The Girl's Own Book


rimers embodied a variety of ideas about how children learn to read. The most prevalent theories identified letter, sound, syllable, or word as the basic unit of understanding. From these elements, theorists and authors built up pedagogical structures of increasing complexity. The emphasis on introducing the young child to education and society makes primers valuable resources for the study of childhood itself. Although the three- and four-letter words in the earliest readers are familiar to us, the nineteenth-century child’s world is revealed as more difficult and dangerous than our own.

Many primers contained instructions for parents; more advanced books were designed for use in formal instruction. The Child’s Primer begins: “Direct the child’s attention to the cut, and explain its parts and use. Exhibit, in the next place, the word representing the name of the object, and require the child to repeat the letters.”

Mrs. Teachwell's Spelling Book gives advice on how to move from lesson to lesson.
The Juvenile Grammar includes questions and exercises for the inexperienced teacher.
Stories, of course, are the reward for all the hard work of learning to read. Ellenor Fenn, who published more than twenty story books and reading texts under the pen names Mrs. Lovechild and Mrs.Teachwell, favored increasing word length as reading skills increased, as she does here in Cobwebs to Catch Flies.
Other books, like Little Mary and Her Cat, divided words into their component syllables to make them more accessible.

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