Literary Tour: New York Public Library Children’s Book Exhibit

There are no good books which are only for children. —W. H. Auden 

Children’s Book Week

That day in 2nd grade when I was grounded for riding the bus to Brynn O’Brien’s house after school without telling my parents, I was also scolded by the school librarian for trying to check out Ramona the Pest, believed to be above 2nd grade—and so by extension—my reading level. She let me take it, but warned me that I’d better actually read it or I’d be back to Dick and Jane faster than a dog named Spot could run across the street to fetch a red ball.

I read it. Of course I read it. Probably more than once. And I continued to sneak into the older readers’ section of my library week after week hoping she would let me take the rest of the Henry Huggins stories, the Chronicles of Narnia, The Pushcart War. (She did.)

new york public library harold purple crayon

The books I read as a child—probably the same way the books you read as a child—were a means of transport to other worlds. Some, a whole universe away and others that could have been across town but were equally enchanting. I worried all the way through The Tale of Peter Rabbit, knowing he would be caught by Mr. McGregor. I longed for Harold’s Purple Crayon, not only for the delicious pies it could draw on a picnic blanket with such a marvelous instrument, but also for the holes it would draw and allow me to slip out of the current scene. Books were the place where perfect and terrible worlds were created, lending perspective, without my realizing it, to the world in which I actually lived.

This week, May 12-18, is Children’s Book Week. According to its website, with its origins dating informally back to 1913, “Children’s Book Week is the annual celebration of books for young people and the joy of reading.”

nypl abc of it

The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter

It’s perfect timing, then, that the New York Public Library’s children’s book exhibit is in full swing. While in New York City for the recent Tweetspeak meetup, we stopped in at the library for a fun and nostalgic look at the wonderful children’s books and history on display in The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.

New York Public Library entrance

Harold and his purple crayon were there. The Wild Things were there. We said Goodnight Moon and got a big smile from Alice’s Cheshire cat. Aesop told his fables while Pooh and Piglet tried to hold their tattered original selves together. The Secret Garden—complete with its original hand-written manuscript—was there. A person with a soft spot for children’s books might truly feel as though he’d fallen into the rabbit hole, not knowing which way to turn next, surrounded by such beloved characters.

New York Public Library Aesop's Fables Old Book

New York Public Library Wild Things Are Quote

new york public library maurice sendak

New York Public Library Secret Garden Original

New York Public Library Storied City

New York Public Library Tar Beach Ringgold  

New York Public Library Winnie the Pooh original stuffed animals

The exhibit traces the history of children’s books, from the time of the Puritans ascribing eternal significance to the ability to read, believing that a child must be able to read the Bible in order to be achieve salvation. Thank heavens for William Blake and his self-published Songs of Innocence, whose illustrated lyric poems pointed “the way for generations of children’s writers and artists, from Hans Christian Andersen to Maurice Sendak, whose young heroes radiate inner knowledge and strength, and are unafraid to say when the emperor has no clothes.”

This is the real beauty of children’s books, for me: the way a fanciful story, an imaginary realm, a make-believe story can tell such bare-faced truth.

Exhibit photos by L.L. Barkat and LW Lindquist. Post by LW Lindquist.

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  1. says

    Fantastic, Lyla! I can’t believe that I intentionally walked right past this… so many stairs. Well, I guess I’ll just have to go back and look for the other way in! Looks like I’ve got til September! :)

  2. Marcy says

    My love for children’s books only got worse as I worked in a library for ten years. Booklist was my favorite thing to read and yes, I read it cover to cover. Excitement grew as well as big circles on the books I wanted to order. “Pumpkin Soup” was one of my all time favorites as it taught children it’s ok to try other things even though you don’t do them as well as someone else. My collection of Holly Hobbie, Tashua Tuda, Kate Greenway, and so many others just keep stacking up around the house. Children’s books are more fun to read than anything else. Where else can you get such a group of big eyes waiting for those next words to spill out of your mouth? Wish I had been there to sit myself on the floor and read through their collection. I only buy first edition, try as I may to get this through my son’s head, do not give these away, please, they will be worth something one day. When it was time for school to start back I always found my way to the room where someone was showing all the new books that had came out. Talked about the reviews and yes, let us touch the books. I really miss those days.

  3. says

    Oh, Lyla, I think the New York Public Library is one of the loveliest places on earth. The stairways, the ceilings, the Children’s Section–an entire floor! Kinda like heaven for children’s book nerds.
    You shared this so beautifully. And LL’s pictures fleshed it out in a way I felt I actually got to visit with you. Well done!


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