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Christmas books for Victorian children

Books were a common Christmas gift for 19th-century children, just as they are today.  Authors and publishers in England and the United States marketed a variety of titles each Christmastime.  For younger children there were picture books, ranging from cheap paperback editions of popular tales to deluxe books with color lithographs.  For older children who could read, publishers produced special gift books which collected stories and poems published in magazines throughout the year.  Though marketed at Christmas, these books rarely contained Christmas-themed pictures or text.

molesworthSome children’s authors did publish specifically Christmas-related tales.  Most often in these books, the action would take place at Christmas time, though the Christmas holiday might not be central to the story’s theme.  One author who took advantage of the Christmas holiday to market her writing was Scottish-born writer Mrs. Molesworth (1839-1921).  Mary Louisa Molesworth was a prolific author of children’s literature: during the height of her career, in the 1880’s and 1890’s, she produced around seven books a year.  Mrs. Molesworth is known for her sympathetic portrayal of children’s experiences and feelings, with plots based around everyday events in a child’s life.  Her stories are often underpinned by moral teachings.  Special Collections owns several of Mrs. Molesworth’s  Christmas-themed books, including A Christmas Child, the story of the life of and lessons learned by a young boy who is born on Christmas day and later dies on a Christmas day. Most of Mrs. Molesworth’s books were illustrated by Walter Crane, who along with Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway is considered one of the top children’s book illustrators of the Victorian period.

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