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Jane Johnson

(1706—1759) writer


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(1706–1759), English writer. Probably born in Warwick, Johnson lived at Witham-on-the-Hill in Lincolnshire after her marriage to Woolsey Johnson, the vicar of Olney, Buckinghamshire. In the 1740s she produced a nursery library of texts and other teaching materials for the instruction of her children. Now held in the Lilly Library, Indiana University, these works include booklets of stories, vocabulary cards depicting food items, illustrations clipped from various sources, and sets of cards showing letters of the alphabet, syllables, vowel sounds, words, verses, and fables. Using a tender maternal voice and gentle humor, her texts are concerned with the moral and practical training of her children. The discovery of Johnson's work has enhanced our understanding of early children's literature and led to a reassessment of the roles that 18th-century mothers played in educating their children. Her nursery library suggests that literature for children existed domestically not only in oral but also sometimes in written forms before it became of wider interest to publishers later in the 18th century. These private forms of literature, oral and written, may have served as the basis of the texts that early children's publishers such as John Newbery produced. Johnson is also the writer of what has been variously claimed to be the earliest known English fairy story or an early secular novella for children. A Very Pretty Story to Tell Children When They Are About Five or Six Years of Age (1744) is a tale that typically contrasts virtuous children—named after two of Johnson's own children—with a greedy untrustworthy boy, but unusually intersperses fantasy scenes. Discovered in 1995, the story, together with poems and hymns, is contained in Johnson's notebook of 1733–1752, the manuscript of which is now held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

From The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children's Literature in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.


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