In one scene in my novel, The Better Angels, an old man talks about his childhood in the 1920s and the grandfather that raised him: “At night we sat at the kitchen table and he read to me—Dr. Dolittle and the Hardy Boys, those were my favorites.” The early part of the 20th century was a great time for children’s literature. As printing costs decreased and more families had access to books, writers began to produce children’s books series with the same characters appearing in different adventures. Here are some notable series that appeared between 1900 and 1920.
The first book in the Oz series, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by author L. Frank Baum, was published in 1900. The series would eventually stretch to fourteen novels. Its phenomenal popularity continued to grow for decades, especially after the 1939 film adaptation starring Judy Garland as Dorothy.
Anne of Green Gables, the first book in a series by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery, arrived in 1908. Anne, an 11-year-old orphan, is adopted by siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who thought they were getting a boy to help on their farm on Prince Edward Island. Anne is unconventional, always finding herself in scrapes, and bemoans her bright red hair. Montgomery eventually wrote six books about Anne, tracing her adventures into adulthood, and several books about Anne’s children and friends.
Connecticut can take pride in a series that began with Norwalk author Johnny Gruelle’s 1918 publication of Raggedy Ann Stories. Gruelle had received a patent for a rag doll design in 1915, and decided to write stories about her and her friends. Ann’s brother Andy arrived in a 1920 book, and dozens of books and stories about the dolls were written in the twenties and thirties.
In 1920, another children’s book series began with the publication of the first Dr. Dolittle book by the British author Hugh Lofting. The first book had the impressive title The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts. The main character, John Dolittle, is a physician who learns how to talk to animals and becomes a naturalist. The first book was based on letters and pictures that Lofting sent to his children while serving in World War I. The series grew to number thirteen books and two volumes of short stories.
In the following decade, there was another new development in children’s literature: the adventure/mystery series written by ghostwriters all using the same pseudonym. The Hardy Boys were first on the scene, with three books published in 1927, all supposedly written by “Franklin W. Dixon.” Nancy Drew followed in 1930, with all titles published under the author name “Carolyn Keene.”
What are your favorite children’s book series? The Goodreads website has wonderful lists of children’s and young adult series in many genres. Children’s librarians are another fabulous resource for anyone looking for books to engage, captivate, and delight young readers.