World of the Children, 1948

When we were clearing my deceased Grandmother‘s house for sale, we found a four-volume set of books that I had loved as a child, called The World of the Children by Stuart Miall (1903-1977). They were designed for children to read with parents, and covered subjects as diverse as a death in the family, algebra, how to measure the speed of light, how electric lights work and foreign travel.

book cover: green and gilt with embossed picture

They were originally published in 1948 (although these are a 1952 reprint) and show just what a different country the past was.

In one chapter, a small boy and girl swim naked together, allowing Marjorie, the girl, to ask her mother why boys and girls are made differently. (The precise physical nature of the differences is never discussed.)

Mother sums up the differences:

The big strong man enjoys being a big strong man, and the pretty girl who has won a husband and a home and lots of babies finds that there is plenty of work to do to keep all her treasures sweet and nice. God is very fair, darling.

Something that hasn’t changed – and which surprised me – is the chapter on “We have to decide whether a stranger is nice or nasty”. I can recall being told never to talk to strangers when I was at school in the early 1970s, but was never told why. Although old people and right-wingers would have you believe that pre-immigration and pre-sexual revolution, everyone was lovely and polite and everyone left their doors unlocked all the time, it appears that’s not the case.

A cartoon  and poem warning children against strangers

The book is rooted in the colonial era, even though by this time the colonies were beginning to dwindle. The author, Stuart Miall, tries to be an enlightened imperialist:

The people of India are dark, almost black, but many have fine distinguished-looking faces and many are exceedingly clever.

(Notice the word “but”.)

On the Middle East, Miall writes

It is probable that if they were allowed to grow up together in friendship, little Arab children and little Jewish children would most surely make a happy as well as a holy land of poor, stricken Palestine, but the tribal beliefs of Arabs and Jews have not the virtues of Christian values, which exhort men to brotherly love and peace.

We are shown pictures of the industrious “dark-skinned natives” of India and “dusky children of Jamaica”:

Black and white photos of Indian men and Jamaican children

He slips a little when discussing Gracie “a dark little half-caste girl, with a rather fine little face”:

Where white people live side-by-side with native people of a different colour, it sometimes happens that white man takes a black or brown or yellow woman for his wife. Then the childrem are called half-caste…Gracie looked as though she might be intelligent like her father, though having the dark skin of her mother. The life of a half-caste is usually a very sad one, because neither the white people nor the black people really care for him.

Here Miall seems to be sympathetic to the apartheid system, which began in South Africa in 1948, the same year the book was published.

What’s shocking is how mainstream such racism seems to be in 1940s England. Take, for example, the page of common words for teaching children to read and write: “an, as, at, be, big, collar, daughter, fat, fish” and so on, until we get to N: “neck, niece, nigger”.

Table of words to teach children to read and write

This book was printed a mere 14 years before I was born. Amazing.

19 Responses to “ World of the Children, 1948 ”

Comment by Matt Wilcox

Putting aside the prejudices of the period, this is great.

Do they still print this type of book? My parents had a large collection of old books from a similar era that had similar content – there were 12 in the collection if I remember right, though I’ve no idea what they were called anymore. They were fascinating and engaging, talking clearly about varied topics that would otherwise never be encountered in childhood – I remember reading about how to make a chinese lantern for example.

I can’t think of any modern equivalent, and that’s sad.

Comment by Bruce

Matt,

they’re great books. I loved them as a child. No idea if they still print such resources – probably that’s what the internet is for now.

Wish the books were online!

Comment by Samuel

it sometimes happens that white man takes a black or brown or yellow woman for his wife. Then the childrem are called half-caste…Gracie looked as though she might be intelligent like her father, though having the dark skin of her mother. The life of a half-caste is usually a very sad one

I took a brown woman (or did she take me?) and my son doesn’t seems to be very sad …. Oh dear what a nonsense

Comment by Chris

@Samuel – I think it’s unfair to say the book is a nonsense. Your son isn’t sad because we live in a surprisingly and wonderfully accepting and enlightened age. When the book was printed, it was an absolutely true statement.

I don’t think you can blame the book for the thinking of the time.

Books like these are more important today than they were when they were written. They remind us to be thankful of the moral progress we have made over the last few decades.

Comment by Jay Connop

I live in Vancouver, Canada and have a four volume set of The World of the Children’ which I brought with me when we moved here to Canada over 40 years ago. Is there any demand for these books now? They are in mint condition. Any ideas about what I can do with them?

