ABC Books is a digital archive of historical alphabet books from the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton, designed specifically for the use of students in ENG 385: Children’s Literature. Here you will discover a rich sampling of English-language alphabet books from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Far from simply “A is for Apple,” these rare texts cover a diverse scope of subject matters and approaches such as a “fisherman’s” alphabet from 1823 or a sign-language alphabet from 1974. The alphabets range from the pedagogical to the political to the playful, and offer a unique and illuminating lens through which to consider how and why literature is created for children. Anti-Slavery to Apple Pie, the ethical to the absurd, these ABCs prompt questions not only about what we explicitly and implicitly teach children, but also how in various times and places the very concept of childhood has been understood.
This archive is also shaped by the input of the students in ENG 385. Their work on and with the archive guides the development of this resource for future researchers.
An important note: Some of the books in this archive contain imagery and descriptions that are offensive. It is not uncommon for children’s alphabet books, in their zeal to classify and categorize, to present stereotypical depictions of individuals, groups, even nations. This archive can help us examine how children’s books have historically participated in the circulation of such images and ideas.