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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Information Sciences 503: History of Children's Literature: Reception History

This guide suggests resources to consult for IS503, History of Children's Literature. It suggests resources for background information, publication history, and reception history of children's books, as well as published research.

In this tab: information on finding reviews, prizewinner information, sales, bestsellers, and reader response.

Suggestions and Tips


After you retrieve a set of results from ProQuest Historical Newspapers you can sort the list by publication date so the oldest reviews float to the top.  

Just as you can limit your search to include only reviews, you can also isolate the document type to advertisments.  Choose the "page view" for valuable context specific details such as pricing information.

Find Prizewinners

You can find prize information for chilren's books from the following sources:

Prominent Book Review Sources

ProQuest Historical Newspapers Online

Over 130 newspapers will be searched simultaneously beginning as far back as 1831. You can search it to locate original book reviews by limiting your search to "Reviews" in the Document Type area:

Sales, Best Seller Lists, and Reader Responses

Sales figures and reader responses to a text are likely to be difficult to find--and for many books this information simply isn't availble. This is because publishers generally do not release sales figures for titles, and reader responses beyond reviews are usually hidden away in diaries, letters, or other archival documents. However, there are some places you can look.

Best Seller Lists and Sales Figures

Best seller lists only exist from around 1895 forward in the U.S., most famously inThe Bookman (1895-1933) and Publisher's Weekly (1912-Present). Fiction and nonfiction were not separated until 1912 in Publisher's Weekly. Barring press releases and news articles about particular titles, best seller lists are the primary source for any public sales figures. When looking at sales figures from a best seller list, keep in mind that the figure often only covers a particular date range or up through a particular date. Therefore, for the most complete total you'll want to look for the final appearance of the book on best seller lists, or you may need to track down data for several years and add them together. Look for information about how the source comes up with the total so that you can contextualize sales figures appropriately when writing up your research.

The Library and Book Trade Almanac (1955-present, formerly The Bowker Annual through 2008) contains a list of titles that appeared in best seller lists that year, with a total of sales for the year. It contains a separate section for children's books and for backlist children's books. So if you are researching an older title that still sells well enough to appear on backlist best seller lists, you may find yearly sales information here. Print only except the most recent years available in ProQuest Statistical Insight (link below):

Publisher's Weekly and The Bookman can be found freely available up through 1922 in HathiTrust. In Publisher's Weekly, look for an index at the beginning of the yearly volume to find references to the best seller lists. In The Bookman you may need to browse: the list is not necessarily labeled "best seller list" or something similar, so cannot be searched easily. Volumes from 1923-1990 need to be consulted in print in the Main Stacks.

In 1945 Alice Payne Hackett published Fifty Years of Best Sellers, 1895-1945. Available online through HathiTrust, it gives the top 10 sellers for each year based on Publisher's Weekly and The Bookman, with a narrative overview that gives more concrete numbers on sales. The first edition also has a very useful essay on the history of best seller lists. This book was updated every 10 years until the most recent edition, 80 Years of Best Sellers, 1895-1975 (print only), which has the introductions to each edition, and the yearly lists, as well as some additional useful features: total best sellers for this whole period split into paperback, hardback, and combined; and best sellers broken by subjects, including children's books selling 1 million or more copies by 1975.

Find more bibliographies of best sellers that may have sales information included with the "Best sellers -- Bibliography" subject heading in the library catalog.

Beyond the above, sales information for particular titles might be found in individual book trade news reports or research articles--however, those numbers and articles are again only likely to be available if the book was very popular (and thus likely on the best seller lists).

Reader Responses

Individual reader responses can be difficult to locate, especially if you are looking for responses to a particular book. They are most likely to be found in things like diaries, letters, and other ephemeral publications that may only be published if someone well known wrote them.

The library catalog uses the subject term "Books and reading" to identiy books that are about people's experiences with books. There are many memoir-type books where the writers review books they have loved or that have shaped them that carry this heading.

Subject Guide

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