Thursday, 29 September 2016

An ABC for Baby Patriots (1899)

Mary Francis Ames (1853-1929), born Mary Frances Leslie Miller, authored and illustrated children's books in Great Britain and Canada as Ernest Ames or Mrs. Ernest Ames (literally via).

"Hundreds of mighty tomes have been written about the great colonial years when Britain ruled the waves but perhaps none summed it up so succinctly as this ABC for Baby Patriots first published in 1899. It provides an extraordinary view of the Victorian values and attitudes that made Britain great."
Bloomsbury Publishing

C is for Colonies.
Rightly we boast,
That of all the great nations
Great Britain has most.

"(...) it is 'empire' that shimmered to the schoolboy and, perhaps to a slightly lesser extent, the schoolgirl reader of British children's literature from the 1850s onward. It was empire that flushed pink British pride into a world map shown to be one-quarter 'British' in 1897, at the time of the Diamond Jubilee celebration of Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and Empress of India."
Wallace & Slemon (2011)

E is our Empire
Where sun never sets;
The larger we make it
The bigger it gets.

"'Empire' is rooted in the concept of 'supreme and extensive political dominion ... exercised by an emperor', and then later 'by a sovereign state over its dependencies' (OED). The personal element of the British emperor - 'Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India (as of 1876), Defender of the Faith' - was sometimes obscured in British children's literature of 'the period of high imperialism', and even in children's games and puzzles, where Britannia replaces the body of the emperor/empress."
Wallace & Slemon (2011)

"'English' schoolchildren found it relatively easy to identify with the shimmering, overdetermined category of 'Britishness' promulgated within the idea of empire, but non-English readers found themselves distanced, and internally split, by the category: 'subjects' of empire on the one hand, objects of empire on the other."
Wallace & Slemon (2011)

"Regardless of readership and address - child or adult, colonizer or colonized, imperialist or imperial subject - the question underlying writing for children and the matter of empire remains at heart one of interpellation, the calling into being of the child as sovereign or as split subject, hailed into complex social identifications by the seemingly simple but structurally complex, and continuing, literature of empire."
Wallace & Slemon (2011)

I is for India,
Our land in the East
Where everyone goes
To shoot tigers, and feast.

"Children, especially in the Victorian era, are not often involved in politics and care little for the subtle dynamics of empire. However, much as in adult literature, children’s literature provides unique insight into the culture of a period for the literary theorist. Written by adults, children’s literature becomes a natural vehicle for the worldview of the adult members of a culture to be transmitted to the new generation."
Griffin (2012)

K is for Kings;
Once warlike and haughty,
Great Britain subdued them
Because they'd been naughty.

L is the Lion
Who fights for the Crown...

M is for Magnates
So great and so good,
They sit on gold chairs
And eat Turtle for food

N is the Navy...

O is the Ocean...

P is our Parliament

Q is our Queen!
It fills us with pride
To see the Queen's coach
When the Queen is inside!

R is the Roast Beef
That has made Englad great...
S is for Scotland...

T is the Tub...
U is our Unicorn...

V's Volunteers...

W is the Word
Of an Englishman true;
When given, it means
What he says, he will do

Y as a rule means...
Y is for youngsters...

Z is the Zeal...

- Griffin, B. R. (2012). Tales of Empire: Orientalism in Nineteenth-Century Children's Literature. University of South Florida Scholar Commons, online
- Wallace, J.-A. & Slemon, S. (2011) Empire. In: Nel, P. & Paul, L. (eds.) Keyword for Children's Literature, 75-78, New York University Press

- Images via


  1. Fascinating how manipulative children's literature used to be. I'm glad I grew up with Astrid Lindgren and Michael Ende ;-) Many thanks, Derek and Karen!