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The history of children’s book publishing

The history of children’s book publishing

When you look at what’s available in bookstores today, it’s easy to get the impression that children’s books have always been one of the most popular forms of literature. Children’s literature accounts for billions of dollars in sales every year, and every adult reader can name their favorite childhood books. Between textbooks, other educational books, and pleasure reading, most children have dozens of books targeted at their reading level at home.

It may surprise you to learn that children’s books are a fairly recent invention. When literacy rates were low, most children’s stories were passed on through the oral tradition. Family members would share fairy tales and other stories they remembered from their own childhoods. Books had to be copied and bound by hand, which made them too expensive for most families. Well-to-do people might own one or two books, so even highly literate families wouldn’t have purchased books specifically for their children. Even the kinds of stories we think of as typical of kids’ publishing today, like funny tales about talking animals, were written down with only adult audiences in mind.

With the invention of the printing press, the cost to produce books and pamphlets dropped. Literacy rates started to rise, but printed material was still intended for adult audiences. Children might enjoy reading printed ballads about adventures, but these stories weren’t produced specifically for them. The very few books that were intended for children were educational tracts about etiquette and morals, not enjoyable stories.

As printed books become more common, publishers started expanding their educational books into primers for kids. But it wasn’t until the Georgian era that publishers started to realize that children would like to be able to read for fun. Primers began to include rhymes, fun stories about Mother Goose, and more.

The Brothers Grimm, who recorded most of the fairy tales children still read today, didn’t originally intend their books of collected stories to be entertainment for kids. They were collecting German folk tales to preserve history and study linguistic trends. Fairy tales became a popular subject for kids’ books, and publishers began to produce the kinds of illustrated stories we recognize as children’s literature today.

As printing became more technologically advanced, publishers were able to create full-color books, board and bath books, pop-up books, and other kinds of books that appeal to young children. Books with personalized names inserted into the story were available from a few publishers, but these books were fairly limited in their customization and rarely included specific details beyond the child’s first name. However, as people became more comfortable with buying books online, customized book options expanded. Penwizard was one of the first companies to pioneer books with personalized illustrations as well as text. For the first time, books with unique illustrations featuring your child could be printed at a reasonable price!

Today, we sell more than 40 books featuring your child’s name, personal details, and more. Children can see themselves on the page alongside their favorite characters. Whether they’re planning the best birthday party ever, saving Christmas, or having a great time with mom and dad, we’re delighted to make personalized books the highlight of any gift-giving event.