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Course & Subject Guides

Elizabeth Nesbitt Collection @ Pitt: Window Seat Children

This guide identifies some of the 12,000+ resources available in the Nesbitt Collection. Comprised of children's literature and material related to the history of children and their books, collection items date from the 1600's through the present.

Iconic Image

In her book Reading Children, Patricia Crain illuminates the origins of the iconic image of a child reading a book in a window seat. Images of window seat readers, she argues, visualize the “the immersive reading practice that has long been the desideratum for middle-class reading in the United States” (Crain, 1). Intrinsic to these images, which appear in several nineteenth-century children’s reading materials, is the notion of “absorption” (Crain, 2). As the window-seat architecturally sequesters a child into an interior, private space, as does the reading material, which fosters “private engagement with people and things present nowhere in the world but in those window-like pages” (Crain, 2).  This assortment of images from juvenile periodicals provides additional examples of window seat readers. 

Routledge's Every Boy's Annual (1885)


Versions of this title page appear across several editions of the Routledge’s Every Boy’s Annual, all of which contain this window-seat-child-reader. His lounging posture contorts him inward, mimicking the physical enclosure of a window seat and the mental enclosure of reading.  

His concentration on the material suggests that his surroundings are a reflection of the mental, interior world of the book; his mental immersion in the world of the book results in a physical immersion in all of its trappings. Thus, the interior world of the book is visualized through the process of reading.

His position within a monument-like structure posits that, like the titular “Every Boy,” the reader can also attain an antiquated sense of self through reading.

Girl's Own Annual (1880-1)

While boys were common subjects for the iconic image, the Girl’s Own Annual included images of female window-seat-child-readers in its monthly correspondence sections.

Female readers are depicted in different contexts. They appear outside and inside, reading alone and together.

These images and their various backgrounds assert the growing presence of literacy in late nineteenth-century conceptions of British femininity.

Our Little Ones (1882)

This 1882 version of the window seat reader appeared in “Our Little Ones". Here, a child of color is the central image.  He is seated in the middle of a yard, surrounded by tall flowers, a house overgrown with vines, and a dog, who mirrors the physical and mental interiority of the child reader.  

This illustration was created by J.H. Moser, a landscape painter and occasional children’s illustrator. His rendition is a rare example of a sympathetic illustration of a black child reading intently. His illustrations of children of color were praised for “painting and sketching them from life” (Martin, 510), as opposed to the racist caricature-heavy depictions of the day.

Further Reading

MARTIN, F. J., JR. (1986). The Image Of Black People In American Illustration From 1825 To 1925 (Order No. 8614103). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (303458087). Retrieved from black-people-american-illustration-1825/docview/303458087/se-2?accountid=14709

About the Researcher

Caroline Waters will graduate from the University of Pittsburgh with a major in English Literature, and two minors in Film Studies and Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies. Her research using the Nesbitt Collection through the Archival Scholars Research Award (ASRA) is contributing to an undergraduate honors thesis.