It’s our birthday! Our Drury Street store was one year old last week and we have celebrated by giving out gifts in our massive sale and our social media competitions!
To celebrate our first year, we’ve been thinking about one year olds through the ages; how they were raised and most importantly what they read! We’ve picked out some of the best children’s books published in every decade from the 1920s up to now, and taken a look at some of the popular parenting advice of their time.
Childhood in the 1920s
One year olds in the 1920s were an unfortunate bunch if their parents followed the popular parenting advice of the day, which ranged from touching the baby as little as possible to having it spend as much time outdoors as possible. Robert and Mary were the most popular names for babies, so while sitting alone on the lawn all day, little Mary or Robert may have found some comfort in the great picture books published in that decade, which included The Velveteen Rabbit and Clever Bill, both illustrated by William Nicholson.
And who could forget the beloved Pooh! The first Winnie the Pooh collection of stories was published in 1926, so perhaps these 1920's parents may have read it to their little ones out the kitchen window, while keeping a safe distance of course.
In the 1920s the emphasis on the need for fresh air and sunshine for babies persisted from the previous decade, and led to parents in high rise tenement blocks in places like London and the U.S. installing wire "baby cages" on their windows so that their toddlers could spend enough time outdoors! The '30s also saw the introduction from Vienna of a theory called “democratic parenting”, a method of kind but firm childrearing that aimed to treat children with more equality to adults than was common in that era.
Among the most popular baby names in the 1930s were Margaret and John, and these babies were treated to the adventures of Babar the Elephant, the popular series of books about King Babar and his wife Celeste. A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh, said “If you love elephants you will love Babar and Celeste. If you have never loved elephants you will love them now".
In 1946 a new parenting book was published by Dr. Benjamin Spock, advocating parents to reject the previous decades’ distant parenting style and reconnect to their natural nurturing instincts. This brought more focus to warmth and bonding than in previous years. Good news for little John and Margaret, who were still the most popular names! This decade was also a great one for children’s books, with one of the most popular children’s books ever, The Little Prince, being published in the original French in 1943. The Little Prince is the third most translated book in the world, after the Bible and the Koran! For children in Scandinavia, Moomins were also starting to make an appearance, with The Moomins and the Great Flood being published in the original Swedish in 1945.
Because of advertisements like the one above, 1950s common wisdom about what was healthy and correct is the source of much amusement these days! However some people have started to question whether they might have had some things right after all. Because factory production hadn’t returned to pre-war levels, more parents made their children’s toys by hand and used reusable cloth nappies, and with television still uncommon at home, young children were likely to be read to often. And what a choice of books those children had! Our perception of 1950s culture these days is usually of a conservative mainstream culture, but in children’s books as well as other areas a lot of artists were reaching new heights of innovation. Little Susan and David, the most likely names for babies born in the 1950s, may have grown up with the wacky Dr. Seuss as a household name, and Tove Jansson's Moomins also exploded in popularity during this decade.
In 1962 a paediatrician called Walter W. Sackett Jr. published Bringing Up Baby, a book which recommended that babies as young as 10 weeks should be eating bacon, eggs and even coffee, to acclimatise to the family’s eating habits! In the same decade, Harry Harlow’s controversial experiments on baby monkeys showed that infants prioritise warmth and comfort from a parent over basic needs. The Sixties was a good time for children’s books, with little David and Susan ,(still the most popular names!), likely to grow up with now-iconic characters such as Miffy.
In the U.S., artists like Tomi Ungerer and Maurice Sendak led a swerve towards darker and edgier books for children, such as Ungerer's The Three Robbers. And cutting edge designers experimented with children's illustration in books like A Balloon For A Blunderbuss.
The 1970s saw the rise of a more child-centred and intuitive parenting style proposed by Penelope Leach. In contrast to the parenting styles of previous generations, mothers and fathers were now encouraged to put the baby’s needs above their own and to trust their instincts. Jennifer and Michael were popular names for babies, and little Jenny and Mike grew up with Judith Kerr’s scatty cat Mog, who is still loved to this day.
Other books that '70s kids might remember include When Tom Beat Captain Najork by Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake.
This decade’s babies were likely to be named Sarah or Paul, and they would have grown up with more TV than previous generations. Children's books were still an important part of early childhood though, and some of our favourite books were published in the '80s. Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge stories were first published in this decade, along with Shirley Hughes’ Alfie books.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen demonstrate the 1990s trend for attachment.
By the time the 1990s came along, Michael and Jessica were the reigning babies! Guides advocating attachment parenting became popular, which is reflected in one of the most popular children’s books of the decade, Guess How Much I Love You.
