Mini museum for kids and adults explores reading material
The exhibit traces the history of the genre from The New England Primer, a 1727 book of moral lessons, to Fun with Dick and Jane from the 1930s, through modern day bestsellers such as the Harry Potter series. There is much to learn along the way. Folklore and fairy tales laid the groundwork for many children’s stories, but political and religious agendas have been subtly or not so subtly influential.
Photographs, manuscripts, correspondence, and recordings are among the 250 items from the library’s archives that illuminate the volumes on display.
A fascinating side gallery presents a number of books that were mired in controversy at one time. The Diary of Anne Frank, Little Black Sambo, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and A Wrinkle in Time are among those once considered taboo and part of a conversation on what is appropriate for young readers, and what is true and accurate in classic books.
Art may be more important than text in children’s books, and top illustrators are represented here. One watercolor by Arthur Rackham – a pioneer in the field known for visualizing Grimm’s Fairy Tales – is displayed next to the jacket of Where the Wild Things Are, suggesting it was an inspiration for Maurice Sendak. Pencil vignettes from 1885 by John Tenniel, the illustrator for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, show his development over time. A photograph of Alice Liddell in costume informs viewers of the real-life inspiration for Alice.
Nostalgia could wash over adults at every turn. A Winnie the Pooh display of the original stuffed animals – Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet, and Kanga – precedes a display of artwork from Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The 1960s are represented with such original editions as Harriet the Spy and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
The exhibit is an ersatz playground for children. They can pretend to drive a miniaturized car from The Phantom Tollbooth, slide through a window in the life-sized great green room from Goodnight Moon, or cozy up in a reading niche decked out with picture books. The colorful gallery design is beautifully executed and is an appealing backdrop for photographs, or just an afternoon of make-believe.
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