Instead of heading straight for the office on Monday morning, Behind the Book staff saw our friends Patience and Fortitude: the stone lions in front of the New York Public Library. NYPL currently has an exhibition, open until March 2014, called The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter. We certainly believe that children’s books matter, and we went to discover what the exhibit had to share.
Alongside original editions of some of the earliest children’s books, including school primers, fairy tales, fables, and biblical stories, the exhibit features some of our more modern childhood favorites: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Winnie-the-Pooh, Harry Potter, and The Phantom Tollbooth, to name a few.
The exhibit traces the history of children’s literature and its place in society, from early debates about whether children are better off with stories to teach lessons or being taught straight facts, to the different books that were written for children in various social strata.
Did you know that American public libraries used to have signs declaring, “No dogs or children allowed”? This was before the rise of children’s rooms designed especially for kids to enjoy libraries.
We were particularly excited to see several BtB authors featured in the exhibit including Brian Selznick in the graphic novel section and Mo Willems and William Low in the New York City section. Here the exhibit focuses on New York’s “openness to change” leading to a sub-genre about “growing up, venturing out, and becoming one’s own person.” We love bringing books like these to our students living and going to school in our great city.
At the very start of the exhibit, a floor to ceiling sign in bold red declares, “Behind every children’s book is a vision of childhood: a shared understanding of what growing up is all about.” Published literature reflects what society values and believes. And this is why diversity in literature is essential – because marginalization occurs when children don’t see themselves represented in the books they read.
We make it a priority to choose books for our programs that reflect our students’ experiences in some way. It is also why we publish our students’ writing: so they have the opportunity to express their own ideas about growing up and so that they know that those ideas are valued. They have written about their neighborhoods, their dreams and aspirations, and overcoming fears, all important aspects of childhood.
We had a wonderful time exploring the world of children’s books! The exhibition runs until March 2014, so you still have plenty of time to enjoy it, take your kids, reflect on your own childhood, and remember how the books we love as children shape us more than we may realize at the time.
By Laurie Beckoff, Program Intern