Monday, September 1, 2014

Review and Highlights of The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter (a history of children's literature exhibit at the New York Public Library until September 7th)

I recently had the opportunity to visit The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter in New York City. What first inspired me to visit the exhibit was reading that the original stuffed animals that inspired A.A. Milne to write the Winnie the Pooh series are on display. I went to the exhibit thinking that it would be a small display of books and facts about children's book history, but I found that it is so much more than that.

The curator, Leonard S. Marcus, is a children's book historian, book critic and author. I just have to say that he is brilliant. Walking into the exhibit is like walking into a miniature museum. It is divided into sections that each focus on a different theme, and each section features tons of facts, displays and original artwork. Visions of Childhood is the first section, and it features displays that take visitors through the various philosophical, psychological, theological and educational perspectives of childhood that have shown up in children's literature through history. One highlight of this section is the original illustrations of William Blake's Songs of Innocence.

Another section of the exhibit is titled Raising a Ruckus, and it displays the history of controversy that has surrounded children's literature through the decades. Artistry of the Picture Book is another section of the exhibit, and it displays the ways that picture books have emerged and changed through the years- from sketches and drawings to color printing and eventually graphic design. It even features original sketches and artwork from famous illustrators like Eric Carle.

The exhibit also featured a section titled Storied City: New York that highlights famous children's book authors who originally came from New York. It also highlights the beloved children's book characters who call the city home (such as Eloise, for example), as well as books that are based on the diverse cultures and neighborhoods of New York City.

Another interesting section of the exhibit (and probably my favorite part) is titled From Page to Stage and Beyond. This part of the exhibit focuses on the many children's books that have inspired movies, T.V. programs, gift items and more. What is most interesting about this part of the exhibit is the display on P.L. Travers' character, Mary Poppins. This display features P.L. Travers' own umbrella that inspired the same umbrella mentioned in her stories, as well as information about how the story changed between Travers' original book and the adapted Disney film that was inspired by the book (if you have seen the movie Saving Mr. Banks you probably know a little bit of the back-story behind the changes that were made and how Travers felt about it. If you haven't seen the movie yet, I highly recommend it!). This part of the exhibit also featured artwork from the original books as well as film clips from the Disney film.

The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter will be at the New York Public Library until September 7th, so if you would like to check it out you still have some time! If you are unable to visit New York City before September 7th, you might be interested in checking out Leonard S. Marcus' website to learn more about his research and all of the wonderful information he has about the history of children's literature.