These Digitized Collections Let You Read Thousands of Historic Children’s Books for Free

cover of historic pinocchio book that shows a boy and a few wild animals in a city square

“The Adventures of Pinnochio,” 1925 (Photo: Baldwin Library of Historical Literature [Public Domain])

Picking the best bedtime story to read for your child is an incredibly daunting task. And reading the same story over and over again isn't always fun. Luckily, you can find your newest bedtime hit in the digitized archives of a few academic libraries scattered around the United States. As you and/or your child travel through the world's complex social history in these books, you might see just how connected the past and the present really are.

You may notice that many of the earliest titles available in these digital libraries use religious stories to reinforce the social morays of the 17th and 18th centuries. You can follow historical influences in the children’s books of the 19th century and their adventure stories which parallel exploration and western imperialist expansion happening at the time. Be sure to peruse works from the Golden Age of Children’s Literature which spanned the 1930s and 1940s by reading beloved series like The Little House on the Prairie. Ultimately, the way we read books might have changed, but the stories that touch our hearts have not. Check out the variety of historic children's books available for free at the following digital libraries.

The Library of Congress’s collection of children’s books is smaller than some repositories, but it has a wide variety of titles for parents to choose from.

a man battles a tentacled sea monster on the cover of a book

“Monsters of the Sea, Legendary and Authentic” by John Gibson, 1890 (Photo: UCLA [Public Domain])

The University of California Los Angeles’s Library’s collection, Children’s Book Collection, includes many illustrative works which show quaint animals and vintage nursery rhymes.

a black and white illustration of an elephant and a zebra stand side by side with the name elephant and zebra imprinted beneath each animal

“Infant's Cabinet of Birds & Beasts,” 1820 (Photo: UCLA [Public Domain])

a young girl sits beside a rabbit and a man in a top hat drinking tea

“The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland,” 1907 (Photo: Baldwin Library of Historical Literature [Public Domain])

With over 6,000 books to read, the University of Florida’s Baldwin Library of Historical Literature’s archive is the largest of these digital libraries, and boasts titles as old as the early 17th Century.

black and white illustration of a giant kraken overtaking a ship at sea

“Monsters of the Sea, Legendary and Authentic” by John Gibson, 1890 (Photo: Baldwin Library of Historical Literature [Public Domain])

Lastly, you can take a glimpse into Soviet life during the early 20th Century through the project Playing Soviet: The Visual Languages of Early Soviet Children’s Books, 1917-1953.

a page of a book written in cryllic with soviet men and women standing in a line that reaches down the edges of the page

“How the Primus Stove Wanted to Become a Ford” by Nikolai Yakovlevich Agnivstev, 1930 (Photo: Playing Soviet: The Visual Languages of Early Soviet Children's Books, 1917-1953 [Public Domain])

h/t: [Open Culture]

Related Links:

10 Inspiring Children's Books for Budding Little Artists

‘The Office' Children's Book Features the Cast as Their Younger Selves

These Rare Classic Children's Books Can Now Be Read Online for Free

Megan Cooper

Megan Cooper is a Contributing Writer for My Modern Met and a mid-century historian living in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has received a BSA in Public History from Appalachian State University in 2017 and is currently working towards finishing a Masters in Film and Media Studies through Arizona State University. She is extremely passionate about gender and women's studies and the democratization of cultural knowledge.
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