Prior to the advent of electronic media, and before travelling became a mass phenomenon, books were the primary means through which children gained a picture of the world at large and gleaned information about far-away places and their inhabitants. The first works of fiction adapted for children, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, inspired two major narrative traditions: adventure stories set in exotic places but told in a realistic mode, and fantastic journeys to invented realms. Systematic representations of foreigners in non-fiction for children start to appear in late 18th-century pictorial encyclopedias, and geography textbooks designed to instruct and amuse with descriptions of places and of the customs of their inhabitants, are popular from the early 19th century on. With an imagological focus on the construction of national and ethnic identities, and with special attention to cultural perspective, this article examines and contrasts representations of imaginary and purportedly real foreign people and places in children’s books, from late 18th- and early 19th-century educational and recreational material in which strange places and people are “discovered,” through late 19th- and early 20th- century abcedaria and picturebooks which presented these as “known,” to contemporary, ludic material which adopts a performative approach towards presenting strange places and people.
KEYWORDS: children’s literature, abcedaria, picturebooks, imagology, cultural history