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Saturday, September 26, 2015

What is Your Favourite Childhood Book?

  We all have favourite books from our childhood – ones we read or ones read to us.  Mine is The Wonder Clock or, Four and Twenty Marvelous Tales, Being One for Each Hour of the Day by Howard Pyle.  The book was first published in 1887 so it had been around for over 70 years before I first encountered it, but I was so enchanted by the stories and illustrations that I re-read it for years and years.

Each story begins with a verse (written by Katherine Pyle) that corresponds to the hour of the day. These verses bring to life the household routines of the late nineteenth century:  lighting the fire, preparing breakfast, sending the children to school, making the noonday meal, milking, tea, bedtime.

The stories are illustrated with Howard Pyle's drawings.  Each tale has a frontispiece for the title, and the beginning of the text is heralded with an ornamental letter like those in illuminated manuscripts.  The illustrations are gorgeous and definitely a part of the "wonder" of the book.

The stories themselves are wonderful, full of kings, princes, princesses, woodcutters, swineherds, ruffians, rogues and magical creatures.  Although influenced by English, German and Scandinavian folk literature, most of the stories will be unfamiliar to modern readers.  As with Aesop's fables, the stories are meant to instruct, but the morals are secondary to the storytelling, at least until the conclusion of each tale, and a great deal is left up to the reader to interpret.

I am so please that this book is still available in print, but it can also be viewed online.  The Baldwin Online Children’s Literature Project has made the classic available online (complete with illustrations):

What's your favourite book from childhood?