Abbey Junior School explore our rare book collections

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

A fortnight ago, we were delighted to welcome three groups of UII (Year 5) girls from the Abbey Junior School with their teachers and the School Librarian, to view items from our Children’s Collection, the Great Exhibition Collection and the Ladybird Books archive.

Pupils from Abbey Junior School examining the pop-up Victorian farm house

We started off each session by exploring what a ‘rare book’ is, and the groups were introduced to some of the special features of rare books, including marks of ownership such as bookplates and special bindings, which make them fascinating historical objects beyond their textual content.

As the girls had been learning about the Victorians at school, the Victorian era formed the main theme of the sessions, and the groups had the chance to see some of the highlights from the Great Exhibition Collection including a luxury edition of the exhibition catalogue with a lavish decorative binding, and a souvenir diorama or ‘peepshow’ from the Exhibition, which opened out to reveal a view down through the Crystal Palace.

Pupils from Abbey Junior School looking through the peephole of the Great Exhibition diorama
The view down through the peephole of the Great Exhibition diorama!

The groups also had the opportunity to see some examples of Victorian children’s periodicals such as The Girl’s Own Paper, illustrated children’s books by Kate Greenaway and a miniature children’s library from 1803. Also on display for the groups were some examples of original artwork for the Ladybird book of Charles Dickens, and other highlights from the Children’s Collection and related collections, including some of the ‘Orlando the Marmalade Cat’ books, a first edition of the Wizard of Oz story and a twentieth-century pop-up Victorian farmhouse book.

A copy of ‘Orlando the Marmalade Cat : a seaside holiday’ by Kathleen Hale, from the Children’s Collection

After some handling guidance and with supervision, the girls were able to handle the items on display. The girls really enjoyed being able to handle the books for themselves, to peep through the hole of the diorama and to look at the tiny books which made up the Victorian child’s small wooden box library.

Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian, showing one of the groups the Victorian miniature children’s library from the Children’s Collection

The miniature children’s library – ‘Book-case of knowledge, or library for youth’ [1803] CHILDREN’S COLLECTION–BOX 001
The girls wrote up their impressions of the visit at school – here are some of their comments:

‘The trip was fascinating and really gave us a better feeling of what children read in the Victorian times’: Erin

“I really enjoyed it … My favourite book … was the one that you stretched out and looked through the hole and it felt like you were walking through the Great Exhibition”: Ava

“It was really interesting … My favourite object was a mini bookcase that was the size of a child’s hand. It was full of tiny books on arithmetic, history, geography and prayers …“: Isabella

We are hoping to run these sessions with the Abbey Junior School again next year, and welcome enquiries from other teachers who would be interested in organising similar sessions for their school groups to explore some of the treasures of Special Collections!

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