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Once Upon a Time    by Amy Weinstein order for
Once Upon a Time
by Amy Weinstein
Order:  USA  Can
Princeton Architectural Press, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In her Preface, Ellen Liman speaks of McLoughlin Brothers as being instrumental in creating the world of children's book publishing. She and her husband Arthur developed a passion for collecting children's books (many of whose illustrations are included here) and games 'as a reflection of the history and culture' of their times, and for 'the magnificent aesthetic of McLoughlin's books'. In her introduction, 'To Amuse and Instruct', Amy Weinstein describes the 'blossoming trade' in illustrated children's books at a time when the young mind was perceived as a tabula rasa. She describes the 19th century collection shown in Once Upon a Time as 'a treasure trove of visual culture.'

Sections of the book cover: Learning the ABCs; Gems from Mother Goose; Fairytales and Fables; Fact and Fiction; Christmas Books; and Cautionary Tales for the Nursery. I love Great Big ABC, where children play amongst giant letters, with captions like 'Grace and Gertrude gathering Gooseberries', though an Alphabet of Country Scenes is a close second - 'R for the Rabbits, white, spotted and gray; / Just see how that little one nibbles away.' The illustration of Mother Goose in an Air-Ship reflects a fascination with the high-tech of the time, and all the pictures that go with the familiar jingles are delightful. I discovered additional amusing Little Bo Peep verses, including 'My little old man and I fell out, / I'll tell you what 'twas all about; / I had money and he had none, / And that's the way the noise begun.' And Little Dame Crump and the White Pig was also new to me.

I was amused to read in Fairytales and Fables that some American authorities 'objected to their purely imaginary content as foolish and immoral' (remind anyone of Harry Potter?) This section has a delightful tale that I'd never heard of before - Diamonds and Toads, encouraging kindness to strangers. And there's a stunning illustration of birds covering The Babes in the Wood with leaves to keep them warm. Fact and Fiction contents range from a gloriously illustrated Alice in Wonderland to an equally impressive Story of the Firemen (the 'hazardous and exciting work done by firemen in a big city', in horse-drawn carts!) Of course, it's Christmas Books that generate the most nostalgia. A Visit from St. Nicholas is featured here, along with books that emphasize non-commercial aspects of the holiday. Finally, I found in Cautionary Tales wonderful bannister sliding illustrations that reminded me of my own childhood (though I never did fall off and break bones as the poor boy does here).

If you have any interest in the history and art of children's literature, then you'll love poring over Once Upon a Time, which is full of gorgeous images, fascinating book excerpts, and informative essays about 'Fairytales, Fables, Primers, Pop-Ups, and Other Childrens Books' of days gone by.

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