Finally, I found something that could give me a glance into a child's life that varied from the harsh tales I'd heard of children working long hours, being abused and of having a high death rate.
Cobwebs to Catch Flies, a book to teach children reading, is not a dark look at the past. This primer, published in 1785 gives a happy look at previous era.
The stories in this book might even engage a beginning reader today. Free on Google books, it's an uplifting look at childhood that is different from Dickens' Oliver Twist. It almost reminds me of the same book my teacher used to show me how to read. I probably would have preferred Cobwebs over Dick and Jane.
Reading between the lines is fun too, particularly when the author makes a hint about how much some people spend.