Thursday, April 24, 2014

The ABC Of It: Why Children's Books Matter - An Exhibit At The New York Public Library

This exhibit at the library's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Gottesman Exhibition Hall (the main building with the famous lions at 5th Avenue and 42nd street in Manhattan) is well worth checking out!

As described on the library's website:

The ABC of It draws on collections across the Library to present the literature for children and teens against a sweeping backdrop of history, the arts, popular culture, and technological change. The books and related objects on view reveal hidden historical contexts and connections and invite second looks and fresh discoveries. They suggest that books for young people have stories to tell us about ourselves, and are rarely as simple as they seem. 

I took a docent tour, and found so many things that were fascinating and made me take notice. It was one of those exhibits where I imagine every time through you could find new things, and that five people coming out of the exhibit would have seven different take-aways to discuss!

Some of my personal highlights:

An actual New-England Primer (the oldest-known copy, from 1727.) This was extra-interesting since I had just read "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" by Elizabeth George Speare in which the Primer plays an important role... 

The shift away from viewing children as sinners (as in the Primer) to being wonderstruck is shown by William Blake's "Songs of Innocence" from 1794.

The idea that the best way to educate children is by delighting them, put forth by John Locke.

The story of how when Alice in Wonderland was first published, the real author (Professor) Charles Lutwidge Dodgson used the pseudonym "Lewis Carroll" so he would not be publicly embarrassed by having it known that he had written a children's book! 

"Slovely Peter, or Happy Tales and Funny Pictures" caught my eye, because it's one of the few books my parents had from their childhoods in Israel that I grew up with here in America. I learned in this exhibit that the book was originally created by Heinrich Hoffmann in 1844, was a huge hit in Germany, and ended up getting translated into many different languages, including; in Israel, into Hebrew; and in America, into English... by none other than Mark Twain!

The actual stuffed animals that inspired Winnie The Pooh and friends (A.A. Milne had purchased them for his son Christopher Robin Milne, who had originally named the bear "Edward.")

The exhibit had some visually dramatic installation moments as well, including:

The "Where The Wild Things Are" arch that you could walk through! 

A display of cartoon action figures, tied into the section on comics.

A tribute to banned books, with a central column built from challenged books. On either side of the column they went into more detail about eight of the books and the challenges those books faced. I knew most of those, but "The Rabbit's Wedding" by Garth Williams in 1958 was a revelation!

The final exhibition room, "Storied City: New York" was about New York City itself, and the often starring role it has had in children's literature.

It held one more moment that delighted me:

This amazing illustration from Roald Dahl's "James and the Giant Peach"

Beautifully curated by Leonard S. Marcus, if you can make it to see "The ABC Of It: Why Children's Books Matter," do! The exhibit is free to the public, and open until Sunday September 7, 2014.

Illustrate and Write On,


Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

I'm so glad I got to see it while at the SCBWI NY conference!! :) e

CA Clark said...

oh I wish I could visit that exhibit. Thank you for sharing this.