Many of the authors that were publishing in the 1900-1909 range continued to publish through the next decade. A whole lot of series adventure books were published, from the Bobbsey Twins to the Boy Scouts and Outdoors Girls. (Tom Swift books, a science fiction/inventor series, were first published in this decade as well, but the only knowledge I have of that character is of the Tom Swift puns, Tom Swifties!)
Here’s our “when-in-the-world” reference from about.com to understand what was going on in real life while these books were being published!
1910–Boy Scouts established in the U.S. (which might explain all the Boy Scouts books published!)
1911–the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurs (I can’t remember where I learned about this tragedy–a social studies text?–but here’s a graphic novel an upper elementary to middle school reader might benefit from reading!)
1912–the Titanic sinks (and Oreos are first introduced!)
1913–Henry Ford invents the moving assembly line
1914–World War I begins
1915–the first transcontinental phone call is made
1916–Jeanette Rankin is the first woman in the U.S. Congress (and Piggly Wiggly opens as the first self-service grocery store in the U.S.)
1917–the U.S. enters WWI
1918–Daylight Saving Time introduced
1919–end of World War I with the Treaty of Versailles
That’s a lot of heavy stuff going on, so it’s really no wonder that there were so many adventure and inventor series being written! The stories that I best remember, though, being a timid child growing up in small-town USA, are the stories of hope and perseverance, childish goodness and wisdom, and “safe” adventures in fantasy! Here’s a list of some of the stories from this era that were most memorable to me and have stood the test of time!
Peter and Wendy, by J.M. Barrie (1911): While Peter Pan as a character is pretty pervasive in modern culture (peanut butter, Geico commercials, and the many iterations in movies and on stage, just to name a few examples), the actual book from which the character arises is perhaps not as well known (nor, perhaps, that he first appeared in a book for adults and that this book where he is featured is actually an expansion on a long-running play written by the author and is not the original source material). The different versions of Peter don’t all agree on his personality or characteristics (even among Barrie’s works there are some discrepancies), but he is generally portrayed as young, brave, and carefree. Tinker Bell, likewise, has different characteristics among versions, but she is almost always shown to be both fiercely jealous and loyal (although I’m pretty sure the jealousy aspect is either toned down or missing in the Disney Fairies version of her where she isn’t with Peter Pan). Much of the book has a decidedly silly tone to it, despite dealing with such serious ideas as lost babies and murderous pirates. The Darlings have a somewhat ridiculous discussion about their finances while Mrs Darling holds the newborn Wendy, but they finally decide that they will keep their baby and hope for the best cost-wise. They hire a Newfoundland dog as their nanny because they can’t afford a human version but still want to keep up appearances, and the dog bathes the children and walks them to school, but she also lies on the floor in the nanny waiting area and is chained outside when Mr Darling (in a sullen temper and with the guilty understanding that he is being unreasonable) is offended by her supposed disrespect. (She also has dialog, but it’s hard to tell if the author intends for her to be actually speaking or if it is assumed that what she “says” is what she would be thinking or conveying with her demeanor.) Peter’s heavy-handed and obviously manipulative flattery convince the otherwise responsible Wendy to trust and follow him. All in all, I can’t help but think of the avowed absurdity of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland being passed off as absolutely reasonable in this book. My mother read this aloud to us when we were young, and I remember being heartily confused by the nanny/dog bit, but it certainly helped to have a reader who could explain the archaic or confusing parts to us! For independent reading, I’d suggest at least upper elementary age, and there are a vast number of YA books inspired by the story and characters if your reader falls for Peter, too!
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911): This character begins her story as both similar to and wildly different from Burnett’s other classic female character, Sara Crewe. Where Sara, the only child of a doting British officer in India, is sweet-tempered and wise and generous, Mary, the only child of self-centered British parents living in India, is angry and selfish and demanding. Both are orphaned at a young age, and both end up living with a wealthy guardian (after Sara’s stretch at Miss Minchin’s, of course). Both sincerely befriend children who are their social inferiors (Betsy for Sara and Dickon (as well as the servants) for Mary). Where Sara uplifts her fellow students through her goodness, imagination, and inclusiveness, Mary brings her hidden cousin Colin out of his misery with bluntness, stories, and shared secrecy. One theme of the story that seems obvious to me would finding life where there seems to be only death: Mary’s survival when her household is struck down by cholera, the garden being coaxed back to bloom from its abandoned state, and Colin and his father being drawn out of their pain and misery into a more abundant life. I loved this book as a child, and we loved the 1987 Hallmark Hall of Fame movie version (although I know it to be full of inaccuracies, it was what we had, and we loved it!). It is, like the others from this list, an enduring classic, and it would be a good read-aloud for elementary aged children and independent reading from upper elementary on.
Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter (1913): All that I really recall from reading this book a million-ish years ago (or, you know, maybe 25 or so) is that Pollyanna is cheerful (which may also have something to do with her lasting literary legacy and not my actual memories of the book) and some sort of accident near the end of the book. It actually came to my attention when my daughter mentioned that a friend from her class (a bit of a Pollyanna herself!) was reading it. While the exact plot of the book may not have gone down in history (the basics of the storyline are pretty familiar and common to many books from this era: an orphaned child or child in otherwise desperate straits is sent to live with with better off relatives (usually spinsters or a childless couple) or friends of the parents and brightens their lives considerably), the character of the main character has created a lasting impression, a shorthand way of saying that someone is almost foolishly optimistic (and can, therefore, be used as a bit of an insult). The characterization comes about because of how Pollyanna approaches life, as taught to her by her father, in that she always looks for the bright side of things (which she calls playing “The Glad Game”) and teaches others to do so as well. Pollyanna is so very guileless (she reminds me of GirlChild in this way!) that there are frequent misunderstandings between herself and the people from her mother’s hometown that have secrets they’ve been keeping and feelings they’ve been hiding. When she is gravely injured in an accident and can’t manage to summon up a reason to be glad, all the people in the town visit or send messages to her about how she has changed their lives so that she can have something to be glad about. This is actually a somewhat easier read than many juvenile books from the era, and although some of the inferences might be missed by a young modern reader, I think a middle to upper elementary child could manage the contents decently, even better if read with an adult.
Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1914): I will freely admit that I have never actually read this book. Does that, however, mean it isn’t a book with staying power? Of course not! There are many readers who are not me, after all! Besides, the character of Tarzan has been immortalized in film, and I would imagine that most adults in the English-speaking world could at least identify some characteristics of Tarzan (if not reproduce his yell). Not having a good acquaintance with the book character, I have little to no idea how far the Disney version strays from the original (although, from the fight with Kerchak that I happened to open the book to, I would guess the answer is “pretty darn far”). Still, the man who was raised by apes from infancy, discovered and brought to civilization by Professor Porter and his daughter, and has adventures, marries Jane Porter (although, apparently, not in this book), and has more adventures–his legend lives on. Judging from the bits of the book that I browsed and the hints gleaned from the introduction, I’d say it would be best for readers of at least middle school to high school age, and readers would need to be able to suspend disbelief on a semi-regular basis.
The Real Mother Goose, illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright (1916): To me, at least, the cover of this book is the iconic Mother Goose image; it is what I think of when I think of Mother Goose despite all the different available compilations and adaptations of the rhymes contained within. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not remember a lot of the rhymes (“Three Wise Men of Gotham,” really? and “Needles and Pins” about the risks of marriage??), but the image has stuck. Nursery rhymes can be pretty brutal 😉 , but these weren’t composed during this time period, just illustrated. (I prefer Richard Scarry’s Best Mother Goose Ever in terms of contents, actually! Richard Scarry is kind of second only to Dr. Seuss in terms of my childhood reading memories, and Sandra Boynton joins them in my children’s collection of sure-to-be-classics!)
Raggedy Ann Stories, by Johnny Gruelle (1918): I don’t know that I ever read the stories themselves before, but I most definitely knew of Raggedy Ann and Andy! (My kids even have a metal jack-in-the-box that has Raggedy Ann in it!) The stories remind me very much of the Toys Go Out series by Emily Jenkins or the Toy Story movies. Raggedy Ann, despite being just a rag doll passed down to the little girl, Marcella, from her grandmother when she found the doll in her grandma’s attic, becomes the admired leader of the dolls in the nursery. She watches out for them and is the voice of wisdom and reason and love. There is a wealth of quotes in the stories that show what an upbeat and positive doll Raggedy Ann is, like: “So all the other dolls were happy, too, for happiness is very easy to catch when we love one another and are sweet all through.”
It’s clear that the author also had some marketing in mind, however, when he wrote the story of the dollmaker taking Raggedy Ann in to use as a pattern for mass-production and having another doll say to Raggedy, “For wherever one of the new Raggedy Ann dolls goes there will go with it the love and happiness that you give to others.” The afterword, written by the author’s grandson, states that after the success of this first Raggedy Ann collection, the author wrote at least one new Raggedy Ann title per year until his death 20 years later. He also says, “His books contained nothing to cause fright, glorify mischief, excuse malice, or condone cruelty,” and that is probably why his characters for children endure today! While there used to be a museum and annual festival in the author’s hometown, they have recently suspended operations due to low turnout and volunteers.
I had a couple more books slated to be shared today, but I realized that they may have had a more limited audience than these other books have had, so they may have only been memorable to me (and other readers like me). Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs (1912) and Dear Enemy (1915) were books my mother read to us that were published during this decade. Understood Betsy (1916) I discovered on a similarly-inspired book list on the blog What We Do All Day, and I loved that book as a child as well! (You should definitely check there for more books-by-the-decade as the blogger there is trying to emphasize books that might have been forgotten! I promise that I’m avoiding looking at the corresponding lists before I compile my list so I’m not unfairly influenced and so I can compare what we’ve found.)