Victoria Bylin: Once Upon A Time

Vicki LogoOne of my earliest memories is sitting on the floor in my bedroom with a children’s book of fairy tales. The book was tall and wide and about a half-inch thick. The cover showed Rapunzel with her hair flowing while a prince in a pointy hat gazed up at her. Red Riding Hood is looking up, and there’s a unicorn in the background.


These memories rushed back to life when I started researching the second book in the Swan’s Nest trilogy. No title yet, but those of you who have read The Maverick Preacher will remember Pearl. This is her story. She needed a fresh start, so I packed her off to Cheyenne where she meets a troubled lawman with a five-year-old daughter. He’s a rough and tough ex-Texas Ranger, but he’s got a soft spot when it comes to his little girl. Every night, he reads a story to her.

That vision led to all sorts of questions. What would he read? Would he have purchased the book? Would it be a family heirloom? What would it have looked like? The story takes places in 1875 Wyoming. With the arrival of the railroad, the town had money and some culture. It seemed reasonable that his little girl could have a big book of fairy tales similar to mine, but I had to be sure.

thumbelina-smallAnd so the research began . . .

Fairy tales have been around forever, but children’s books the way we know them weren’t common until the late 1800s. In 1875 Wyoming, my little girl would mostly likely have a copy of “Mother Goose,” a collection of ten fairy tales collected by Charles Perrault in 1658 and translated into English from French. The first American edition, titled Mother Goose’s Melody or Sonnets from the Cradle was published in 1787 and had many of the stories we love today. Among them were Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty in the Wood and Little Red Riding Hood.

In addition to traditional stories, children’s books in the 19th century contained short rhymes, moral lessons and simple drawings. Some of the rhymes would be familiar to us all, things like “One, Two. Buckle My Shoe” or “Hey Diddle Diddle.” I can’t read those words without smiling. Both my sons (now grown) were fascinated with the idea of a cow jumping over the moon.

The most well known publisher of children’s books in the 19th century was the New York firm of McLoughlin Brothers. Their books had color illustrations which must have thrilled little girls just like the ones in my book thrilled me. The pictures weremother-goose-book-cover-1870s made using etched zinc plates, chromolithographs and photo engravings. They popularized well known illustrators including Thomas Nast and Ida Waugh.

When I wrote the scenes where my hero reads to his little girl, I pictured my well thumbed copy of The Tasha Tudor Book of Fairy Tales. The book itself is too modern for an 1875 setting, but the feeling of discovery would be the same. Like me, the child in my story would be magically transported to another place and time. My hat’s off to the men and women who illustrate these wonderful books, especially to Tasha Tudor. Her drawings gave me hours of pleasure and fueled my imagination. Who’d have thought? The little girl sitting on the floor with her big book of fairy tales grew up to write stories of her own.



A Collection of Vintage Children's Books

Do you remember reading fairy tales as a child? Maybe you’re a mom or a grandmother or an aunt. Do you read stories to the children in your life? I’d love to hear about your favorites!


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35 thoughts on “Victoria Bylin: Once Upon A Time”

  1. Victoria

    I really enjoyed this post. I wasn’t in school yet when the words on the page linked themselves to the words my mother spoke as she read fairytales to my brother and me. We had an illustrated Mother Goose – I think ‘rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she shall have music wherever she goes” was my favorite line – and a book of Uncle Remus stories. I know they’re now considered politically incorrect, but I loved them.

    Tasha Tudor was such a wonderful artist. I have a book that she did with Victoria Magazine about her garden, which was the source for a lot of her drawings. Every spring I leaf through it while I wait for my own garden to come to life. The illustrations in the books I read as a child were a big part of the enjoyment, and like you, I grew up to write stories of my own.

    The world will always need fairytales.

  2. Victoria – Great post! I too spent hours pouring over books of fairytales as a chald and will confess I never out grew them. I still have several collections and enjoy thumbing through them on occassion. And yes, I read them to my children when they were ‘of an age’. Thanks for bringing back some very fond memories.

  3. I think romance writers and readers all cling to the joy of fairy tales and the happily ever afters we fell in love with as children. I know I do. Even before my first child was born I had shelves of books and stacks of Disney movies just waiting to share.

