Keele University home to only copy of 17th century children's book

Oldest children's book
Posted on 03 March 2016

Keele University is offering bookworms a chance to view the only known copy of one of the oldest children’s book in existence, A Guide to the Childe and Youth, which is held at the university’s library.

Published forty-two years before any other known surviving copy, this book falls within the incunable period of British children’s literature, dating back to 1667. Dr. Nick Seager, a Senior Lecturer in English at Keele University, comments:

“The book offers a fascinating insight into the education and reading of young people in the 17th century. Its contents range from moral instruction to numeracy lessons and from instilling political loyalty to religious teaching. The Guide also teaches children literacy through an innovative rhyming alphabet with intricate woodcut illustrations.”

The book previously belonged to a Mary Berks and Ann Berks of Apedale (Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire) around 1776, with the former’s handwriting seen in the back of the book, practising her styles and rhymes. The university became the proud owner of the book almost 300 years later in the 1950s, after receiving the book via a donation from local retired schoolteacher, Eliza Tittensor.

Dr. Seager added: “We are very proud to have this unique book available to our students. As well as offering our current and prospective students the opportunity to read works of literature from all periods and across the world, we can also give them an idea of how literature has developed since the 17th century, with the help of works such as the Guide.

“The Guide brings to life the debates from the past and gives us an idea of what animated people all those years ago. It offers a wonderful insight into what it was like to be a child during this time and this keyhole to the past provides a centrality to current concerns and how it teaching back then has shaped our education today. We would like to encourage people to book a viewing of the Guide this World Book Day. It is a great historical artefact and not to be missed!”

A Guide to the Childe and Youth can be viewed by appointment only at the university’s library.