So...let's start at the very beginning. According to Wikipedia (the ultimate source of all knowledge), "young adults" didn't even technically exist until 1802, when Sarah Trimmer defined "young adulthood" as the age bracket of 14 - 21, and distinguished between "books for children" and "books for young persons."
|Sarah Trimmer, hard at work defining what a "young person" is.|
These books seem to fall into 4 general categories.
Category 1: Adventure Stories (aka. Books For Boys)
These include The Swiss Family Robinson, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Jungle Book.
Coincidentally, every single one of these adventure stories features a boy (or boys) as the main character(s).
Category 2: Moralistic Stories (aka. Books For Girls)
These include Little Women, The Wide, Wide World, The Daisy Chain, The Lamplighter, Heidi, and A World of Girls. That last title just about sums up the intention here: letting girls know what sphere they are supposed to occupy (the domestic one).
Category 3: Fairy Tales and Fantastical Stories
Yep, the 1800s were when the Brothers Grimm were touring around Germany collecting those well-known fairy tales in their original, un-Disney-fied form.
|The Germans were clearly forging ahead in the cover art side of things.|
And fantasy for children got its start in the 19th century, with Alice in Wonderland from Lewis Carroll and The Princess and the Goblin from George Macdonald. Interestingly the main characters are girls in both of these, having wild adventures...Lewis Carroll and George Macdonald were obviously ahead of their time.
Category 4: Dickens
I have no idea why kids were reading the mammoth tomes of Charles Dickens, but apparently Oliver Twist and Great Expectations were quite popular, so there you have it.
|Perhaps they read these during bouts of insomnia.|
The 1800s were clearly the heyday of YA fiction.
All kidding aside, most of these have become classics and I personally love Little Women. Given that the 18th century mostly had instructional books for children, this was certainly a step up. Still, I can't help but feel sorry for the poor kids who had such limited selection in terms of reading material!
What are your thoughts or observations?