Treasures from Four Historic Kid Lit Collections

Curators shared the history and scope of their children's literature collections at a recent New York City event.

Speakers at the event: from left, Susannah Richards, Eastern Connecticut State University; Ellen Keiter, the Carle Museum; Lisa Von Drasek, the Kerlan Collection; Ellen Ruffin, the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection; and John Bidwell, the Morgan Library

Not many librarians and educators realize that children’s literature treasures are housed in several institutions across the country. At a recent event in New York City for members of the children’s book publishing community, the Children’s Book Council brought together representatives from the Morgan Library and Museum, the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, the Kerlan Collection, and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art to talk about what they have in their collections. Each speaker shared the history and scope in their archives. John Bidwell, curator at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, mentioned that among the library’s 1,000 items is the first English edition of Heidi, from 1885, as well as a copy of Where the Wild Things Are, autographed by Maurice Sendak “to his psychiatrist.” The latter was acquired for the museum by Justin Schiller, antiquarian book collector, when, in 2009, the library was preparing a Sendak exhibit and realized it did not have a copy of the book in its collection. When an exhibit at the Morgan is over, users still have access to the resources, including text, images, and sounds. The library’s 2015 exhibit Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland is still accessible as an online resource, which includes music that was inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well as a 51-minute film version produced in 1931. Other online exhibits include Jean de Brunhoff's Histoire de Babar Maquette. Lisa Von Drasek, curator of the University of Minnesota’s Kerlan Collection, shared a photocopy of a first draft of the first page of Kate DiCamillo’s Newbery Honor book Because of Winn-Dixie. She called it “a God-awful mess” to illustrate the importance of collecting the drafts and notes of children’s book authors and illustrators. “We have a friendly competition to collect trash can stuff for our collections,” added Ellen Ruffin, associate professor and curator at the de Grummond. The Kerlan collection spans the illustration studies and manuscript for Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats to Adam Rex’s journals. In addition to online exhibits, including Balloons over Broadway, Melissa Sweet, and the Engineering of a Children's Book, the Kerlan is currently in the process of creating digital portfolios and lesson plans for some of the authors and works held in the collection. A teaching portfolio for The Tale of Despereaux by DiCamillo already is available.

Ezra Jack Keats drawing with a child in 1979 Photo credit: the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection

Those interested in a photograph of Ezra Jack Keats in his studio or a New Year’s card from Margret and H.A. Rey can find them in the digital collection of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi. In addition to its extensive collection of materials from Keats, the Reys, Kate Greenaway, and Randolph Caldecott, the museum has hosted the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival for the past 50 years. Established in 2002, the collection at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art was the youngest in the group. The museum has large holdings of works by Leo Lionni, William Steig, Petra Mathers, Arnold Lobel, Ashley Bryan, and Simms Taback. The museum recently received a gift of 145 illustrations from the family of Leonard Weisgard, which highlights the collaboration between Weisgard and Margaret Wise Brown. Many of the works donated to the museum required conservation treatment after being stored in a barn in Denmark without the benefits of proper climate control. The work is currently being accomplished with a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. In 2019, the Carle is planning an exhibit on Paddington Bear while the Morgan will have an exhibit based on Sendak’s 900 theatrical drawings.

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