The Man Behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

At the turn of the twentieth century society was beginning to change how it perceived children. Moving increasingly away from viewing children as creatures who naturally possessed evil impulses that needed to be removed, society began to see juveniles as developing beings progressing through predictable milestones.

The origin of the genre of children’s literature is usually traced to the eighteenth century and John Newberry, an English publisher who helped make books for children available. You may have heard of the Newberry Medal, which recognizes excellence in children’s literature. Newberry published what is considered the first children’s book in 1744, Little Pretty Pocket-Book (which incidentally contains a very early mention of the game of base-ball, and in England, no less!) The book was meant to delight and entertain children, but its focus was educational rather than to engage the imagination.

The real change in children’s literature came at the end of the nineteenth century with Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the works of Lewis Carroll and a few others. Now the imagination and pure enjoyment were primary. This is the world L. Frank Baum entered. He is considered to be the creator of the first American fairytale. Baum seemed to be constantly thinking of how to entertain children.

The following bio is excerpted and condensed from The Literature Network:

Lyman Frank Baum was born 15 May, 1856 in Chittenango, New York. His father was Benjamin Ward Baum, who would make a fortune in Pennsylvania Oil, and his mother Cynthia Stanton. Frank, as he preferred to be called, was born with a weak heart. He was home schooled and having few playmates, he also spent hours reading in his father’s library. He developed an aversion to the usual scary creatures and violence of folklore and popular children’s fairytales of the time and would end up creating his own adaptations of them in order to give other children, later including his own, delight in stories rather than grim and frightful moral lessons.
In 1869 Baum entered the Peekskill Military School but the atmosphere of harsh discipline and strenuous activity was too much for him physically and he was removed. After his father bought him a printing press, with his younger brother Harry, he started his own newspaper, the Rose Lawn Home Journal, named after the family estate. Baum wrote about the raising and breeding of chickens in The Book of Hamburgs. (1896)
At the age of twenty-five, Baum started studying theatre in New York City. From 1881 to 1882 he managed an opera house in Richburg, New York. He wrote the play The Maid of Arran in 1882 which he acted in. On 9 November, 1882 he married Maud Gage with whom he would have four children [all boys.] After a few different business ventures, Baum encouraged by his mother-in-law, started to write down the nursery rhymes he had improvised and told to his sons over the years. Mother Goose in Prose was published in 1897. It met rave reviews and in 1899 he collaborated with Chicago cartoonist and poster designer W. W. Denslow on yet another success, Father Goose: His Book. It would be the best-selling book for that year with an estimated 175,000 copies sold.
In 1900 the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published to instant success, another collaboration between Baum and Denslow.

Baum was always telling stories, to his own sons and to neighborhood children. He said,
“Imagination has given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine, and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities. So I believe that day dreams with your eyes wide open are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and therefore to foster civilization. A prominent educator tells me that fairy tales are of untold value in developing imagination in the young. I believe it.”

So Baum’s book was the perfect inspiration for my character Annie Gallagher who was raised on stories and the power of imagination.

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