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Children's Literature @ NYPL

Step Into a Story Book: "The ABC of It" Exhibition at the Library


The Library makes it convenient to see fantastic displays of children's books with its The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter exhibit in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building that is going on through March of 2014. I was inspired to visit the display by the fact that its curator, Leonard Marcus, is being featured in two Children's Literary Salons. The exhibit offers a superbly fascinating look at children's literature through history. I was surprised and delighted by the books that are displayed, the artistry of the 3D exhibits, and the sense of wonder and imagination that is imparted by the books, the prose about them, and the physical arrangement of the items related to children's literature. Books from other countries and multi-lingual books are also included.

There are many extremely old and rare books that have been instrumental in the field of children's literature in the display. These include: The New England Primer, published 1727, See and Say: a Picture Book in Four Languages, 1955, A Pretty Little Pocket Book, 1787, Some Thoughts Concerning Education by John Locke, 1693, Aesop's Fables With His Life in English, French, and Latin, 1666, The Phantom Tollbooth, 1961, The American Spelling Book by Noah Webster, 1793, and The Cat in the Hat, 1957. In a couple of places in the exhibit, there resides a cache of children's books such as Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems that exhibit-goers can read and enjoy.

Books as Love, Moral Education and/or Nationalism Instillers?

The exhibit covers the variety of purposes that books serve; some are used for moral education, some are used to teach linguistic skills, some are used to express love and affection, and some are used for recreation or a combination of these. Rhyme is used to teach language, and some books are used to instill nationalism in children. Children's books can also be quite playful. In the past, as is the case today, upper-class youngsters have access to more books than lower-class folk.

The Goodnight Moon exhibit is stunning. A solid green wall is used to illustrate a page of that book. In front of the wall a coffee table is featured with the book propped up. There is a framed painting of a cow jumping over a moon on the wall and a window with drapes that kids could climb through. The wall looks like a page from the book has sprung to life in a super-sized way.

The Alice in Wonderland wall is not to be forgotten. A three-foot tall square opening allows kids to go "down the rabbit hole." Inside the opening is an illustration of the Mad Hatter, and a line drawing of Alice decorates the white wall.

Where the Wild Things Are by the famed Maurice Sendak is also amply represented. A gigantic golden crown with a hole in it the shape of a Wild Thing's body, complete with barbed tail, invites exhibit-goers to walk through. Directly in front of the opening are the lines from the book:

"And Max
the king of all Wild Things
was lonely
and wanted to be
where someone
loved him
best of all."

The Father of Fairy Tales

Hans Christian Anderson is honored with a display that dubs him "A Great Dane." His work, The Nightingale and Other Stories, ca. 1910 - 1914, among others, is included.

E-books are offered to patrons on the iPads that are strategically placed around the exhibit. One can read story books by turning the pages electronically. I am glad that 21st-century methods of consuming children's literature are included in the display.

A line drawing of a spider hangs out on the wall that displays Charlotte's Web. The spider's web surrounds the book, and featured in the web are the words, "radiance," "terrific," and "humble."

A huge red gift box that visitors can walk through is opened to reveal The Poky Little Puppy, 1947, published by Little Golden Books. I remember those books from my childhood.

Original Winnie-the-Pooh Dolls

The original Winnie-the-Pooh dolls from the books written by A. A. Milne in the 1920s are present. Winnie, Eeyore, Piglet, and Kanga the Kangaroo dolls are in a glass case. Try as I might, I could not recall the character Kanga from my childhood.

Another display informs visitors that "no dogs or children in the public libraries" was the policy prior to about 1900, the time of juvenile rights. Anne Carroll Moore, children's librarian from the New York Public Library, was instrumental in changing that policy. She was friends with Beatrix Potter, whose The Tale of Peter Rabbit book, is displayed.

Eight old-fashioned book pockets adorn one of the exhibit walls. A due date slip in each of them broadcasts a quote by a famous author. Ray Bradbury proudly proclaims that: "Libraries raised me."

Homage is also paid to comic books, which have long been considered by many educators to be useless for children. Superheroes decorate the case, which also features a variety of graphic novels.

Mary Poppins has her own wall display, which featured streaming video from the movie that spawned from the book.

The Secret Garden is represented by an ivy-covered arch that surrounds a manuscript from the book that was written in 1910.

Original drawings from The Wizard of Oz are displayed on one of the walls.

Harry Potter Mania

The fastest-selling book in history was the last book of the Harry Potter series. 11 million copies were sold in the first 24 hours. The New York Times Review is pictured on one of the exhibit walls, and it prominently lists the wildly popular books by J. K. Rowling. Issues of Vanity Fair, Book, Mad, and Time sport Harry Potter and friends on the cover, along with the books.

The bull Ferdinand from The Story of Ferdinand is illustrated on a wall, and the Disney promotional poster for it is displayed.

The urban metropolis that is New York is featured in a square area of the exhibit. This city is the book publishing capital of the world. Many authors have called this city home, and the children's books that are produced here help nurture kids' imaginations.

The exhibit features a Q & A station. One of the questions was the following: How many Bobbsey Twins are there?, and the answer is 4.

Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar is displayed along with other picture books. I love the art in picture books. Some of it is so intricate, delicate, expressive, etc. The art makes the literature so tantalizing to consume.

If you have not had a chance to see "The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter" exhibit, take a trip down to the "library with the lions" through March of 2014, and enjoy a feast for your eyes. There are many other books in the exhibits and features that I was not able to describe in this blog. Many thanks to its brilliant curator, Leonard Marcus, and the New York Public Library for hosting this very important and enlightening exhibit.


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The ABC of It Children's Book Exhibit

What a joy! Wonderful job by the curator. I realize every book every child loves can't be included, but I was surprised not to see The Little Red Lighthouse and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel among all the deserving books included. But I loved it, and I look forward to more great exhibits like this one.

Hi Oscar,

Hi Oscar, Good point. Unfortunately, due to the huge volume of terrific books that have been published, the curator could only include a small percentage of children's books in the display.

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