Alphabet books have been giving advice to children for two centuries, says University of Rochester librarian Mary M. Huth.

By comparing 19th- and 20th-century books, one sees a shift in attitudes toward childhood. "In the 19th century, life was short; books admonished children to prepare their souls for the hereafter. A book might show a coffin to illustrate `C.' "Contemporary children's books offer upbeat advice such as "Eat right, take a bath, and save your money."