Imagine a children’s book designed to encourage a toddler to learn the thrill of accomplishment by, say, climbing up a flight of stairs. Today, that book would probably be full-color drawings. In 1902, Elder & Shepard published such a book, George Hansen’s Ascent of Man, consisting of a series of photographs of a real toddler, Hansen’s own son Roland.
The Ascent of Man was just one of a series of five booklets, all featuring the young Roland:
- The Ascent of Man
- Lima Beans
- In Company
- His Calculations
Due to a debilitating spinal injury, George Hansen spent the last dozen years of his life largely confined to his house and garden. The photographs for Baby Roland were taken by Hansen at the family home at 2705 Hearst Ave. in Berkeley. The house no longer exists.
There is no typesetting in any of the booklets; all the text and decorations are drawn by hand, almost certainly by Morgan Shepard. The cover and title pages also feature photographs of Roland. To best display the photographs, the paper is coated stock, instead of the laid paper usually favored by Elder. The endpapers are impregnated with thin strips of tree bark, a style used by Elder in several other titles.
Morgan Shepard, who spent most of his adult life writing and publishing books for children, probably coordinated the whole project, as perhaps he also did with Hansen’s book What is a Kindergarten?, published the previous year.
The Baby Roland booklets are now quite scarce.