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Peg dolls go to work

Peg dolls go to work

Me and Catharine Susan earns an honest penny was written and illustrated by Kathleen Ainslie and published in 1907 by Castell Brothers (London) and Frederick A. Stokes Company (New York).  The book is one of a series of children’s books by Ainslie that is based on the jointed Dutch peg dolls that were popular in the late-Nineteenth and early-Twentieth Centuries. The copy held in Newcastle University Library’s Special Collections had been given as a Christmas present the year that it was published.

In this story, Maria and Catharine Susan face empty plates and no money with which to buy more food. Therefore, they set about trying to earn some cash. First, they try their hands at dressmaking but struggle to attract repeat custom. Then they try serving tea in the garden but an accident resulting in smashed crockery puts paid to that idea. They become market gardeners but the birds are a nuisance. Finally, Catharine Susan uses her talent for dancing to give dance tuition and the money pours in: they make pounds! 

Reference: RB 823.912 AIN, Ainslie, K., Me and Catharine Susan earns an honest penny (1907), Rare Books, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Potential research ideas

The image depicting Kathleen Ainslie’s Dutch peg dolls could prompt research into female authors of children’s books. By the mid-Nineteenth Century, writing became an important source of income for women. Can you identify some of the key female authors? How did they make their creative marks on the industry? Did the gender of the author make any difference to the gender-specific literature that was being published for children? From the Eighteenth Century, and certainly by the mid-Nineteenth Century, the books that were published for children were noticeably bounded by gender, for example, school stories for girls; adventure stories for boys. What examples of this gender demarcation can you find? What do you think stimulated this demand? Is there any evidence that child readers resisted gender restrictions? Or, you could look at the characterisations of gender in children’s books. What sort of gender stereotypes are encountered in children’s books? What impact does this have on young readers? Looking at historic children’s books, we find examples of sexism and racism. Can you find any evidence to suggest whether the authors and illustrators of such stories deliberately set out to perpetuate these now unpalatable stereotypes? Can you find any examples of characters in historic children’s books that challenged prevailing stereotypes?

Selected background reading

What can I find here in Special Collections?

  • Carpenter, H., 1985. Secret gardens: a study of the golden age of children’s literature. London; Boston: G. Allen & Unwin. Butler 820.99282 CAR, Butler (Joan) Collection, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186. – On children’s books and reading in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.
  • Cass, J.E., 1984. Literature and the young child. Harlow: Longman. Butler 028.5 CAS, Butler (Joan) Collection, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186. – Children’s books and reading.
  • Anon, 1975. Racist and sexist images in children’s books. London: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative. Alderson Collection WRI RAC, Alderson (Brian) Collection, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186. – 10 articles published between 1968 and 1974 on race and sex discrimination in children’s literature.

What can I find elsewhere?

  • Seven Stories is based in Newcastle and was founded in 1996 by Elizabeth Hammill and Mary Briggs. The museum, in the Ouseburn, is supported by the original manuscripts, illustrations and some printed book collections looked after by the charity and which form a national archive of British children’s literature.
  • The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) holds the National Art Library children’s literature collections, comprising 100,000 books dating from the Sixteenth Century to the present day. There is a strong focus on the development of children’s book production and illustration. Material includes chapbooks, fables, emblem books and comics. The library also holds several named special collections. These include: the Beatrix Potter Collections of drawings, manuscripts, correspondence, photographs and related materials by the author and naturalist Beatrix Potter (1866-1943); and the Renier Collection of Historic and Contemporary Publications for Children that was gifted by Anne and Fernand Renier in 1970 and comprises some 80,000 books, toys, games and printed ephemera.
  • You can explore centuries of children’s books held by the British Library online: https://www.bl.uk/childrens-books/collection-items. These include picture books, comics, fairy tales, miniature books, manuscript drafts, notebooks and books with moveable parts.

Interested in children's books?

We hold several books from Ainslie’s Dutch peg doll series in Rare Books, including Votes for Catharine Susan and me (1910) in which the dolls get involved with the campaign for women’s suffrage.  

Children’s books are one of our collection strengths and we have several dedicated children’s book collections in addition to the children’s books that are found in our more general collections and Chapbooks. These include: 

The Alderson (Brian) Collection is a nationally-important collection of approximately 20,000 books that has been built-up by pioneer of children’s literature studies, Brian Alderson (b.1930). The books range in date of printing/publication from the Seventeenth Century to the present day.

The Booktrust Collection Began as a deposit library in the 1970s and publishers of children’s books have been involved with the collection ever since. The collection continues to grow and currently hold 70,000 new books, reprints, books in new formats and works in translation.

The Burnett (Mark) Collection was gifted to the Library by Professor Mark Burnett of Queen’s University, Belfast. The collection contains children’s books and annuals printed 1847-1992, but dating from the mid-Twentieth Century for the most part.

The Butler (Joan) Collection had been started by Mary Thwaite and later developed by Joan Butler, both librarians for Hertfordshire Library Services. It comprises eighteenth- and nineteenth-century children’s books and pamphlets.

The Chorley (Sarah) Collection chiefly contains nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century children’s books.

The Meade (L.T.) Collection comprises 180 books written by L.T. Meade (1854-1914). Meade wrote approximately 250 books as well as short stories and articles for magazines. Her work spanned several genres but she is most closely associated with stories about girls’ schools.

Children’s books continue to be active collecting priority: this list continues to grow.