Friday, August 8, 2014

Promotional booklet: "Concerning Journeys Through Bookland"

Journeys Through Bookland was a set of children's literature books that was published in various editions between 1909 and 1959.1

This 26-page staplebound booklet from Bellows-Reeve Company touts the benefits of Journeys Through Bookland and is filled with endorsements from educators, authors and at least one judge.

The booklet begins with a short biography of Journeys Through Bookland editor Charles H. Sylvester. He was a lifelong public-school teacher who also traveled the world and thus was in a unique position to convey "the proper interpretation and enjoyment of good literature, particularly by young people at home and in school."

Next up is this statistical breakdown of the set:
  • Eleven volumes, containing over 5500 pages
  • More than 140 of the world's greatest writers
  • More than 900 pages of helps in the interpretation of the classics
  • Nearly a thousand color plates, half-tone engravings, and zinc etchings, prepared by over fifty artists
  • Glossaries, supplementary book-lists, and a general index
  • The set is beautifully and securely bound in handsome cloth and weighs about twenty-two pounds2

That's followed by a ten-item list titled "Why Every Family Should Own Journeys Through Bookland":
  • I. It helps children in their school work
  • II. It gives culture and refinement
  • III. It creates an interest in good literature
  • IV. It moulds character
  • V. It furnishes the classic literature that every one should know
  • VI. It solves the problem of what to read
  • VII. It is not merely a collection of literature3
  • VIII. It assists parents to direct the reading of their children
  • IX. It saves money
  • X. It is within the reach of all

And then there are the recommendations. Among those providing praise for the set are naturalist John Burroughs, activist/author Jane Addams, and author/professor William Lyon Phelps. The list of supporters also includes Edmund J. James, John J. Cavanaugh and Frank W. Gunsaulus.

After a wordy 10-page section featuring letters of recommendation from everyday people across the United States (including a healthy dose of religious leaders), the final page contains quotations "From Four Great Men." They aren't specifically related to Journeys Through Bookland, but I found these remarks by Theodore Roosevelt interesting:
"Public libraries are excellent institutions in their way, but you can't get half the enjoyment out of a book UNLESS YOU OWN IT YOURSELF and learn to love every dog-eared page of it for some bright vision it has given you of a world outside your own."

Although the original edition of Journeys Through Bookland is more than a century old, there are still some who seek out the collection today or have fond memories of it. Maybe it sat on a grandparent's shelf. Or was used by Mom or Dad for some bedtime reading.

In a December 2012 blog post, an author going by the name Georgipaech describes a trip to visit her mother and her pre-bedtime quest to find something to read:
"Right before I tucked myself in for an early night, I stumbled across a set of books that I had always ignored when I was little. Mum and I aren’t sure where they came from – a grandparent, surely, who read the books when they were young – the books were published in 1922. They are a set of ten books entitled ‘Journeys through Bookland’ – lovely, hardback, matching books. ... What a variety of tales there are! There are the obligatory fairytales, and extracts from Charles Dickens, poetry from Robert Louis Stevenson, Shakespeare, King Arthur, David Crockett, Lord Byron, Jerome K. Jerome, Edgar Allen Poe, Washington Irving. ... Stories, plays and poems of all kinds. And beautifully illustrated!"
And then there is this wonderful, poignant anecdote from Andee Martineau, the matriarch of the Martineau family, told in this February 2010 blog post:
"About a year ago a wonderful friend of mine recommended this amazing series. I was intrigued by her description, of a ten volume set of books filled with the best children's literature of all time. I mean who wouldn't want that...right?!

"So, I started doing my research to find out even more. I was also curious how hard it was going to be to purchase a set of books published in 1939. I kept freaking out a bit because, it just seemed to good to be true. Could there really be a set of books with some of the best literature in it? Its been almost a year now, and after a lot of searching I FINALLY received my own complete 10 volume Journeys Through Bookland set...and I think I'm in LOVE!! Not only are they BEAUTIFUL, but the stories, poems, and illustrations within the books are fantastic.

"As I unpacked each book tonight I began to have an inkling of the deep connection and love Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and other great men must have felt about their precious libraries. I gently rubbed my hand across the red leather covers as I took each volume out of their packaging. I was in awe at the intricate designs, and craftsmanship that went into each book.

"The house was quiet as I unpacked my box. All the kids were in bed and asleep. For some reason I stopped and looked at my little stack of books. I reflected on the intentional life I am choosing to live. I thought about all the things I am now so willing to give up. Things that are distractions, and will get in the way of my spiritual growth, educational goals, and family vision are easy to recognize and say no to now. I realized how important this shift has been to my happiness, my success as a mother, and my marriage."

"I looked back to my stack of red leather books, and smiled. The thought of reading volume one in bed made me smile. I had thought I knew what made me happy a few years ago, and could never understand why it didn't last. I picked up my books and headed off to my room...thankful for the path I am on and the journey that lies a head."
There hasn't been a new post by anyone from the Martineau family on that blog since late 2010. I hope they are well. I hope that their Journeys Through Bookland set is still bringing them joy.

Footnotes
1. Full disclosure: We have a complete 11-volume set of Journeys Through Bookland available for the low, low price of $20 at our vendor space in the Dover Antique Mall. It's a steal! This booklet didn't come with that set. I came across it separately. Also, I should add that several, but not all, of the volumes from this set are available for free download from Project Gutenberg. It's a great way to peek inside and see what the books are all about.
2. I'm not sure which year's edition this booklet refers to.
3. "Scattered through JOURNEYS THROUGH BOOKLAND are hundreds of interesting comments and questions so adapted to the age of the youthful readers, as to stimulate the desire to read the selection again and again..."

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