The Alphabet of Fairy Tales

Front cover of the book The Alphabet of Fairy Tales by George Routledge & Sons. The cover is pink with red, green, blue, and red floral detailing bordering the title.

Children's books existed in the 16th century, but it was not until the 18th century that a market for children's books was realized. For the most part, the books of the eighteenth century were created to teach children the alphabet and their catechism. John Newbery's contributions were especially significant due to his recognition that children's books should both educate and entertain.

Alphabet books were one of the first forms to use illustrations to educate children. While small illustrations were used with the alphabet in early chapbooks, the purpose was to mold the young by educating them in literacy and religious matters. It was not until the nineteenth century, when printing technology advanced to a more sophisticated stage, that children could enjoy more colorful illustrations, giving them an opportunity to explore other cultures and ideas.

The Shilling Toy Books (1870) were published by George Routledge & Sons, a company that is commonly known for its academic publishing. The series included the books The Alphabet of Trades, The Alphabet of Flowers, and The Alphabet of Fairy Tales which sold for one shilling or two shillings if they were mounted on cloth. The books were so popular that Routledge & Sons sought the help of many illustrators and engravers including Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane who illustrated several Shilling Toy Books. A formula was followed that comprised of six or eight pages with text on one side and an illustration on the opposite page.

The copy of The Alphabet of Fairy Tales pictured here shows the cover of an 1870 edition. On the back, a quote from a reviewer is at the top as well as the Routledge & Sons imprint. Also featured is a sample of the text with words on the left page, and the illustrations are on the right.

If you would like to look at the complete alphabet book, go to our digital collections to view the book online. To see the book in person, visit Special Collections in room 305 in McCain Library & Archives. To see more Items of the Month, click here.

For any questions, contact Ellen Ruffin at [email protected] or 601.266.6543.

Text by Ellen Ruffin, Curator of the de Grummond Collection