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Literature
Letters from Nineteenth-Century American Children to Robert Merry’s Museum Magazine  
By Pat Pflieger
692 pp.
Edwin Mellen Press. US$149.95
ISBN-10: 0773475052 / ISBN-13: 9780773475052

Robert Merry’s Museum was the name of the most popular magazine for children in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. The magazine was published from 1841 to 1872. It was the first magazine of its kind to publish letters from the children who comprised its readership. The publication of these letters from children to the magazine in Pat Pflieger's work constitutes an enormous and invaluable contribution to materials for the study of children's history and culture. Through their letters, the children in turn offer glimpses of life that offer fascinating new areas of study for cultural, social, and political historians of America of that time.

These child letter writers included a wealth of unexpected and unselfconscious comments about current events, such the removal of Native Americans westwards to designated lands and growing dissention between North and South. The United States Civil War and the period of Reconstruction that followed are events that have never before been seen in this way, through the eyes of children.

The letters also offer rich areas for the study of the perceptions and beliefs of the day. There is much to interpret in these lucid letters about perceptions of women, slaves, Native Americans, southerners, northerners, westerners, and religion. Family and community lifestyles are revealed in broad spectrum in the letters. The children included details and anecdotes about their lives, friends, families, schools, and activities that provide an incredible record of nineteenth-century American life. The over 600 letters in this collection will be satisfying, rewarding material to a variety of scholars.

Particularly fascinated, of course, will be the student of childhood and children's history. Source material in children's own works is rare. Most study of children of necessity focuses on works created for children, not by them. Here is a rare opportunity to glimpse into the minds of children themselves. At times simple, at times astonishingly literate and perceptive, the youthful writers of these letters provide a cross-sectional view of the entire country during one of the most critical periods in United States history.

In addition to the very minimal editing and publication of these letters, Pflieger has accomplished the impressive genealogical task of identifying many of the letter writers based on their signatures. Her commentary on the letters is illuminating, assisting the modern reader to understand various contemporary references the children make in their letters.

In addition to their undoubted historical and scholarly value, these letters are also simply fascinating reading. Their articulate accounts of their lives, activities, and perceptions are quite absorbing and extremely entertaining. Of the several thousand letters printed by Robert Merry’s Museum during the 31 years it was in existence, Pflieger has done an excellent job of selecting letters that really show something of their time. The result is a new untapped field for scholars, researchers, and students that is very exciting.

Sylvia Breau, for Notable Book Reviews
Notable Book Reviews received one or more copies of this book in exchange for this review.
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