“Easy Rhymes for Children from Five to Ten Years of Age” by John Harris

Hiromu Otsuka | Layla Mohsenipour | Marko Prodanovic | Alexandra Rodriguez

img_7566-1Historical Context:


John Harris, born in 1756, published books for children in England between the end of 18th century to mid-19th century. Harris was apprenticed at an early age to a London bookseller Thomas Evans. Then he worked briefly for John Murray (publisher), and lastly joined John Newbery’s publishing firm. As the Newbery firm was passed down to John Newbery’s family members, Harris was able to obtain the position of a manager in 1797 when Elizabeth Newbery was in charge. Few years later, in 1801, he bought the firm from Elizabeth Newbery and took over in his own name. From here, as a London bookseller and publisher of children’s books, Harris produced a series of juvenile
publications that were notable for their “visual charm and elegance” (Hahn 263).

Harris “caught the public mood” admirably in the books he produced over the decades (Hunt 320). According to Burwick, children’s literature became “fiercely competitive and significant part of the book trade” (228). Harris’ most notable publication was an inexpensive edition of Old Mother Hubbard. It was so successful it prompted all booksellers of children’s literature to sell nursery stories. Almost always didactic in content, these books sought to bring to children an awareness of the wider world beyond Britain, as well as to explore the wonders of their own nation.

Methods of Binding:

The binding of our book was considered ‘normal trade binding’, since for the majority of
the hand-press era, covering was done inexpensively by calf or img_7573sheep skin. The binding of our book is in such shape that suggests it was a book sold over the counter and rather inexpensive.

The process of binding for a book such as “Easy Rhymes for Children” would be such that before arriving to the bindery, the sheets were into quires of twelve or twenty-four. After this process, the setting of page numbers would be crucial in folding each set of sheets properly so that the pages would be in order.  After the process of folding, the pages would be beaten, meaning hit very hard with a hammer several times until the book was the accurate size.

Before the binding, the folded sheets would be sewn by hand onto five throngs or cords. If the job was well done there would be no trace of the thread as it would be slid in the inner fold. The method our book was bound was a tradition of late seventeenth century called ‘two on.’

The binding of our object may not have been as successful since the paper over the spine of the book seemed replaced by a stronger red leather material. Normally the spine of the book would undergo a process of being rounded called being hammered, that also had the name of being given shoulders. The giving of shoulders would be done to accommodate the boards made of wood or in our objects case, just pasteboard. Pasteboard was just sheets of paper pasted together which was a lot lighter than the previous use of wood up to fifteenth century and still well over in the sixteenth century for bigger books.

Illustration and Engraving Process:

Prolific through the 1800s, John Harris, like many publishers, employed two techniques of printmaking through his practice, intaglio, a method of engraving and woodcut, a method of relief. In his earlier years of production, Harris favored copperplates, but eventually yielded to the versatility in colour that accompanied hand-painted woodblocks around 1820.  Daniel Hahn highlights this shift in The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature,  “At about the same time steel began to be used as a more durable alternative to copper as the main metal for plates, but the increasing sophistication of wood engraving, following high standard set by Bewick, soon largely eclipsed the popularity of both copper and steel” (141). Harris’s books were unique in it that they usually came in either colour or monochrome editions, of course charging more for the colour editions. Preferring the editions done in colour, Harris turned to wood engravings as a more suitable medium for the hand colored pictures in the later editions of his books.

However, in this particular edition of “Easy Rhymes for Children from Five to Ten Years of Age,” published in 1825, well after this shift in illustration, there are a few indications of the presence of engravings. For example, in the illustration entitled, “The Hen and Chickens,” some clear indications that this illustration is a product of intaglio, rather than relief printing are:

  • The plate mark or the impression of the metal printing plate left by high pressure rolling press
  • The precision of the engraved lines, rather than the “negative” space that would be present in woodblock, relief printing

Religious Rhetoric:

Easy Rhymes for Children From Five to Ten Years of Age, contains a narrative of religious and behavioural instruction for children. Throughout the 18th and 19th century, English publishers started embedding ideas of religion and middle-class social behaviour into children’s literature in an effort to make these ideas more accessible and prevalent. This was largely a tool for projecting middle class values in areas such as morality, gender roles and religious commitment. Harris’s book therefore has a multiple intentions as it is asimg_7570
much a rhetorical device as a object meant to entertain young readers.

Prior late 18th century period, children’s literature in England was entirely instructional. Towards the end of the century, children’s books started being designed to both “instruct and delight young readers” (Grenby). Unlike books prior to this period, children’s publications such as Harris’ wove instruction into narrative thereby making these ideas more entertaining and more approachable.

There was a large emphasis on gender roles within this behavioural conditioning. Girls were encouraged to adopt femininity and elegance and whereas young boys were taught to act as “visible and representative of their class, thus making the lower class appear respectable” (Rundall 63). This gendering and conditioning can be seen throughout the book as evidenced by titles such as “The Good Little Sister” and “The Little Boy and his Cat.”

Harris’ book also taught to promote proper religious behaviour among youth through a mutual exploration of science and religion. The period between 1761 to 1867 “marks the growth of what can be called “scientific didacticism,” where publishers embraced “the use of scientific subjects for moral and religious instruction of children” (Rauch 14). Harris draws appreciation to a number of Scientific phenomena throughout this book however acknowledges these as a creation of god and a symbol of his glory. An admiration of science can be seen here as a device for communicating the importance of the divine in the natural world.

This book has multiple functions. It tries to captivate young readers through thrilling narrative and scientific wonderment. Yet it also reinforces middle class social and religious behaviour and ideals. It’s catering to both these areas is entirely a product of the social and religious climate of its time.



Works Cited 

Blake, Erin. “Woodcut, Engraving, or What? – The Collation.” The Collation. N.p., 07 Apr. 2016. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.

Burwick, Frederick, Nancy Moore Goslee, and Diane Long. Hoeveler. The Encyclopedia of Romantic Literature. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Google Books. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.

Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. Oxford: Clarendon, 1972. Print.

Grenby, M. O. “The Origins of Children’s Literature.” British Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2016.

Griffiths, Antony. Prints and Printmaking: An Introduction to the History and Techniques. Berkeley: U of California, 1996. Print.

Hahn, Daniel, Humphrey Carpenter, Mari Prichard, and Michael Morpurgo. The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2015. Google Books. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.

Hunt, Peter. International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. London: Routledge, 2004.Google Books. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.

Rauch, A. “A World of Faith on a Foundation of Science: Science and Religion in British Children’s Literature: 1761-1878.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, 14.1 (1989): 13-19. Project MUSE. Web. 4 Nov. 2016.

Rundall, Sarah A. “T is for Toy Book: Social Lessons Contained in 19th Century Lower Class British Children’s Literature.” University of Wyoming, 2009. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.





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