Rollo on the Atlantic (Jacob Abbott, 1853)

The preface says that the book exists both to educate and entertain, but for a Victorian kids book, it’s thankfully pretty light on the moralizing. For the entertainment side of things, we follow twelve year old Rollo and his seven year old cousin/adopted sister Jane as they journey across the Atlantic to join their parents, who — owing to their father’s illness — have been obliged to remain in Europe longer than expected and don’t wish to be so long separated from their children. Rollo and Jane were to be entrusted to some friends on board the ship, but after a series of accidents, the children find themselves on their own. For the education side, we learn about how a steamer operates and what a transatlantic crossing is like for the passengers.

Abbott actually lived right here in my hometown. His house, Fewacres, has been gone for several years — it was demolished to make way for the new education center at the college — but the grounds are now Abbott Park. I read most of this book there on the banks of Rollo Pond. It seemed appropriate.

Inscription: on the flyleaf, “Fred from Grand Ma, Xmas 1900”. Granny also seems to have written to the publisher, W.B. Conkey, for a catalogue, since it’s folded up and tucked in at the front. “Books to entertain all ages … for the boys and girls … best in the world at moderate cost”. Rollo on the Atlantic sold for 25 cents.

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The Old Curiosity Shop (Charles Dickens, 1841)

A slightly mad old man has lost all his money gambling in the vain attempt to win his granddaughter a fortune. Fleeing from their debts and from the chance that the old man might be institutionalized, they disappear into the countryside. Meanwhile, they’re pursued both by a devious dwarf who was the old man’s moneylender and by the man’s brother, who comes to deliver them a large inheritance.  Both are too late: the dwarf accidentally drowns himself evading the police and the granddaughter succumbs to illness and exhaustion before the brother finds them.

Inscription: Pasted on the inside front cover is an off-the-shelf ex libris plate showing an owl perched atop a clutch of pine cones. Neatly typewritten in the blank space beneath is the name Muriel Louise Kemp.