“Books for Young People Have Stories to Tell Us about Ourselves”
by Vivian Evans
Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the New York Public Library’s exhibit entitled: “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.” This exhibit continues until March 23, 2014. The show’s nearly 250 books and artifacts are woven together by the curator, Leonard S. Marcus. The moment I stepped through the door I felt like a child stepping back in time to the candy store down the street. Memories of delicious thoughts and feelings arose as I viewed books I devoured in my youth and then revisited with my children. The exhibit argues, “books for young people have stories to tell us about ourselves.”
The first artifact is a 1727 edition of “The New-England Primer” –“the oldest known copy of the most influential American children’s book of the 18th lessons found in books of that time. It is open to A for Adam: “In Adam’s Fall/We Sinned all.” B is for Bible: “Thy Life to mend/This Book attend.” Continuing on are other examples of books written to teach.
This historical survey of children’s books is the first part of the exhibit. Moving along, one finds displays of fairy tales and the progression of the here and now in children’s literature. There is a life-size wall cut-out of a monster from Where the Wild Things Are with the quote behind “And Max the king of all wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.” After stepping through this cut-out, turning around you find the wall covered in fur.
There is a life-size cut-out of Alice whose neck grows and then shrinks with the quote beside it. “Just at this moment her head struck against the roof of the hall: in fact she was now rather more than nine feet high.”
An exhibit about Hans Christian Anderson, “A Great Dane,” tells about his life and the type of fairy tales he told. Several original copies of his work are displayed. Edward Lear’s Nonsense Verses are recorded and can be viewed on a nearby wall with an original drawing of his.
The great green room of Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon appears with the window cut out for stepping through. There is also an enlargement of Charlotte’s web with the words “terrific, radiant and humble” woven into it.
Some of my favorite artifacts on display were the original stuffed animals belonging to Christopher Robin, the peacock umbrella and nanny doll P. L. Travers owned, and the original manuscript to The Secret Garden written by Frances Hodges Burnett.
The exhibit has original drawings from The Wizard of Oz, Madeline, and The Wind in the Willows. A nice display of Eric Carle’s hand-dyed papers he created to use in his collages is shown. There is also a wonderful original die-cut from This Little Light of Mine. Quilts made by Faith Ringgold to honor African-American authors can also be found.
An excellent display of banned books really drives home the crazy reasoning over the years. Eight books are highlighted including: Little Black Sambo, Pippi Longstockings, And Tango Makes Three, and Huckleberry Finn. A large tower has been built with book titles stacked to the ceiling of books that have been banned.
There are also great displays about many authors and illustrators such as Randolf Caldecott, John Newbery, E. B. White, Wanda Gag, and J. K. Rowling.
Children’s books make such an impact on society and reflect our many values. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this exhibition with the great information and artifacts it displayed. I highly recommend taking the time to see it if you are in New York over the holidays or before it closes March 23, 2014.
A long time member and former president of The Children’s Literature Association of Utah, Vivian loves people and books. When the two come together, she is especially happy.