Comprehensive, practical and well‑informed, Barbara Mabbett

School Textbooks published in New Zealand to 1960
Hugh Price,
Dunmore Press with Gondwanaland Press, $33

In introducing this bibliography, Hugh Price modestly invites us to recognise the ‘good case’ for adding educational book publishers, to the teacher-student, relationship that is normally seen as the basis of the business of education. In fact, pedagogical innovation is inseparable from the materials that support (or impede) classroom practice. Responsive and lively publishers are essential to the process of putting fine theories to work.

This bibliography is an invaluable reference for scholars wanting to explore whether our publications have promoted, or inhibited, the opportunities for good teaching. Inadequate attention has hitherto been accorded to the systematic collection of school texts. Price has drawn on his own extensive library and two other major collections, and with meticulous detective work has assembled and annotated a listing of around 2,000 titles, including 340 bulletins published by the Department of Education. The works are organised in approximately chronological order under 34 subject headings, running from Agriculture, through Cadets and Drawing, to Speech Training and Typing. Appendices include the School Bulletins and – interestingly, considering the dominance of Whitcombe and Tombs in the bibliography as a whole – the truncated educational list currently held by Whitcoulls. There is an index.

Price’s publishers have served him well: the selection of the New Century Schoolbook font is wryly appropriate, the layout spacious and consistent, and a well-selected range of illustrations enlivens most sections. Readers will gain immediate delight from these exemplar pages: the frontispiece is the wonderful, often-quoted ‘First Primer’ text: I am on an ox. Lo! It is my ox … As I go on, my ox is to go in. Those reared on Arithmetic will recognise the sums calculating the cost per mile of repairing a road, given the terrifying data that 6 miles, 3 fur, 18 per of a road had cost £371/13s/5d. Offering gratitude for the decimal system, the browser comes upon other quirky information: an arithmetic book was published in Cook Islands Maori about 1888, an 1899 Drawing textbook gave exercises reproducing not only the design of the Union Jack, but also the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand; the Vere Foster Copy Books, first published in 1915, were still in print in 1985.

A major research area supported by a bibliography of this type is that of social history: what perception would children taught from these textbooks develop of their country and its place in the world? Despite the prevalence of British history in the familiar series, Our Nation’s Story there were serious attempts to offer a more New Zealand-centred view through works by such writers as Mona Tracy, Gwen Somerset and Jessie McKay.

The listings under Journals include not only the School Journal, uninterrupted since its inception in 1907, but also Journals in Cook Islands Maori, Niuean and Samoan. In view of the impact of the School Journal on both teaching styles and writing for children, a fuller descriptive statement of its purpose and principles would be justified.

Any bibliographical organisation raises some quibbles: why list the Broadcast to Schools Song Books under Journals rather than Music or Singing? Indeed, why separate these two subjects? Separate listings for English, Grammar, Reading, and Story Books reflect a publisher’s rather than a teacher’s divisions. There is an idiosyncratic group of Teachers Books which whets the appetite but does not satisfy. The Social Studies chapter could have noted that this subject was not defined and introduced until the mid-forties, thus accounting for all relevant publications appearing after 1947.

These minor points, though, do not detract from a comprehensive, practical, well-informed reference, invaluable for the researcher and rewarding for the curious casual inquirer. The quality of this bibliography places it appropriately with Bagnall, Gilderdale and others as a primary resource in our small but significant list of key New Zealand documents.


Barbara Mabbett, a former teacher, teacher-librarian and curriculum officer, is now General Manager of Learning Media, Department of Education.


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