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Rare children's books

The oldest children’s books, special editions, signed copies and fragile or vulnerable items are held in this collection. Published across five centuries, these books reveal developments in social history, education, publishing techniques and changing perceptions of childhood.

The didactic tone of early children’s books lightened during the 19th century, when a greater emphasis on books for entertainment combined with developments in production techniques to diversify the form and content of children’s books.

The Australian picture pleasure book (1857) consists of illustrations from newspapers assembled to inform child readers about current events.

Vibrantly coloured toy books were produced in Europe, America and Australia during the last third of the 19th century. The British master printer Edmund Evans produced a series of toy books illustrated by Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway, and examples of these can be found in the collection.

Shaped books were an enduring source of entertainment for children. Kookaburra (the laughing jackass) and the black snake (1897), an emu egg–shaped book, relates a moral tale in novelty form.

Considerable attention was paid to the reproduction of images and book production methodology in gift books during the Edwardian period. Sindbad the sailor (1918), illustrated by Edmund Dulac, exemplifies the attention to detail exhibited in the gift book genre.