illustrated, but these were small drawings and only meant to accompany the story, not to actually help tell it. Beatrix Potter's 1902 edition of Peter Rabbit is considered to be the first picture book. She illustrated it herself using watercolors. Also, picture books became more popular because new printing processes made them easier to produce.
Some of the books that were most popular among childen one hundred years ago were originally aimed at adults. One of these books is Robinson Crusoe , though some of the more dull portions were cut. Another of these books is Gulliver's Travels . This book was written as a satire, but it was read by children for its humor and adventure.
The first realistic novels meant for children were published in the late 1800's. Some of these were Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.
Not only has the appearance and purpose of books been changed, but their subject matter has too. Previously, books only told stories that would teach the reader lessons, such as Biblical stories and fables. Now stories talk about controversial issues and real life situations. Another change is that it has only been within the past fifty years that there has been children's science fiction. As you can see, children's literature has changed a great deal. The new literature makes reading fun, entertaining, and easier.
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