Keele holds one of the oldest children’s books known in existence

Book 2
Posted on 02 March 2017

A 17th century children’s book held at Keele University Library is one of the oldest in the world.

The book, A Guide to the Childe and Youth, was published 42 years before any other known surviving copy and falls within the incunable period of British children’s literature, dating back to 1667.

In celebration of World Book Day, Dr Nick Seager, a Senior Lecturer in English at Keele University, said: “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: “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.”