The Vault

An Adorable Apple Pie ABC for Hungry 19th-Century Children

Kate Greenaway, a British artist who specialized in extremely cute babies and young people, was a popular illustrator of children’s books and magazine articles in the late 19th century. “By 1885,” writes Richard Cavendish, “her books were being ruthlessly imitated and pirated, while Greenaway dolls, children’s fashions, pottery and wallpapers were selling in quantity in Britain and abroad.” This book, printed in 1886, was published at the height of her fame. 

Early versions of the “ABC of Apple Pie” date back to the 18th century. In the 19th century, as children’s book publishing began to find bigger markets, new interpretations proliferated. The basic framework endured: An apple pie is the centerpiece of the story; kids who want to eat it perform various actions, some naughty, in service of their goals. The result is a morality tale that also teaches children about spelling and verbs. 

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As might be expected from an illustrator known for her sentimental visions of childhood, Greenaway’s version of the ABC of Apple Pie was sweeter than many. An 1835 version published in London features children who look much less innocent than Greenaway’s. An 1890 version, published in New York, has longer bits of prose (“C stands for Charlie who went to the shelf/ And cut out a very big piece for himself”; “F had a Fight with his sisters and brothers/ Declaring he would not divide with the others”), and its illustrated children commit much worse deeds, all in the name of pie. 

Unlike other 19th-century versions of this story, Greenaway’s Apple Pie book is still in print and for sale.

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