Comment by Stephen

My parents brought the same set years later. They also brought a three volume set called “Junior Science” by the same authour. Both sets of volumes, I think, gave me aa head start in school. Sadly in these days of short attention span I think there would be little interst in them. I still have one of the Junior Science volumes and they explain things clearly and well.

Comment by Stephen P

I remembered reading these books as a child (I was born in 1968) and recently came across a set in a charity shop and am enjoying them all over again. Although it is true that some of the ideas, opinions and facts are way out of date you have to look at them as fair and accurate for their time and overall gsve a child a good grounding for a school education and were also beneficial to new parents as to how to raise children. If someone were to rewrite the whole set making modern modifications where necessary perhaps future generations of English children would be of more credit to their ccountry then the ignorant thugs we currently have to tolerate.

Comment by Rita Corica

My mother bought a set of the b urgundy ones when I was little. They lasted until they fell to pieces. Much loved by me with many happy hours poring over them. I discovered a set in the markets some years ago and paid $35.00 Australian for them. Would love to get a set of the burgundy edition one day.

Comment by rob

I do have a set of the red burgundy (red)….I am just starting to research about there value, They where a set my parents got when I was a child. as I have only older children and grandchildren who aren’t interested in them I will be selling them…

Comment by Lisa

I have The World of The Children, volume 1-4 in more than good condition for their age, Burgundy in colour, i would like to sell them, what price should i ask and who do i ask, have you any advice, Many Thanks Lisa

Comment by John

Wonderful set of books, I loved reading them as a child, they gave me a good understanding of physics. I still have them and still love them. My grandson(10)thinks they are “wicked”. Odd thing was the thing that I remembered most from reading them was the registration no. of the R101 , G-FAAW.

Comment by Toni

I think some people may possibly be confusing Miall’s “The World of the Children” with Arthur Mee’s “The Children’s Encyclopaedia”, which is most commonly found in a set of 12 volumes and which went through several editions since its first publication in 1908. They were similar works but “The Children’s Encylopaedia” was much more comprehensive, being so much bigger. It certainly showed you how to make a Chinese lantern, in the later editions’ “Things to Make and Do” section.

I have early 1960s versions of both “The Children’s Encyclopaedia” and “The World of The Children”; my parents bought them together with a bound set of Chambers Encylopadias when they first got married. You might be interested to know that the bit where Marjorie asks her mother why boys and girls are different has been updated for the 1960s; mother now tells her that (paraphrasing) “boys grow up into men with big strong bodies and girls grow up to be mummies who are good to cuddle, and isn’t it nice that they are different? You wouldn’t like it if everyone was made the same now would you?!” and Marjorie agrees. When I read this as a child of about ten (in the mid 1980s) I thought it was quite a sweet way of sidestepping the issue of sex, and I must say that I still think this :-)

I don’t remember any casual racism in my set of Miall books so I am guessing that this has also been edited out. I would have remembered, because the Mee books had plenty of pictures that I found quite shockingly patronising/racist as a ten year old, even though I loved reading them. I have a story that I wrote in an exercise book whilst at school when I was seven, and the protagonist is called “Iseult” – the only place I could have come across that name at that age was the Children’s Encyclopaedia, which includes the story of Tristan and Iseult!

Anyway, it’s great to find someone else who is interested in these books because they are fascinating products of their time! These editions are of little monetary value, so I would recommend that other similarly interested people snap them up from the ones who just want to flog them.

Comment by Toni

PS sorry. Have just noted that I made it sound like Trstan and Iseult is a racist story. It isn’t, of course! I just meant to say that I learnt a lot from those books, which I probably wouldn’t have learnt anywhere else at that age.

