This article draws upon data from the Historical Thesaurus of English (HTE) to explore, the lexical field of laughter in a corpus of thirteen children’s novels. The thirteen novels are all from the first ‘Golden Age’ of children’s literature in English, namely the late 19th and early 20th century. The study takes items in the HTE’s lexical domain of laughter and identifies the frequency, distribution and collocation of those items as they appear in the corpus. The results are discussed with reference to the ways in which different lexicalisations of laughter indicate the authorial stance towards childhood and also towards members of the communities represented in the novels. By indicating, through the representation of different types of laughter, the author’s preferred moral stance towards particular individuals and groups, the novels prompt young readers to accept or challenge modes of behaviour that exemplify or threaten communal values and good citizenship. The study thus demonstrates how readers of children’s literature from the ‘Golden Age’ are linguistically conditioned to reject negative forms of laughter and instead embrace positive forms, as they move from the undisciplined laughter of childhood to the relative restraint of adulthood.