Ready, Set, Go!: Play and Sports in Children's Books

June 27, 2018 | TPL Staff

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We invite you to Ready, Set, Go!: Play and Sports in Children's Books, a new exhibit at the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books which explores the topic of sports and games in children's literature. From Healthful Sports for Young Ladies (1822) and School-Boys' Diversions (1820) to modern picture books, games and original illustrations, discover material dating from 1760 to 2016.

The exhibit is on through September 1, 2018, and is open during the Osborne Collection's regular opening hours: Monday to Friday 10 - 6 and Saturday 9 -5.

It's free and all are welcome!

While play and sports has always been a popular subject for children's books, it is only lately that a wide-ranging and diverse world of sport has been depicted. Older books about sport or depicting children participating in sport tend to rely heavily on favourites such as football (incorporating rugby and soccer) and cricket, or on traditional games like jump-rope, foot races, and tumbling.  The origins of the game of cricket itself can be dated to as early as the mid-sixteenth century.  Shown also is the simple amusement known as “battledore and shuttlecock” (a precursor to badminton), an ancient game that was played in India and China as well as in England and other countries. Organized sport as we know it, with its discrete teams, defined rules, and established officials, is largely a product of the late 19th century, though sporting events have been a source of excitement and a showcase for talent for centuries. 

Soccer, “the beautiful game”, is a sport for the ages, one with elements taken from games played in many different countries around the world. In England the game was largely defined and codified in 1863 with the forming of the Football Association; in Europe the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international governing body, was formed in Paris in 1904.  The FIFA World Cup, a quadrennial event, will be played this year in Russia between 14 June and 15 July.

From the first Olympics, traditionally dated to 776 BC, to the inaugural FIFA World Cup played in 1930, to the newer Paralympics, Commonwealth, Invictus and Arctic Winter Games, people have gathered together to play and to cheer. 

A preview of a few items on exhibit

We explore many other kinds of sports and games through both modern and vintage books. This includes sport in general, and more specifically women’s sport, which is often underrepresented in sports literature, as well as famous and historical sports figures, from Ned Hanlan to Rick Hansen.

  • sports that can be played using only that simplest of objects, a ball (not just soccer and rugby): American-style football, and basketball;
  • ball games using sticks and showing examples of how this action produced new and exciting sports, like lacrosse (which originated among Canada’s Indigenous people), baseball, tennis, golf, field hockey, and cricket;
  • skating, professional and amateur;
  • cycling both amateur and professional, as evinced by The Pop-up Tour de France;
  • skiing;
  • riding and about horses, athletes in their own right;
  • water sports: swimming, sailing, rowing, surfing, water-skiing;
  • “ice” hockey (as opposed to field hockey).

Cricket Broadside  1795

 Broadside published by Bowles & Carver ca. 1795, showing a rural game of cricket.

Roy of the Rovers  1980

“Roy Race scores yet again – with another feast of football features and stories!”  This popular British periodical, “a Fleetway annual,” was published in London by IPC Magazines Ltd.  The character Roy Race first appeared in a comic strip in Tiger magazine  in 1954, but it was not until 1976 that Roy and his Melchester Rovers became a regular comic feature, which continued until 1995.  Roy and his son Rocky also featured in a weekly strip in the football magazine Match of the Day from 1997 to 2001.

Games of Survival  2012

The first Arctic Winter Games were held in Yellowknife in 1970.  Author Johnny Issaluk is a world champion in high kick and a prolific Games medalist. These games are as important as our language, our throat singing, and our drum dancing.  They are vital because traditionally they were used not only for fun, but for survival.

Level the Playing Field  2016

Griffin - Stubbs

 Hope to see you there!

With thanks to Liz Derbecker