Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Five Hundred Books for the Young

George E. Hardy - Five Hundred Books for the Young (1892) direct link
Open Library main page

If there are any regular readers of this blog you will have noticed my weakness for reading lists.  Partly it's just finding new books but also a peculiar fascination with canon formation and changes in tastes.  Walter Scott, for instance, was once regarded as a major artist but now has mostly slipped into what might be called a liminal canon where works are read for historical interest or for pleasure (mostly in Scott's case for fans of historical fiction).

This particular book is an annotated list of titles appropriate for school libraries and according to the introduction at least partly compiled on what the young readers actually read rather than entirely a top-down selection.

It's divided by subject and then by level but I can't quite get these to fit current American school divisions.  "Sixth-Reader Grades" doesn't quite seem to be our current sixth grade since the books seem a bit more complex - though maybe it's basically the same and children were more accomplished readers then.  In history, for instance, there are Parkman's The Jesuits in North America, Creasy's Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York, a Life of John James Audubon and Roche's The Story of the Filibusters (which it's pretty safe to say is an imperialist adventure).

Rather than being simply a list there are annotations that provide some description for books now often forgotten and not always clear by their title.  Little Folks in Feather and Furs, for instance, is about animals while Frank Stockton's Personally Conducted is a travel book about Europe.  Surprising, to me at least, is that most of the fiction titles are still familiar (Verne, Dickens, Stowe, Cooper) even if Bulwer-Lytton and G.A. Henty are more specialized today.

George E. Hardy (1859-1897) was a native of New York City and later principal of Grammar School No. 82 (at age 26 the youngest person chosen for that position - no idea if that record was ever broken).  In 1894 he became chair of the English department at the College of the City of New York.  He served as president of the New York State Teachers' Association.