Goodnight Moon. Where the Wild Things Are. A Wrinkle in Time. Harold and the Purple Crayon. The Cat in the Hat. The Poky Little Puppy. Curious George. The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Our favorite childhood stories take on many titles, shapes and sizes. They are filled with adventures big and small, and are inhabited by characters we have grown to know and love. These stories take place in spaces familiar and made-up and to worlds we never could have imagined. Every last one of these beloved tales taught us about life, friendship, family, love, good and evil. They helped teach us how to read, how to count, decipher the difference between red and yellow. They taught us how to make good decisions. While we may not remember every last children’s book we’ve ever read, each one left a lasting impression with lessons that we take with us even into adulthood.
These children’s books and the lessons they teach are the topic of an impressive new exhibition at the New York Public Library’s main branch on 42nd Street. The Schwarzman Building will house The ABC Of It: Why Children’s Books Matter through the end of the year, giving you plenty of opportunity to see it – and even re-read some of the classics – again and again.
The exhibition, located on the first floor of the NYPL, starts off with the very beginnings of the children’s book, presenting a brief history of the genre, then follows the introduction of now-famous books like The Cat in the Hat or Goodnight Moon.
Bright, canary yellow is the dominant color throughout the show, and preschool primary colors like grass green and ocean blue make cameos on the walls. Beloved storybook characters have somehow found their way from their pages onto the walls of the NYPL gallery as well: Harold wields his purple crayon in one room as Alice grows ten feet tall in the next. One of Max’s Wild Things has crashed through another gallery wall, and The Phantom Tollbooth car used by Milo is waiting for little ones to take a ride.
With each step we take, curator Leonard S. Marcus reminds us of our youth and of just how special these books were to us. Wall labels tell us of the authors whose imagination and pure good fortune created lifelong masterpieces, and note the public reaction to these famous works. We remember The Poky Little Puppy, a beloved book carried from school to Grandma’s to home and back, and learn that it was one of the first children’s books to be sold in nickel-and-dime stores, and just possibly because of that fact, is the best-selling children’s book of all time. We discover that Alice in Wonderland was a short story simply made for a young friend and never intended to be published. We find that teachers despised comic books when they first came out and despite efforts to be rid of them, over one million fans gobbled up the Superman saga on a monthly basis.
Pure+Applied, the design firm in charge of the exhibition, also the designers for the popular Lunch Hour exhibition at the library last year, also leave a gallery space for some of the more sinister – according to some people – books in the NYPL’s collection. Shielded under black, lifeless boxes after a sign that warns of potential evils to come, the books on view here include the controversial Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; The Diary of Anne Frank; Huckleberry Finn; and Pippi Longstocking. Censored for racism, religion, or simply adult themes, the books that were then banned, seem somehow tame and contained, hidden in that small section of the gallery.
The ABC Of It ends describing the multiple media and artistic collaborations that books have lent themselves to especially in the past few decades. The Harry Potter series was so popular that it led the New York Times to create a Juvenile Fiction Bestseller list; Mary Poppins gained popularity with the 1964 movie; and The Wizard of Oz continues to inspire new movies and spinoffs. Children’s book illustrators like Eric Carle are also highlighted in this section.
Major highlights of the show include the original Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals, the original Wizard of Oz illustrations, and the first copy of Alice in Wonderland. Comfy spots to sit back and relax with your favorite book are provided and interactive features draw visitors in even more.
The ABC Of It reminds older visitors of their favorite stories and may even inspire you to pick up one of those old friends and relive the story one more time.
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