    In case you haven’t already found these sites on your own, I thought I would share a couple great research sites I found on 19th Century children’s literature.

    This one is dedicated to school books including full text scans:

    And this one covers books and magazines for children that were popular in the 1800s:

    I had fun poking around those sites. Maybe you will, too.

  4. Hi Vicki – I love fairy tales! We always read them to our kids. My dad used to babysit for my son and he taught him every nursery rhyme in the book! Jason would come home reciting another new rhyme. He knew all the stories too. I have a collection of Fairy tales in one giant book and I’ll never give that book up. Thanks for a great post and good memories!!

  5. I re-read that part about the illustrations about four times, Victoria. That fascinates me. I still don’t know how they did it. Pictures in newspapers. The Gutenberg press, with it’s letters laid in, one at a time, painted with ink, a sheet of paper pressed down on it, that makes sense to me.

    But the illustrations…would each different COLOR need to be painstakingly painted? Or are they in color?
    And (i’m pasting your words in here) etched zinc plates, chromolithographs and photo engravings…

    What does all that mean? Etched zinc plates…would an artist do the etching? WERE the pictures in color…maybe not.

    I think it’s fascinating. The invention of these things is, to me, an inspiration. I think it’s what America is all about. You can make money by innovating…by building a better mouse trap. So, to make money…people competed to make the world a better place.

    That is brilliant and it’s the fuel that fires capitalism. I don’t think that gets enough respect today.

    Okay, enough of that.
    We were a reading family so lots of time spent sitting on Dad’s lap while he read stories, did all the voices and sound affects. All while my mom was in the kitchen cooking. That’s like…ninety percent of my childhood memories. 🙂 I’m sure other stuff went on, too. But Dad keeping us entertained while Mom cooked was standard stuff.

    One of my favorite books to read to my own children was…..
    oops, gotta go.

  6. I’m back.
    One of my favorite books to red to my own children is “A Child’s Garden of Verses” by Robert Louis Stevenson…written in 1885…so almost old enough, Vicki.

    I read that book to my children until the pages started to fall out and we had so many of the poems memorized.

    I particularly loved The Swing. I’d recite it to them while I pushed them on a swing and the mood and words just fit the pleasure of swinging so perfect. Love that book.

  7. Vicki,
    Thanks for bringing back some wonderful memories. Books have been a traditional gift in my family for generations. I still remember hurrying to my stocking Christmas morning to see what books “Santa” left. One of my favorites, given to me by my grandparents, was a 3-D fairy tale book. It had a 3-D inset on the cover and thick full-color drawings throughout. I loved that book.

    My parents and sister were back home cleaning out my grandmother’s house this past weekend, and every time they came upon a book of history or poetry, they set it aside to bring to me. I can’t wait to dig into The American Folklore and Legend volume they found.

    Wonderful memories. Thanks again!

  8. Hi Vicki,

    Wonderful post that brought back warm memories. One of the earliest recollections I have was of someone (I think it was my brother) reading a book to me. I’m pretty sure it was a fairy tale. I was four or five years old. It’s such a vivid memory because it transported me to the whole other world of make believe. I can’t be sure, but it might’ve sparked a desire to tell stories of my own. I like to think it did. Books have always been very special to me. When I moved recently, the movers commented that I sure have a lot of books. I don’t think they relished moving them. LOL

    I read lots of books to my three children when they were growing up. Dr. Seuss was a favorite. They liked the funny rhymes.

    Can’t wait for your new book to come out. It sounds like a great story.

  9. Hi Vicki! What a fantastic post! We are kindred spirits…my childhood book “Fifty Famous Fairy Tales” still lives inside my head. Oh how I loved that book.

    Our daughter loved fairy tales also. Her room had a Snow White theme when she was little. (although of course that was the Disney version.)

    We came across “Mother Goose’s” grave in Boston. Supposedly Mary Goose gathered up rhymes and her printing-business family pubbed them.

    I also totally loved a Child’s Garden of Verses. Our grandson loves books, right now the leading favorite is Good Night Moon. I’ll get him into fairy tales soon though 🙂

    Wonderful information, thanks so much. oxoxox

  10. Hi Vicki! What a fantastic post! We are kindred spirits…my childhood book “Fifty Famous Fairy Tales” still lives inside my head. Oh how I loved that book.

