For every child out there –and every adult, for that matter–there is a marvelous, memorable, heart-moving exhibition currently on display on the first floor of the main branch of the NYPL. “The ABC of it: Why Children’s Books Matter” lies directly in front of you, beautifully laid out after you stroll past those infamous lions, “Patience” and “Fortitude.” Walk straight thru the central doors of the New York Public Library’s Stephen A Schwartzman Building and “Oh! The places you’ll go!” This is the next best thing to reliving your childhood; I “kid” you not. I was in awe as I unexpectedly encountered a four hour – oft emotional – rewind to my earlier years. Thank goodness it will be there until March 2014 as this interactive, layered, textured display is amazingly rich, and consequently can be enjoyed on so many levels that you need way more then one tour to absorb its delights. Childhood is indeed “fair seed time.” We do not need to intellectualize nor explain our love of stories, it’s in our DNA. We know in our hearts, and eventually our minds, why children’s books matter.
Some 250 + artifacts both represent and also present the common denominator for practically every human being on this planet: children’s books. This is a shared understanding. We cut our literary teeth on masterpieces such as “Good Night Moon,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Pot,” “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” “Charlotte’s Web,” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” to cite a few works cleverly “discussed” in this loving exhibition. These works need no explanation nor seek an intellectual response, yet they are deceptively simple while speaking complex volumes. The titles alone I have just cited have sent your mind racing with joy, I couldn’t be more certain of this. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand what these little illustrated jewels have meant to our lives. As I amazingly relished all the wonders in this exhibit I cannot tell you how often I heard other visitors delightedly murmur “ah, that was my favorite book when I was a kid…no, no THAT was my favorite book…no, this was”…. over and over, again and again etc. etc. I surely was not the only visitor bending time and suspending reality while joyously returning “once upon a time” to a land far, far away. Not to worry, our favorite fairy tales are also well acknowledged here in a unique way with special devotion awarded to “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Little Mermaid.”
This happening (and indeed that is the word) moves chronologically and globally, starting with an original, tiny children’s sized bible that teaches the alphabet and religion in rhyme at the same time! We slowly and deliciously move thru some 250+ years up to the universal popular of comic book super heroes which not only features the actual comic books, but the popular toy replicas of these heroes. And how gratifying to see “Bazooka Joe” acknowledged.
And oh! What lies between our journey from innocence to experience. View the original letter written by Lewis Carroll to Alice Lidell, the actual “Alice” of the infamous “Alice in Wonderland.” There is an auspiciously read, continuous audio recording running of Edward Lear’s “A Book of Nonsense” while these clever rhymes are visually displayed. Children can actually run thru Alice’s rabbit hole, or pet an enormous fur covered wall while tracking “Where the Wild Things Are,” but then safely sit in the aptly colored white car of “The Phantom Tollbooth.” The precious – and precocious – original Winnie the Pooh bear and his other “stuffed” friends join in the fun, while around the bend awaits a 30 minute interview with Eric Carle via telephone alongside his visually landmark stories of the natural world such as “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” The actual parrot head umbrella belonging to P.L. Travers of “Mary Poppins” fame is featured alongside the wishes and dreams of kids hoping to travel in the same manner as this loving nanny.
A fair amount of space is devoted to the enormously successful Edward Stratemeyer publications i.e. “The Nancy Drew Mysteries,” “The Hardy Boys” and “The Bobbsey Twins” to cite a few major titles. Memorably detailed are the Beatrix Potter “Peter Rabbit” series books, alongside the NYPL’s very special connection to these thoughtful books (with their landmark illustrations) and Beatrix herself. The piece de resistance for me is the actual recreation of the Green Room from “Good Night Moon.” It’s like an enormous page come to life from the board book edition, even the little mouse is about. Now when does an opportunity to enter you favorite storybooks present itself?
Rest assured, our beloved “Golden Books” are represented – starting with “The Pokey Little Puppy” – in a notable manner. For generations of small hands, these affordable little books presented the gateway into the world of childhood and instigated a lifelong love of reading.
Such an enormous undertaking is this monumental display, remarkable in every detail. The curator, Leonard Marcus, has left no page unturned. He is my new hero. Bless you Mr. Marcus. I wish you would allow me to move into this charming land of literature and live there forever and ever.
No pun intended but the “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter” will leave you spellbound.
Look for me in the “Great Green Room.”
And where shall I find YOU?
By: Joanne Theodorou