Children's books reflect prevailing cultural and social values and are particularly focused on inculcating proper modes of behavior and morality. Literature developed specifically for children was relatively rare prior to the mid-seventeenth century. Before this time, children were considered to be miniature adults and early children's literature was primarily rational, didactic, and instructional. Books of this era were often intended to scare children into proper behavior, to teach religious obedience, and to serve as cautionary tales. Books for children's education preceded the development of books for children's entertainment.
Nearly all children's books widely used in the American colonies were written in England until the latter part of the eighteenth century. It was not until the late 1820s that American children's literature began to branch out on its own and was no longer dominated by English books and publishing. Even then, however, fairy tales were generally frowned upon and children's literature was considered a serious business designed to shape character and preach the dangers of disobedience.
Thomas Jefferson's recommendations and choices of books for children reflect both the heavy reliance on English publishing and the prevailing emphasis on the didactic and moralistic in children's literature. Although he never made a list of all his recommendations, the following books, recommended to his children and grandchildren prior to their 16th birthdays, were referenced in his letters. He also recommended poetry and often sent newspaper clippings for his grandchildren to read. Overall, his book choices focused on history, foreign language learning, and moral and behavioral improvement in children.
- Kristen Lochrie, 5/14/12
The titles and editions in this list are the closest approximations to those that the readers used. In some cases, the cited edition is the earliest in E. Millicent Sowerby's Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson; in others cases, they are the closest to the date in which they were used.
"I send you the inclosed magazine supposing it may furnish you a few moments amusement, as well as to the reading members of your family." The account books show that Jefferson had access to the following magazines which might have contained suitable selections for "the reading members [probably some of the children] of your family:" Analectic Magazine, Edinburgh Review, Monthly Magazine, Portfolio, The Columbian Magazine, The Repository, The Weekly Magazine of Original Essays.
- List compiled by James A. Bear, Jr., n.d.
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