A Celebration of Children’s Books at the New York Public Library

Image of a child inside NYPL goodnight moon exhibition, with a window, fireplace, and lamp painted on the wall

It’s no surprise that the New York Public Library would put on a major exhibition on the history and cultural influence of children’s books. After all, it’s not really news anymore that kid’s books–the upper tier of kid’s books, anyway, which is getting more and more crowded of late–should be considered literature right alongside their adult counterparts. As W.H. Auden said: “There are no good books which are only for children.” And even those books that have little value as literature but become monster bestsellers (think: the roundly hated but Dick and Jane series) can reveal a great deal about the culture that embrace them. What is surprising, and delightfully so, is how much visual pop and excitement the NYPL show brings to fill the space, without turning it in a theme park, nor losing the often complex argument behind the exhibition’s theme, Why Children’s Books Matter. Really nicely done, curator Leonard S. Marcus.

At the start of the Public Library's children's book exhibition is this book, which is the oldest known copy, circa 1727, of The New-England Primer

A Celebration of Children’s Books at NYPL

The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter is at the NYPL’s main branch, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, in the big gallery right off the main entrance on Fifth Avenue. The exhibition is set up in somewhat chronologically, starting with the oldest known copy (from 1727), of The New-England Primer, which was entirely focused on a child’s spiritual salvation, and ending up more or less with Harry Potter. In between there are fascinating tidbits, via the excellent note cards that accompany each display, on the likes of Dr. Seuss and Goodnight Moon, Alice in Wonderland and Mary Poppins, the Very Hungry Caterpillar and the Poky Little Puppy, Winnie the Pooh, Charlotte’s Web, and Harold and his purple crayon. “Behind every children’s book,” says a note on the wall, “is a vision of childhood: a shared understanding of what growing up is all about.”

The Mary Poppins section of the NYPL children's book exhibition, with a black and white painting of Mary Poppins on the wall, paired with a TV playing the movie.

The Classic Children’s Novels Within the Exhibition

Also here at the New York Public Library’s children’s book exhibition is a salute to the “subversive” pleasures of superhero comic books and Mad Magazine, presented in a display that cleverly riffs on the old “sneak-under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight” cliche. There’s an appropriately ominous-looking room with the stories behind banned books through the ages (A Wrinkle In Time has been forced out of school libraries for being both “too Christian” and “Christian in wrong way”). And there are wonderful bits of ephemera throughout, including my favorite, a set from the 1920’s of the original stuffed Hundred Acre Wood crew, Pooh, Piglet, Kanga, Eeyore, and Tigger. The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter is truly an exhibition for all ages. Not to mention, a great way to get your kids in the back-to-school spirit.

In a display case at the New York Public Library are a set from the 1920s of the original stuffed Hundred Acre Wood crew, Pooh, Piglet, Kanga, Eeyore, and Tigger.

The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter

The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter will be at the New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building through March 23, 2014, so you don’t have to do this with your remaining September weekends, but you still can. The entrance to the library, also called the main branch, is located on Fifth Avenue between 42nd and 41st Streets, and the exhibition hall is open Monday through Saturday at 10:00 a.m., and until 6:00 p.m. on Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and until 7:30 on Tuesday and Wednesday. Closed Sunday.

The New York Public Library "Where The Wild Things" exhibition with a hole in the wall in the shape of one of the creatures from the book

Posted in NYC Events | Tagged