5 Children's Books in the Public Domain you Might not Have Heard of
Christmas is around the corner and books will be in you shopping baskets more likely than not. If you received my first ever exclusive e-mail for the Young Reader’s Club, you might have learnt about Jolabokaflod, though word of this Icelandic tradition has been doing the rounds on the Internet for a few years now. Essentially, people in Iceland gift each other books on Christmas Eve and spend the evening reading and drinking hot chocolate, waiting for Santa. Doesn’t that evoke this image of fluffy socks, deep comforting armchair, sitting in front of a raging fire?
I started doing this with my kids a couple of years ago and, now, I get books for all my nieces and nephews as well. Between all the grandparents, uncles and aunts, plus Santa, they end up having so many toys that they won’t miss not having on toy, though I am prepared for the possibility that some of them might just thing ‘ugh, here’s auntie Caroline’s frakking Christmas book again.’
As you might have imagined, I don’t care.
But books, like toys, come at a price. And the nicest ones, the ones with all the illustrations and the nice covers, at a bigger price. Now, there are a number of websites to which I am not going to point you to, that offer free, recent children’s books. This, as you might have guessed, is ilegal.
But you still have options. There is Kindle Unlimited, which monthly cost is not prohibitive and you can borrow books to your heart content, as long as you don’t mind the digital platforms.
But there are some books that, due to their age and loose (or in-existent) copyright laws of their times, are downloadable without legal penalty of any kind. This is what we call the Public Domain. Writing (or music, for that mater, any art, really) that is in the Public Domain can be freely replicated by, well, anybody. That’s why you find so many Shakespeare’s complete works editions, as well as Jane Austen’s and Arthur Conan Doyle’s.
I’m not going to lie, there aren’t many children’s books in the public domain. Children’s literature as such is a relatively recent concept. Most Children stories of the past were either part of the oral tradition or were adult stories adapted later for children, but there are some.
I’m not going to go into the well known ones. I think everybody is aware that both Lewis Carroll’s stories about Alice are in the public domain, as are the Peter Rabbit stories, Huckleberry Finn and the Grimm’s stories (which were compiled from the oral tradition we’ve talked about above).
So here are some less commonly known children’s stories that are available to you for nothing.
More Bedtime Stories
Louise Chandler Moulton
‘Jack Ramsdale was a bad boy. He had been a bad boy so long that secretly he was rather tired of it; but he really did not know how to help himself.’From ‘Against Wind and Tide’, More Bedtime Stories, Louise Chandler Moulton.
That first line made me think of my son, I’m not going to lie.
Louise Chandler Moulton was an American writer with half a dozen children’s story books under her name, all considered successful in her time.
As this title indicates, yes, there is Bedtime Stories preceding this book, but I couldn’t resist that first line.
This book includes fifteen original stories with moral messages that are still valid today (for example, pointing out at the end of ‘Against Wind and tide’ that Jack didn’t turn saint overnight and that change is slow) though, because of its time, you can’t escape the religious narrative, which might or might not be a problem for each family.
The Princess and the Goblin
‘ One very wet day, when the mountain was covered with mist which was constantly gathering itself together into rain-drops, and pouring down on the roofs of the great old house, whence it fell in a fringe of water from the eaves all round about it, the princess could not of course go out.’From The Princess and The Goblin, George MacDonald.
Princess Irene is lonely. She had been sent away to be raised by a nursemaid, and can’t often go out and play. Her palace, however, is surrounded by mines where Goblins, long ago banished from the Kingdom, sleep and dwell, while planning their revenge on their nearby human neighbours.
In this adventure, Irene will meet a young miner who will save her repeatedly. Also, she will be aided by the ghost of her Great-Great-Grandmother, and she will be kidnap to be married to a goblin.
If you find there familiar themes to other stories and even films, well, they always say it’s all been done before… It has also been adapted, so you might have seen that. But I love the idea of this book. The download version includes illustrations too.
A Christmas Hamper
Ed. T. Nelson & Sons
‘I’m told I’m very naughty
I almost ’spect I am;
But, somehow, when I shut the door
It’s nearly sure to slam. ‘From ‘A Very Naughty Little Person’
People must have been struggling with little people who were disobedient at the time. They hadn’t met Nanny Jo and the naughty step, I assumed.
I really like this one because, as well as including stories and poetry, it has lovely vintage illustrations inside as well as for the cover. The inside ones are engravings, which gives it that distinct end of 19th Century flavour.
The Princess and Curdie
‘ A mountain is a strange and awful thing. In old times, without knowing so much of their strangeness and awfulness as we do, people were yet more afraid of mountains. ‘From The Princess and Curdie, George MacDonald
In case you hadn’t already guessed, this is the continuation of The Princess and the Goblin, by the same author. J.K. Rowling didn’t invent sagas. Not even Tolkien!
Curdie was the miner boy who helped the Princess and the Kingdom and here we follow him into a big quest. This is an adventure at its heart and the cover is amazing.
The Other Side of the Sun
‘ The Weird Witch of the Willow-Herb lived in a pink cottage on the top of a hill.’From ‘The Weird Witch on the Willow-Herb’, The Other Side of the Sun, Evelyn Sharp.
There was a time in my life were I was obsessed with Fairies, whether the butterfly-y, beautiful, side of them, or the darker, more conniving side of them.
These is a collection of eight original stories touching on the fairy folk which are the subject of so many children’s stories.
Where to Find Children’s Books in the Public Domain.
You might say that this is all fantastic, but these books, public domain or not, need bought. Well, you can, and certainly, I am all for it. I love books, not only as the containers and transmitters of stories but also as objects to be handled, cherished, and passed on.
This said, that’s me.
And because there are smarter people who do smarter things online than I do, here I give you Project Gutenberg, the most popular, used and overall successful source of Public Domain texts. All of the above are included in their catalog on a variety of formats, including Apple Books and Kindle.
If you are interested in the above titles, here are the direct links:
- More Bedtime Stories by Louise Chandler Moulton
- The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
- A Christmas Hamper, Edited by T. Nelson & Sons
- The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald.
- The Other Side of the Sun by Evelyn Sharp.
Of course, if you want a more modern free story, and a Christmas one at that, join our Young Reader’s Club to receive The Christmas Star, a festive Maven and Perry adventure.