Samuel Goodrich, a 19th century children's author and publisher, was the creator of the popular children's literature persona, Peter Parley. As a youngster, Goodrich enjoyed nursery rhymes and fairy tales like "Puss in Boots" and "Jack the Giant Killer," but he had also been enraptured by Hannah More's didactic moral tales and religious tracts. In 1823, when he was 30, he traveled to England and visited More and, after returning to the United States, he was inspired to develop a new style of nonfiction book for children which would be simple, readable and attractively cased. He had come to find fairy tales to be shocking, calling them "old monstrosities" apparently designed to reconcile children to vice and crime.
As for nursery rhymes, he later wrote, "I know that there is a certain music in them that delights the ear of childhood...but what I affirm is that many of these pieces are coarse, vulgar, offensive, and it is precisely these portions that are apt to stick to the minds of children."1 "Do not children love truth?" he asks. "If so, is it necessary to feed them on fiction? Can not History, Natural History, Geography, and Biography, become the elements of juvenile works, in place of fairies and giants, and mere monsters of the imagination?"2
His first offering was Tales of Peter Parley About America, a generously illustrated book in which a kind old man named Peter Parley talks to children about events and people in American history in a chatty, conversational style. It was immensely popular and was followed with Tales of Peter Parley about Europe in 1828 and Parley's Winter Evening Tales in 1829. From then on until his death, Goodrich turned out Parley books on the history of Greece and Rome, on trades, animals, Biblical geography, astronomy and many other subjects.
Because they were so popular in America, they were soon being pirated and imitated in Britain, where other writers and publishers appropriated the name "Peter Parley" for themselves. Goodrich was especially angered when British versions portrayed Parley as a loyal British sailor, because Goodrich, the real Peter Parley, had served as a militiaman in the War of 1812. Although some critics deplored the fact that these informational books seemed to have displaced fairy stories and other imaginative writings, young readers appeared grateful that someone had thought to give them facts in a child-pleasing format and the kindly Peter Parley was a man known and loved by children on both sides of the Atlantic.
1 Quoted in Carpenter, p. 212.
Carpenter, Humphrey and Mari Prichard, eds. The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1894, pp. 212-213.
Copyright 2005© Rita Smith
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