    Our daughter loved fairy tales also. Her room had a Snow White theme when she was little. (although of course that was the Disney version.)

    We came across “Mother Goose’s” grave in Boston. Supposedly Mary Goose gathered up rhymes and her printing-business family pubbed them.

    I also totally loved a Child’s Garden of Verses. Our grandson loves books, right now the leading favorite is Good Night Moon. I’ll get him into fairy tales soon though 🙂

    Wonderful information, thanks so much. oxoxox

  11. I do remember reading them, but I don’t know who gave me the books. Was most likely my mother, aunt or grandmother. I had Beatrix Potter books also a fav of mine was The Valveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. I have given a copy of this book to all my nieces.And I have bought them box sets of Beatrix’s books.
    Thank you for the information on children’s books.

  12. As a child, one of the highlights of our week was
    a trip to the library where we always brought home
    books to read to the younger sibs. Fairy tales,
    Mother Goose, and poetry were always on the lists.
    Over the years, I’ve enjoyed reading to my eight
    sibs, to hospitalized children on my pediatric nursing rotation & to my 4 children & my ten grandchildren. I’ve even read as part of a story hour at a local Target store. I read one of my favorites, Dr. Seuss’s “Cat In A Hat”, while wearing “the” hat!

    Pat Cochran

  13. I love Fairy Tales… I remember being told stories and later reading them, but I always had the Disney like ones… Then in college I took a children lit class and had to read classic Fairy Tales… I was surprised to see that some were different from what I had learned and that they did not have there happy endings… no matter, I still enjoy Fairy Tales! 😀

  14. Hi Jennie, I didn’t realize until I wrote this post how prolific Tasha Tudor was. I’m curious about her other work and want to check it out. It says something about an artist’s skill when her images stay etched on a child’s mind.

    “Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes” took me back in time! There are so many fun rhymes!

  15. Hi Winnie! I had two boys. We read some fairy tales (Puss n’ Boots, a few others), but they didn’t latch on to them as much as action stories. After seeing Mary’s granddaughter yesterday, I want one! I bet she’d like all my favorites!

  16. Hi Charlene, What fun for your dad and your son to share nursery rhymes! And they’re such a great way for a child to learn language. Rhymes, rhythm. It all goes together and gives us an appreciation of poetry.

  17. Hi Mary! Great questions! When I did this post, I thought to myself, “I bet I could do a whole series on children’s books.” You know how research sucks a writer in? How we browse and read and imagine, and then browse somemore? That happened with the research on children’s books for the ms I’m just now finishing. Somewhere down the line, I want to write a book with a children’s book illustrator as the heroine.

    Reading as a child brought me oodles of pleasure. I devoured everything from the fairy tales to “Peanuts the Pony” to Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books. Those were the best!

  18. Hi Tracy, That 3-D fairy tale books sounds wonderful. Was it pop-up style? I loved those. Part of me wishes I’d kept all the books I had as a kid, but at some point I thought I’d outgrown them and passed them on to my cousins. I won’t say it was a mistake–my two cousins were younger than me and they enjoyed them–but I *was* mistaken to think I could ever outgrow a fairy tale!

  19. Howdy Linda! You said the magic words! DR. SEUSS! I read “The Cat in the Hat” a million times to my oldest son. He’s now 26, but I can still recite chunks of it. He couldn’t get enough of it.

    And I’ll never forget the day my youngest son picked up a simple Seuss book and started reading it. I thought maybe he’d memorized it, but no. He knew the words. Those were special times!

  20. Hi Tanya, While I researching for the current ms, I came across the same story about “Mother Goose.” She certainly left a wonderful heritage.

    I hear you on the Disney connection. I can’t think of Cinderella without hearing the singing mice. While working on the current book, where the hero reads to his daughter, I had to block that out because it would be too modern, but the memories but me in a good mood : )

  21. Hi Kathleen O, I have a whole collection of Beatrix Potter Christmas ornaments. They’re adorable and very special.

    I didn’t discover “The Velveteen Rabbit” until I was an adult. My mil actually introduced me to the story when she bought the book for my sons. Talk about tugging on the old heartstrings!

