Classic /ˈklasik/Judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind. Ex. “a classic novel”
If you were alive in 1917 when Central Library was built, this is what one of the bookcases in the children’s section might have looked like.
Listed below are 50 books for kids published before 1917 that were on the shelves back then. These books are classics, having stood the test of time. They have been favorites for more than 100 years! Click on any book jacket to read the book right now! You don’t even need to wait to check it out. These books are part of the public domain. Public domain means that since these books were published before 1923, they are not subject to copyright. That means you can read them for free! You can find even MORE classic books for kids to read for free at Read.gov: Classic Books and at The International Children’s Digital Library.
The poet James Whitcomb Riley was born in Greenfield, Indiana on October 7, 1849. To give you an idea how long ago that was, he was about 12 years old when the U.S. Civil War started. Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell were both born around the same time.
At the time of his death on July 22, 1916, James Whitcomb Riley was a beloved figure in Indiana. He was also well known for writing in dialect. A dialect is a particular form of a language that is special to a specific region, in this case Indiana. It is similar to what we would call an accent today. When a person read his poetry, it was like listening to a neighbor and people really liked that. Many of his poems were funny. People really liked that too. Riley traveled the country giving live shows reading his poetry. In his time, he was a rock star! His death was such news it made front page headlines in major newspapers all across the country. There is an old scrapbook of the events that followed his death at The James Whitcomb Riley Home & Museum. You can look at this scrapbook online. It has all kinds of old newspaper clippings in it. One of the headlines about his funeral says, “35,000 People Pass Casket of Indiana Poet”. That is a lot of people!
During Riley’s life people did not have radios in their homes yet. To listen to music or readings they used phonographs. In Riley’s day you had to hand crank a machine to listen to a recording. Very early ones recorded onto cylinders. Later ones recorded onto flat discs, like a CD, only larger. Today you can play a digital file of an audiobook on your phone or computer. In 1912 Riley recorded poetry readings for the Victor Talking Machine Company on one of those flat discs so that people could listen at home – an old time audiobook. We have these old Riley Recordings at IndyPL in our digital collection. James Whitcomb Riley Recordings You can listen to the man himself reading his own poetry. Lucky for you they are in a digital file now!
Mr. Riley’s most famous poems for children were and still are, “Raggedy Man,” “The Little Orphant Annie,” “When the Frost is on the Punkin,” and “The Old Swimmin’ Hole.” You can read them right now in these free eBooks from IUPUI. I recommend the deliciously scary “The Little Orphant Annie.” Annie is a great storyteller! She tells the story of why you better mind your parents because “The gobble-uns’ll git you ef you don’t watch out!” To read it click on the green book Riley Child Rhymes and then click on page 23.
In the spirit of another beloved Hoosier, David Letterman:
Top 10 Ways to Know James Whitcomb Riley was a Rock Star of his Time:
10. His book Rhymes of Childhood was published in 1912. Today, over 100 years later, you can easily find his book at the library or go to an online bookstore and find it for sale as a print book or an eBook. There are not very many books that are still printed from that long ago!
8. When Riley died, the President of the United states, Woodrow Wilson, and the Vice-President of the United States, Thomas Riley Marshall (who was from Columbia City, Indiana), both sent messages of condolence to his family. The Governor of Indiana allowed him to be laid in state at The Indiana Statehouse Rotunda so that people could come pay their respects. Until that time, only Abraham Lincoln had been honored in that way.
1. James Whitcomb Riley donated the land indyPL’s Central Library is built on. The bronze gates at the main entrance on St. Clair Street were purchased with pennies donated by children. The bronze tablets on each of the iron gates say: The gates are the gift of the children of Indianapolis in loving remembrance of their friend James Whitcomb Riley
Indianapolis’s own John David Anderson has been named the 2017 Indiana Author Award Genre Excellence Winner for Middle Grade Fiction. That’s a long way to say he won an award for writing great books – books kids like – for middle school students. Mr. Anderson is the author of several favorites, including Ms. Bixby’s Last Day,Sidekicked, Minion, Standard Hero Behavior, andThe Dungeoneers. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wife and two kids right here in Indianapolis. You can learn more at www.johndavidanderson.org.
Mr. Anderson’s new book is called Posted. It’s a story about what happens when kids go old-school, using post-it notes to communicate with each other instead of texts or social media when they get their cell phones taken away!
Here are some of the many awards Mr. Anderson’s books have received:
Construction began on Central Library in 1916. A cornerstone laying ceremony took place on March 24th. A cornerstone is a corner block in a building’s foundation that is often ceremonial. Many cornerstones include an inscription of the construction dates of the building. Another tradition is putting a time capsule in a cornerstone. A time capsule is a box that contains a selection of objects chosen to be typical of the present time and then buried for opening in the future. Central Library’s cornerstone had a time capsule in it that is 100 years old! We opened it! What do you think was inside?
On the day of Central Library’s cornerstone laying many Indianapolis citizens and community leaders gathered for a celebration. Children convened at Shortridge High School before marching down the street to sing “The Messiah of Nations” to mark the event. “The Messiah of Nations” is a song written by American composer John Philip Sousa. The lyrics to the song were written by Indiana’s own James Whitcomb Riley. If you play the piano or like to sing, you can print a copy of the sheet music from The Library of Congress.
Central Library opened its doors in October 1917. When children entered through the doors on St. Clair Street they walked through the Riley penny gates. These gates were paid for by pennies donated by the children themselves. Once inside, children headed to a space designed just for them called the Riley Room. This room was named to honor James Whitcomb Riley. Riley was a Hoosier who wrote many poems for children and also donated the land Central Library is built on. If you enter Central Library through the doors on St. Clair Street today, you will still walk through the Riley penny gates! The Riley Room for Children was well used and loved as you can see in these old photographs but that space is not used for children anymore. Today Central Library has a space designed specifically for children called the Learning Curve.
What are some of the biggest differences between children using the library today, and children using the library in the 1920s? How many differences can you spot between the Children’s Room in 1917 and the Learning Curve in 2017?
Librarian’s jobs have changed a great deal since Central Library opened in 1917. Below is a photo of a librarian’s desk at Central Library around 1917. Today librarians use computers, help people check out electronic books, and use the electronic databases to help answer questions over chat. What do you see on this librarian’s desk that could give you a clue about how he/she would have helped someone find the answer to a question in 1917? How might a patron have gotten in touch with this librarian to ask a question?
Today if you want to find a book, you probably use our online catalog. But when Central Library opened you would have walked up to a huge card catalog, pulled out a drawer, and looked up information on index cards. You can still see a card catalog at the Indiana
State Library, complete with the cards. The picture below is of Central’s card catalog in 1917. Do you think this method was easier or harder than how you find a book today? Have you ever used a card catalog?
Even though many things have changed about being a librarian over the last 100 years, some things have remained basically the same. Have you ever seen one of these in a library? Librarians still use book carts today for all manner of things – to move books around, to temporarily store books, and even for displays.