History of Children’s Books

Course Information

Instructor: Jackie Stallcup
Location: UCLA / Los Angeles
Mode: In-person
Dates: July 31 – August 4, 2023
Tuition: $1200.00


Children’s literature is a vast, rich field of study that intertwines in fascinating ways with the history of bookmaking.  The millions of diverse picture books that flourish today can trace their roots back to such texts as Caxton’s Aesop(1484), Comenius’ Orbis Sensualium Pictus  (1658),  Janeway’s A Token for Children (1671), Watts’ Divine Songs(1715), Newbery’s Little Pretty Pocketbook (1742), and many anonymous hornbooks, alphabet books, primers, and chapbooks.  

Children are notoriously hard on their books, often loving them to irretrievable shreds.  So the very earliest editions of many of these books no longer exist.  However, the Children’s Book Collection of the Young Research Library at UCLA provides us with a treasure trove of rare children’s books that we will use to analyze the development of the modern picture book.  We may also (time and circumstances permitting) visit the collections at the Huntington Research Library and the Clark Memorial Library.

Among the questions we will explore:  What are some possible origins of different types of picture books?  What do such “origin stories” suggest about the ideological underpinnings of the field of children’s literature?  How have “school books” (such as primers and alphabet books) changed over time? (Or not?)  What roles have pop-up and movable books played in developing both literacy skills and a sense of pleasure in reading?  

More broadly, we will also pursue questions such as:  By what means do we—children and adults—interpret works that closely juxtapose image and text?  How do we make meaning out of such texts?  In what ways do these works participate in the work of acculturating children?   How do these works reflect/interact with/comment upon/reject both artistic and ideological concerns?

Critical readings and discussion will draw not only from children’s literature criticism but also from the fields of visual arts, film, narrative, post-colonial, reader-response and feminist theories.

Mornings will generally be spent in Special Collections examining and discussing one foundational text along with a variety of associated texts.  In the afternoons, we will explore historical and contemporary picture books that developed from these roots.   





Completion of this course helps to meet credits for one of the following certificate requirements:

  • a History of the Book course for Certificate in Rare Books and Manuscripts, or
  • 1 of 3 elective credit courses for Certificate in Rare Books and Manuscripts, or
  • a History of the Book course for Certificate in Librarianship, Activism, and Justice
  • 1 of 2 elective credit courses for Certificate in Librarianship, Activism, and Justice