    And I’ve collected “rabbit” things for years. Don’t tell anyone, but my family nickname is “Miss Rabbit.”

  22. Hi Pat, What a joy to read to so many young, impressionable minds! And especially to kids in the hospital. I wonder how many pages you’ve read all together? I bet it’s thousands and thousands! Plus you get to look cool in the “Cat in the Hat” hat!

  23. Hello Colleen! Some fairy tales could be pretty gruesome. I read somewhere that in early versions of “Cinderella,” The wicked step sisters had their toes cut off so they could fit in the glass slippers. Not a pretty sight! I like the Disney version better!

  24. Yikes! TOES CUT OFF???????

    Some of those fairy tales were pretty nasty. I wonder what that means? I wonder if, by protecting children from icky fairy tales where the witch in the gingerbread house ends up in the furnace or two of the three little pigs end up wolf food— we’ve done the right thing or the wrong thing?

    Does anyone remember The Little Matchgirl? The ‘happy ending’ was her dying of starvation in the cold and being taken off to heaven.
    We’ve kind of lost that as we’ve slipped away from an eternal image of life.

  25. Wow, Mary. I totally agree. We’ve lost the bigger picture. As part of that, I have to wonder if we’ve over-protected our children. No one wants splintery, unsafe climbing toys at the park, but boys will boys. I raised two of them! They play rough because it’s who they are.

  26. And seriously, when the bough breaks and the cradle will fall, they don’t even MENTION that the baby is badly hurt and NO ONE calls the authorities to have the parents fitness studied.

    Definitely a foster care situation.

  27. I stil have my copy of The Child’s Garden of Verese, like Mary had. It was my favorite, and I remember reading, “oh how I love to go up in a swing.” I had fairy tales too and Rose Red and Rose White was one of my favorites. I always read to my children and my grandchildren. My grandson who lives with me could read perfectly by the summer after kindergarden – we spent that whole year working on reading books. He’s 10 now, and I often find him up past his bedtime with a flashlight under the covers, reading his Bible or an Avatar or a Bionicles book.

    Loved your blog and the illustrations, Vicki. Thank you for the lovely thoughts.

  28. Hi Cheryl! I saw the vintage Easter cards back in April. Loved the rabbit card at the top. Rabbits are the only critter to actually have their own holiday. I think it’s well deserved, especially since rabbits have the good sense to celebrate with chocolate eggs : ) LOTS of chocolate eggs!

  29. We have a copy of that Tasha Tudor Fairy Tale book. My poor mother had 4 children in 6 years and there wasn’t much time for her to do anything but housework and child care. We did have books to read and I spent lots of time at the library. I have always read to my children. Our house is over full of books, but is so hard to part with any of them. I work as a children’s librarian, so I get to order more books for all ages. I enjoy helping children find books they will enjoy reading. I’m getting ready for our summer reading program and looking forward to the new books to put out. Every year I have a new favorite.
    Check out SAILOR MOO, COW AT SEA. It is a picture book for little ones. The illustrations are sweet. It is a romance story and will make you smile.

  30. Hi Patricia, SAILOR MOO, COW AT SEA sounds charming. I’ll look at it on Amazon. I did the summer reading program when I was a kid. It was such fun to get those gold stars!

    I grew up with weekly library trips and will always be a huge fan. A big shout-out to the Fairfax Co. Public Library here in northern Virginia! I wouldn’t be an author without that resource.

  31. My husband was stationed in the D.C. for 5 years. We lived in Burke Center, Fairfax County. Lovely area and we enjoyed it. I volunteered in the school libraries and publishing center. Unfortunately it was just too crowded. Can’t beat the neighborhood library. Our summer reading program starts Tuesday and I’ll be putting in long hours to be ready. Not many volunteers showed up today, but they always show up when needed (I hope).

  32. Hi Patricia, We were practically neighbors. I live in Annandale. I hear you on the crowded conditions. Traffic is mind bongling! The Beltway is being widened for Hot Lanes, so they’ve cut down a huge number of trees between Braddock and Tysons Corner. I hate to see the trees go.

    I hope you enjoy the summer reading program. Here’s hoping you get a record number of volunteers!

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