Juvenile Trials is an innovative story about a group of children who set up trials for petty crimes.
What happens in the story?
The book is part of a popular tradition of morality tales intended to improve the moral conduct of children. In the story the tutor and governess put their pupils on trial for their juvenile misdemeanours, getting them to act as judge and jury to each other. The children’s ‘crimes’ include trespassing on a farmer’s land, stealing apples from an orchard and squabbling over a basket of sweetmeats. Through role play the children learn to discipline each other and themselves. In fact, the scheme is such a success that the court is dissolved.
What can we learn from the first image?
The front image shows a rather formal court scene. The title page next to it highlights the importance of morality from an early age, since children grow up ‘as they first are fashion’d’. The witnesses are helpfully given names such as ‘Telltruth’ and ‘Trusty’ to underline their characters.
Who wrote Juvenile Trials?
Richard Johnson is the presumed author of Juvenile Trials. He was a prolific writer of children’s books, who also wrote under a variety of pseudonyms, such as 'Revd. W. D. Cooper', and 'Master Tommy Littleton'. His involvement in at least 50 books included writing, compiling, abridging and translating. Much of his work was published with John Newbery and his successors, who were the first publishers to make Children’s books a profitable. He was the first writer to produce an English text of the Arabian Nights for children, circa 1791.