What happens in this book?
No fewer than 13 children die within the pages of this children’s book. It might seem ghoulish to read a children's book about death, but when this book was first published attitudes to death were very different. Child mortality was high, and not everyone made it to adulthood. Religion also played an important role in people's lives. Everyone had to go to church by law, and people believed that heaven and hell were real places, rather than imaginary concepts.
Who wrote this book?
James Janeway was a Puritan minister and author, whose books were widely read. A Token for Children was first published in 1671–72. Janeway wrote it to help spread his religious message and save children from Hell. He wanted to provide examples from the lives and ‘joyful deaths’ of children so that the reader could learn how to reach Heaven. Puritans like Janeway believed that every child was born sinful and had to accept God, and live a pious life, in order to earn salvation. In the Preface, Janeway states:
How art thou affected, poor Child, in the Reading of this Book? Have you shed ever a tear since you begun reading? Have you been by your self upon you knees; and begging that God would make you like these blessed Children? or are you as you use to be, as careless & foolish and disobedient and wicked as ever?
Was the book popular?
The book was still in print in 1875, two centuries after it was first published. It's hard to imagine children enjoying reading about death, but this suggests that they may have enjoyed it. It would certainly have been popular with parents who wanted to raise pious and God-fearing children.