(WHTM) — Children’s Book Week (May 2-8 and November 7-13) is the longest-running national literacy program in the country. Its core mission — get kids excited about books and reading. It officially started in 1919, but it existed in an unofficial way before then.

Of course, before you can have a Children’s Book Week, you have to have children’s books. The idea of books specifically written for kids is a recent one. The pioneer of the children’s book as a literary genre was author/publisher John Newbery, whose first book for children was “A Little Pretty Pocket Book,” published in 1744. He published around 100 books directed towards kids and is considered the “Father of Children’s Literature.” (The Newbery Award is named after him.)

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Early children’s books tended towards towards simple alphabet books and books on manners and good conduct — educational, didactic, and sometimes dreadfully dull. As the market for children’s books continued to grow through the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, they became more entertaining.

Robert Louis Stevenson adventure books like “Treasure Island” are good reads even today, and “Alice in Wonderland” is delightfully subversive. (Many of the poems in Alice are parodies of preachy poetry children were forced to memorize and recite in school; the originals are forgotten, the parodies are remembered.)

In 1913, Franklin K. Matthews, a librarian for the Boy Scouts of America, began promoting the idea of a Children’s Book Week. The first such event in 1916 was called “Good Book Week.” It became an annual event known as Children’s Book Week in 1919.

In 1944, the Association of Children’s Book Editors founded the Children’s Book Council to run Children’s Book Week. In 1998, Every Child A Reader was established, which took over running the event. Activities during the week include the “How Do You Book? Challenge” where young readers explore what, where, and how they read, downloadable drawing lessons from popular illustrators, and activities for homes, libraries, bookstores, school — just about anywhere you can get kids together, put a book in their hands, and turn loose their imaginations.

For more information about Children’s Book Week, click here.

Interested in early/older children’ books? Project Gutenberg, Distributed Proofreaders and the Library of Congress all have books to read online.