Hordeing our History

Alison Morris - July 5, 2007

In honor of the links between yesterday’s Fourth-related festivities and U.S. history, I thought I’d mention a handful of places that are helping to preserve the history of children’s literature.

A few years ago we held a meeting of the New England Independent Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council at the University of Connecticut’s Thomas J. Dodd Research Center where the curators allowed us to handle some of the materials housed in the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I was allowed to leaf through the sketchbooks of James Marshall and drawings by Barbara Cooney.

This year our group paid a visit to the Rare Books Department of the Boston Public Library, whose Juvenile Collection houses some gems. I fell in love with M. Boutet de Monvel’s illustrations for his children’s book Jeanne d’Arc and was surprised to learn that the BPL is the repository of the world’s largest Joan of Arc collection. (Quelle surprise!) It’s also home to the Paul and Ethel J. Heins Collection, which "contains 4,500 children’s books used by the former Horn Book Magazine editors in their work as critics, teachers, and reviewers of children’s literature."

Worcester, just a short drive west of Boston, is home to the American Antiquarian Society, which is not only in possession of an impressive collection of American children’s books, but also houses a collection of book salesman’s samples, a searchable directory of 19th Century publishers, catalogs from booksellers and book auctioneers "which include examples from the beginnings of the American wholesale and retail book trades," library catalogs, bookplates and booksellers’ labels and more.

While I don’t often find myself in Southern Mississippi, someday I’d like to travel there long enough to visit the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, which is renowned for its collection of 100,000 children’s books (the oldest of which dates back to 1530) and original illustrations and manuscripts from more than 1,200 authors and illustrators. It’d be nice to spend an hour or two looking through the Ezra Jack Keats Archive, studying things like the typescript for The Snowy Day.

Thanks to the Library of Congress, though, none of us has to leave the comforts of home to view the contents of a classic illustrated children’s book. Some of the books in the LOC’s Rare Book and Special Collections division have been digitized, so you can actually view them page-by-page from the chair you’re sitting in at this very moment, without having to relocate said chair to Washington, D.C. If you’ve got time to look through just one, I recommend peeking at the wonderful illusrations in The Baby’s Own Aesop: Being the Fables Condensed in Rhyme, With Portable Morals Pictorially Pointed by Walter Crane.

Want more suggestions? Mapping out your travel route? Take a look at the "Special Collections in Children’s Literature Wikiography" from ALSC.

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