The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XVI. Children’s Books

§ 2. The Hornbook

Such works as these—the powder of learning with the jam of amusement thinly spread—stand midway between the only two other kinds of written or printed books for children in the Norman, Plantagenet and Tudor centuries. The pure lesson-book—powder and no jam—was, of course, a necessity. It is not of great interest or value here to pursue its history in detail, and its position has already been discussed. Alphabets were printed in numbers from the sixteenth century onwards; the stationers’ records give many entries. In the same century, the hornbook appeared—an alphabet, a short syllabary, and, usually, the Lord’s prayer, printed on a little sheet of paper, nailed on a piece of board of the shape of a spade’s head and covered with transparent horn. It conferred two words on the language—“criss-cross-row” and “ampersand.” This invention was succeeded, late in the eighteenth century, by the battledore, a folded card containing, as well as the literary elements, a few wood-block illustrations; battledores were still being manufactured in 1840, so sluggish and yet so long is the stream of elementary instruction. Alphabetical rimes began to appear under Elizabeth, though familiar verses or jingles like “A was an Apple-pie” did not get into print (they may have been in oral existence) till at least a century later.