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Mr. Newbery's Little Pretty Pocket-Book

The title page of John Newbery's A Little Pretty Pocket-Book.

John Newbery was the first printer to see a market for children's books that both instructed and amused children, so he invented the genre. His first book of this kind, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book: Intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly was published in 1744, and is considered a landmark in children's literature. Interestingly, no copy of the first edition has been found.

A Little Pretty Pocket-Book contains several pages of games and amusements. At the top of each of these pages is a letter of the alphabet, below which is an illustration of the activity, a verse describing it, and a small verse with a moral lesson.For example, the book contains the first known mention of "Base-Ball."
A page from the games and amusements section of A Little Pretty Pocket-Book.

The Ball once struck off,
Away flies the Boy
To the next destin'd Post,
And then Home with Joy.

The description of the game is followed by the verse:

Thus Britons for Lucre
Fly over the Main;
But, with Pleasure transported,
Return back again.

This isn't exactly the modern American game (note the posts instead of bases), but it looks pretty close. The illustrations and verses in Little Pretty Pocket-Book help historians research games of the past.

Newbery knew how to market to children and their parents. A Little Pretty Pocket-Book was sold with a ball (for boys) and a pincushion (for girls). Contained in the book was a letter from Jack the Giant-Killer describing the proper use of these toys. Newbery's books, bound with covers of Dutch floral paper and gilt edges, were designed to delight the eye. His books appealed to parents who embraced the popular Lockean ideal of education by amusement, and they set a standard for quality of writing and presentation.

A Little Pretty Pocket-Book was the first of many educational children's books published by Newbery. He appears to have written several books himself, but well-known authors were also willing to write for him. Sarah Fielding, for example, wrote, The Governess or Little Female Academy, and Oliver Goldsmith almost certainly wrote Little Goody Two-Shoes. Newbery's The Newtonian System of Philosophy, also known as The Philosophy of Tops and Balls, was an introduction to what we would call science today, presenting astronomy, physics, geography, and natural philosophy in an appealing way. We can credit Newbery with the first English version of Charles Perrault's Tales from Mother Goose. By the time of his death in 1767, Newberry had published a long list of children's titles. The Latin motto on the frontispiece of A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, "Delectando monemus," had become his life's mission-instruction with delight.

This article was written by Cathy Hellier, Historian, Department of Historical Research, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.