Comment by Matthew (Miall) Coldrick

—Stuart Miall was my ‘natural’ grandfather, and I met – for the first time – my ‘natural’ father in 1996, almost twenty years after my grandfather, Stuart, had died.
—Stuart Miall (1903-1977) was the great grandson of Edward Miall MP (1809-1881) (http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/printable/18647) and Stuart’s mother, Kathleen, was, I was told, descended from Johann Bernhard Logier (1777-1846) (http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/printable/16947).
——Regarding the race issue, I have two very charming and very wonderful ‘natural’ cousins, also descended from Stuart Miall, and their mother is from Kenya.
—Both (Rowland) Leonard Miall (1914-2005) (http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/printable/94894) and Stuart Miall share the same great-great grandfather, Moses Miall (1776-1829), and he opened a school, the ‘Mansion House School’, in Islington in London. In his book ‘Practical Remarks on Education’ published in 1822, Moses had “…revealed a view of the school as a community which could be ‘governed by reason and kindness’ and he also observed that ‘science loves to clothe herself in an ostentatious and frequently cumbrous dress, but it is the business of the teacher to exhibit her in the unadorned majesty of truth'”. (See: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/531488?uid=3738032&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21101982465933).
—The mother-in-law of Stuart’s great grandfather, Edward, was a sister of the schoolmaster John Morell (1775-1840) (http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/printable/49461), and one of John’s most famous pupils was Isambard Kingdom Brunel. (John had been “charged with the design” of the Brighton Unitarian Church (built 1819-1820) which still stands today).
—A nephew of John Morell, and a cousin of Edward’s wife (Stuart Miall’s great grandmother), was the school inspector John Daniel Morell (1816-1891) (http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/printable/19200), and John Daniel was a friend of David Lloyd George’s father, William George. In his book ‘Life of David Lloyd George – Volume I’ (1912), Herbert Du Parcq wrote: “It was through Dr. [John Daniel] Morell’s persuasion that he [William George] accepted an appointment to take charge of a large school at Manchester…, and it is through his acceptance of it that Mr. [David] Lloyd George can claim Manchester as his birthplace. He was born there on January 17, 1863.” (See page 9).
—Relating to “Tristan and Iseult”, Richard Wagner had written his famous opera ‘Tristan und Isolde’ between 1857-1859. Johann Bernhard Logier, mentioned above as ancestor of Stuart Miall, wrote a book called ‘Method of Thorough-bass’ published in 1818. This was the first textbook that Richard Wagner had studied on music. In his own ‘Autobiographic Sketch’ (1843), Wagner wrote: “…I borrowed for a week Logier’s “Method of Thorough-bass,” and studied it in hot haste. But this study did not bear such rapid fruit as I had expected: its difficulties both provoked and fascinated me; I resolved to become a musician.”
—Stuart’s great grandfather, Edward Miall, founder and editor of the ‘Nonconformist’ paper, which began in 1841, was involved in the education debates on the Education Bill of 1870. – This is what William Wells Brown, African-American abolitionist, author of the book ‘Clotel’ (considered to be the first novel written by an African-American), wrote about Stuart’s great grandfather (my great-great-great grandfather) after seeing him at the International Peace Conference in Paris in 1849: “A pale, thin-faced gentleman next ascended the platform (or tribune, as it was called) amid shouts of applause from the English, and began his speech in rather a low tone, when compared with the sharp voice of Vincent, or the thunder of the Abbé Duguerry. An audience is not apt to be pleased or even contented with an inferior speaker, when surrounded by eloquent men, and I looked every moment for manifestations of disapprobation, as I felt certain that the English delegation had made a mistake in applauding this gentleman, who seemed to make such an unpromising beginning. But the speaker soon began to get warm on the subject, and even at times appeared as if be had spoken before. In a very short time, with the exception of his own voice, the stillness of death prevailed throughout the building, and the speaker delivered one of the most logical speeches made in the Congress, and, despite of his thin, sallow look, interested me much more than any whom I had before heard. Towards the close of his remarks, he was several times interrupted by manifestations of approbation; and finally concluded amid great cheering. I inquired the gentleman’s name, and was informed that it was Edward Miall, editor of the Nonconformist.” And: “To the left of Mr. Hume you see a slim, thin-faced man, with spectacles, an anxious countenance, his hat on another seat before him, and in it a large paper rolled up. That is Edward Miall. He was educated for the Baptist ministry, and was called when very young to be a pastor. He relinquished his charge to become the conductor of a paper devoted to the abolition of the state church, and the complete political enfranchisement of the people. He made several unsuccessful attempts to go into Parliament, and at last succeeded Thomas Crawford in the representation of Rochdale, where in 1852 he was elected free of expense. He is one of the most democratic members of the legislature. Miall is an able writer and speaker–a very close and correct reasoner. He stands at the very head of the Nonconformist party in Great Britain; and The Nonconformist, of which he is editor, is the most radical journal in the United Kingdom.” (See pages 68-69 and 283-284, William Wells Brown, ‘The American Fugitive in Europe. – Sketches of Places and People Abroad’ (1855)).
——This is the family background of Stuart Miall; a family that has traditionally been involved in children’s education for many many many years!!!

Comment by Deborah green

I have a set of four in mint condition, I have them for over 25 years and still enjoy them. They are green. Nice to see they are still of interest.