Historical children’s books – Elsie Dinsmore

Learning to read? Reading to learn? Same today as it’s ever been; though, Mother Goose may honk at being put aside for a guy named Captain Underpants. No matter what you make of that, children reading is a good thing. With colorful illustrations and simple and poignant messages, kid’s books make an impression on us that we remember long after we’ve outgrown them.

The Library of Congress has curated a digital collection of classic children’s books. These are all in the public domain and completely downloadable. They are fun to browse or read in depth. The collection is available online here. 

I was excited to see that one of the books in the collection is by Indiana author, Martha Finley. Finley grew up in South Bend, Indiana and resided there until her 20s. She lived much of her adult life in Maryland, where she died on Jan. 30, 1909 at the age of 80. The Library of Congress selected the first edition of the first book in the Elsie Dinsmore character series. According to their notes, the copy in the Library of Congress came to them in a 1939 donation from auctioneer Arthur Swann. “Superb copy, and extremely rare … first edition.”

The Indiana State Library has a few editions of Elsie Dinsmore, but not a first edition. The character first appeared in 1867. The earliest edition we have is 1896. In one edition, the publisher has noted they used a new set of type for the 25th anniversary edition, as the original type settings had worn away from the repeated demand for re-printing.

The character is a religiously devout young girl who was raised on a southern plantation with family, and now lives with her father, a well-traveled and more practical-minded military man. The two clash as the characters develop, with Elsie’s Christian faith playing a most crucial role. The character must have appealed to many readers, although modern readers should be weary of Finley’s portrayal of slave life and speaking dialect given to those characters. The popularity of Elsie Dinsmore led Martha Finley to write a total of 28 books in the series. The character was revised in an updated series called, “Life of Faith: Elsie Dinsmore,” in 1999.

This post was written by Indiana Collection Supervisor Monique Howell

The Tabard Inn Library

Over the course of its long history, many book donations have come to the Indiana State Library and have been incorporated into the collection. These books often contain personal inscriptions, decorative bookplates or other ephemera from previous owners.  A first edition of the novel “The Cost,” authored by Hoosier David Graham Phillips and published by Bobbs-Merrill in 1904, bears the following handwritten note on the inside cover:

“This book traveled all over Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and Holland, 1913.”

It also has a colorful bookplate for something called The Tabard Inn Library. The Tabard Inn Library was a membership library founded in 1902. For a fee, people could obtain a membership which would allow them to borrow books from designated book stations throughout the country, many of which were located in public places such as stores. Members could exchange an old book for a new one by depositing five cents into the book station. The books were encased in black cardboard bearing distinctive red bands on the spines, hence the company’s motto: “With all the RED TAPE on the BOX.”

A magazine advertisement for the Tabard Inn Library program from 1905.

It is tempting to imagine the original owner of this book selecting it from dozens of other titles at a Tabard Inn book station located in a hotel lobby prior to embarking on their European adventure.

For more information on the Tabard Inn Library venture, including pictures of the book stations, visit here.

The Library of Congress has an entire special collection of books that, like ISL’s copy, were once part of the Tabard Inn program.

This blog post was written by Jocelyn Lewis, Catalog Division supervisor, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

Armed Services Editions @ ISL

Providing recreational and entertainment outlets for American servicemen overseas was a paramount concern during World War II. The United Services Organization (USO) is perhaps the most well-known and enduring of these endeavors, supplying troops with live shows and revues performed by major Hollywood celebrities. Less famous but equally as important was the work of The Council on Books in Wartime, an organization formed by booksellers, publishers, authors and libraries whose main focus was to supply reading materials to troops. Americans happily donated books to the cause in numerous community book drives, but most books in the 1940s were heavy large hardcovers and could not be transported easily by troops. To remedy this, the council took bestselling books and fashioned them into a paperback format dubbed Armed Services Editions, which were distributed free of charge to servicemen. These books were purposefully designed to be small and flexible enough to fit into cargo pockets. The program was incredibly successful and paved the way for the rise of paperbacks as a popular and inexpensive book format in the post-war era.

Despite being manufactured by cheap materials, many Armed Services Editions survived the war and are now highly collectible. The Library of Congress has all 1,322 titles that were produced. Here at the Indiana State Library, we have three in our collection that represent works by Indiana authors.

“Here is Your War” by Ernie Pyle. This photo shows the size difference between the original version of the book and the Armed Services Edition.

“Little Orvie” by Booth Tarkington.

“Our Hearts were Young and Gay” by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough.

This blog post was written by Jocelyn Lewis, Catalog Division supervisor, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at (317) 232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

Indiana Young Readers Center Coming in 2016

The Indiana State Library will be opening a Young Readers Center in 2016! The idea was inspired by the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The Indiana Young Readers Center will be a place for kids to learn about the talented authors and illustrators from Indiana and about our great state itself.

The first step in creating this space was building a collection. The Indiana Young Readers Center collection includes materials written or illustrated by Indiana authors and books about Indiana for kids and teens. A portion of this collection is already circulating and available to check out. The Center also houses special, non-circulating collections of autographed books by Indiana authors and illustrators and Indiana state book award winners for children and teens.

The Indiana Young Readers Collection includes books by Hoosier authors Jim Davis, John Green, Meg Cabot, Norman Bridwell, and many more!

The Indiana Young Readers Collection includes books by Hoosier authors Jim Davis, John Green, Meg Cabot, Norman Bridwell, and many more!

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