Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books

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Osborne Collection header image

A world-leading research collection of rare and notable children’s books.

Our 80,000+ items include book-related art, toys, games and archival items on authorship and promotion of books for young readers. The collection has four parts:

To learn more, jump to collection details & highlights.

Digitized items

Some items are available on the library's Digital Archive.

View digitized items

Plan your visit

Using the collection

All are welcome! Walk in to see exhibits or ask questions.

To access items, you simply need to fill out a brief form and show one piece of identification when you arrive.

Items can only be viewed in the Osborne Collection's space.


Lillian H. Smith Branch (239 College Street), 4th floor


10:00 am to 6:00 pm
10:00 am to 6:00 pm
10:00 am to 6:00 pm
10:00 am to 6:00 pm
10:00 am to 6:00 pm
9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Check Holiday Hours for closures on or near public holidays.

Class or group visits

Contact us to schedule talks and tours for groups and classes (Grade 4 to Grade 8, High School, college and university classes).




Exhibits & events

Collection details & highlights

The Osborne Collection

Items encompassing the development of English children’s literature up to and including 1910. Includes:

  • a manuscript of Aesop’s fables from the 14th century
  • traditional tales from the 15th century
  • school texts from the 16th century
  • chapbooks, moral tales and instructional games from the 18th century
  • Victorian classics of fantasy adventure and school stories up to 1910 (end of the Edwardian era)
  • Florence Nightingale’s childhood library
  • Queen Mary’s children’s books
  • materials related to the Taylor family of Ongar
  • the Pettingell Collection of periodicals and penny dreadfuls
  • extensive holdings of the works of G. A. Henty
  • the John Sullivan Hayes Collection, mostly 19th- and 20th-century English children’s books and Canadiana

oldest cuneiform tablet Our oldest item. Cuneiform tablet, circa 2000 B.C.E.

The Lillian H. Smith Collection

Items of literary and artistic merit published in English after 1910, including:

  • picture books
  • fairy tales
  • early and first editions of modern children’s classics
  • manuscripts and archival materials related to several authors such as Susan Cooper and Kevin Crossley-Holland
  • early and modern movable books and pop-ups

opened book with chapter title jack and the beanstalk and illustrations popping out of page Tony Sarg’s surprise book. Movable book from 1941.

The Canadiana Collection

A representative selection of 19th- and 20th-century children’s books related to Canada. Also, includes books whose illustrators or publishers are associated with Canada. Includes:

Paper dollhouse with small figures standing inside The Anne of Green Gables Pop-Up Dollhouse, 1994.

The Jean Thomson Collection of Original Art

Over 5,000 original illustrations of children’s books ranging from woodcuts to watercolours, from aquatints to multimedia. Includes illustrators such as:

  • Edward Ardizzone
  • Randolph Caldecott
  • Elizabeth Cleaver
  • Walter Crane
  • Laszlo Gal
  • Marie-Louise Gay
  • Margaret Bloy Graham
  • Kate Greenaway
  • James Houston
  • Arthur Rackham
  • Barbara Reid
  • Maurice Sendak

Illustration of paperbag princess with dragon and a castle Illustration from The Paper Bag Princess, Copyright 1980 Michael Martchenko

Virtual Exhibits

Worlds Away!: Wild Inventions at Osborne

When Cinderella Went to the Ball: Five Hundred Years of Fairy Tales

Picture Perfect! – An Exhibit of Canadian Picture Book Art

This Magical Book: Movable Books for children, 1771-2001

Finding aids

PDFs detailing our holdings of notable people and subjects related to children’s literature.


Barbauld. Anna Laetitia (Aikin)

Bodger, Joan

Cook, Lyn

Cooper, Susan

Doyle, Brian

Evans, Edmund

Froebel (educational materials)

Gay, Marie-Louise

Granfield, Linda

Greenwood, Barbara

Harris, Dorothy Joan

Hunter, Bernice Thurman

Khan, Rukhsana

Kushner, Donn

Malcolmson, Anne

Masefield, John (albums of correspondence)

Mould, Vernon

Muller, Robin

Oppel, Kenneth

Parry, Caroline Balderson

Potter, Beatrix (letters)

St. John, Judith (librarian)

Sherwood, Mary Martha

Slade, Arthur

Strickland, family

Sutcliff, Rosemary


Boys and Girls House (Toronto Public Library)

Children’s Bookstore [in progress]

Groundwood Books [in progress]

Letters (literary letters by children’s authors)

Manuscripts (single manuscript book collection)

Toronto Public Library TD Summer Reading Club

History of collection


Edgar Osborne, a British librarian, visits Toronto Public Library’s Boys and Girls House. He is impressed by the range and quality of children’s services flourishing under the library’s first head of children’s services, Lillian H. Smith.


The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books is established when Edgar Osborne donates his personal collection of around 2,000 rare and notable children’s books to Toronto Public Library. It is donated as a research collection for historical children’s literature.


Lillian H. Smith Collection is established to mark the 50th anniversary of Toronto’s first children’s libraries. It is named after the first professionally trained children’s librarian in the British Empire.


The Jean Thomson Collection of Original Art is established. It is named after former children’s librarian and head of Toronto Public Library, Jean Thomson.

Support the collection

Friends of the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books

Established in 1966, the Friends support acquisitions, conservation, digitization and outreach for the Osborne Collection through fundraising and special events.

Osborne logo with transparent background

Friends website

Toronto Public Library Foundation

Toronto Public Library Foundation raises funds in support of the exemplary collections, ground-breaking programs and services, and innovative community spaces at Toronto Public Library. Donors can designate their gift in support of the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books.

Donate to the Foundation