Toys for Girls and Boys

“If the little girl has no cups and saucers for her afternoon tea party, acorns and leaves can be made to take their places.”

No, that’s not a quote from a recent back-to-nature seminar at some rustic, yet comfortable forest lodge. It’s from the article on “Toys” in the 1917 edition of World Book.

A century ago, World Book defined toys as “artificial helps” used by children who, by nature, wished to imitate the actions of adults. It praised the role of imagination in play, claiming that to give a child “toys too elaborately wrought is to do him a real injury. Creative imagination is all too rare, and it should be fostered.” There was no mention of plastic action figures, video games, or tie-ins to movies and television—all of those kinds of toys would come later.

The 1917 World Book emphasized home-made toys. It said “any boy who has taken manual training [shop classes] should find no difficulty in making, for the delight of his younger brothers and sisters, the wooden toys” pictured in the article. The pictures featured animals, such as a duck and an elephant, mounted on wheels. World Book directed girls to the “Dolls” article, which had two pages of patterns for paper dolls and costumes. Not surprisingly, nearly all the toys recommended for boys in 1917 were different from those suggested for girls. Today, by contrast, much of the “Toys” article in The World Book Encyclopedia is about why certain toys are suited to each developmental stage of childhood—infancy (rattles, blocks), early childhood (counting toys, picture books), and late childhood (paints, action figures).

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