Jacob and Jack, Emily and Sophie have all been popular names in the last few years, and social media has meant that childhood is more publicly shared and discussed than ever before. Children’s books have been booming with award-winning artists like Jon Klassen, Carson Ellis and Oliver Jeffers enjoying mass popularity. Klassen’s ‘Hat Trilogy’ may be remembered by this generation’s children as the iconic books of their childhood.
And in 2016, a little shop on Drury Street opened, with the aim to bring the best illustrated books from the last 100 years to children and grown up children in Ireland and beyond! A big thank you to all our customers for your valued support in our first year. Here's to the next hundred!
You can view our full collection of illustrated children's books here.
There are some childhood memories that we carry with us always, whether it’s the memory of a pet, a family holiday by the sea, or a favourite picture book. Then there are plenty more childhood memories that fade with time. But what determines the memories we keep and those we leave behind? As always with the human brain, there are numerous factors at play. Here, we take a look at 5 of the most interesting facts about childhood memories.
Picture books such as David McKee's Elmer feature strong lines, colours and textures which can stimulate recognition memory in a young child.
1. Infants have memories too (in a way)
The chances are that your earliest memory is not really your earliest at all – it’s just the one that’s lasted the course. The brain actually begins to develop memory from the time we are infants still in the cradle. This is called ‘recognition memory’ and it allows babies to recognise certain sounds and sights such as our parents’ voices and faces. Some researchers believe recognition memory is so powerful that it can stay with us well into adult life. While we may be unable to recall these memories with clarity, certain sights, sounds, colours or smells can still trigger a response that can directly connect our adult selves with certain experiences we first had when just wee tots.
2. Six-month old babies can remember words
What’s known as ‘working memory’ relates to one’s ability to understand and learn. This generally begins when we are just 6 months old. Though still largely without language, it’s believed that a child of that age will have a basic understanding of certain words such as ‘mummy’, ‘daddy’, ‘peek-a-boo’ or ‘din-dins’!
3. Babies can understand basic concepts after their first year
By the time they enter their second year, babies have already begun to develop what’s known as ‘semantic memory’. This relates to their ability to understand concepts such as ‘let’s go for a little walk’ or ‘look at the dog playing with the ball’. Memories formed in this period can be quite strong. Research shows that children between the ages of 4 and 7 can readily recall events from when they were just a year and 8 months old. Unfortunately, these memories mostly fade as the child grows (typically disappearing by the age of 7), which is attributed to the fact that the child hasn’t yet acquired the ability to place those memories in context (see number 5 below for more on this).
4. Between the ages of two and seven, emotions play a greater role in memory
Children are more likely to remember moments that create an emotional response. Image: Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney.
According to Carole Petersen, a professor of psychology at Memorial University Newfoundland, one of most important things in determining whether a memory survives or not is the emotion it has attached to it. This is because between the ages of 2 and 7 a child’s brain is busy soaking up as much information as possible. It’s a hugely important time in a child’s development and, as any parent will probably tell you, children of this age are curious about just about everything. Indeed, some studies report that the average 4-year-old asks about 437 questions per day! Naturally, this means that there’s a lot of incoming information for a young brain to process, and so the things that tend to stick generally have a strong emotional appeal. That’s largely due to the fact that when a person (adult or child) experiences an emotional moment or event, the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which makes it easier for the person to recall that moment with greater accuracy as they grow older.
5. From age seven, children use stories to improve and order their memories
Remembering is really an act of storytelling. People often need to creatively fill in certain gaps so they can complete the narrative of an event so that it makes more sense to them over time. However, children below the age of 7 have less developed narrative skills and so struggle to keep their earlier memories in later life. This all changes as older children begin to acquire a greater command of language and context since these things help them anchor their memories on more specific details relating to time and place. In essence, the memory is stored in the brain as a kind of story in which the person remembering is the central character. According to the American Psychological Association, remembering the past in this way helps to reinforce a person’s independence and plays a vital role in allowing them to respond confidently to the world around them with their own thoughts and feelings.
Stories can play a powerful role in developing a child's skill to empathise with others. Image: Findus Goes Camping by Sven Nordqvist.
The takeaway: All stories are really part of your own story
Psychologists believe that reading stories to children at an early age can help develop a child’s narrative skills. This is because stories help stimulate parts of the brain that can place the reader/listener in the role of other characters in the story (this is known as neural coupling). Storybooks that feature strong images or illustrations alongside the text may be even more effective as the brain processes images some 60,000 times faster than it does text.
And there you have it. So if you’ve ever wondered why you still remember and love the stories and characters from your childhood, it’s probably because they engaged your mind during its most intense period of development. You might even say that instead of simply letting them into your life for a visit, you were inviting them to set up a little home.
Re-live or recreate your own childhood stories - browse a selection of our illustrated books here.