“The ABC of It” at NYPL

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Visiting the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue is always enjoyable, and the more so when they’ve put up a great exhibit. Leonard S. Marcus has curated a beautiful and informative exhibit about children’s books and why they matter.  From a charming recreation of the great green room of Margaret Wise Brown to Hans Christian Andersen‘s fantastical cut-paper fairytale illustrations to the Stratemeyer juggernaut that provided so much of our reading, summer or otherwise to the recent phenomenon of Harry Potter, “The ABC of It” traces children’s literature across both time and place, journeying from its beginnings (in several cultures) to examine how the genre came to be, important developments, and what it means to us.

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The exhibit is visually stunning, with plenty of kid-friendly activities that will appeal to adults as well and even quiet nooks stocked with books for a brief time-out to enjoy the subject matter of the exhibit. There’s even a lovely furry wall introducing the viewer to the delights of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things!

Yet, one of the more subdued parts of the exhibit has perhaps the greatest impact – at least on adults. There is a dark corner created with a tower of banned books that examines which books have been banned or burned and why. The viewer is left feeling the power of words, despite the many attempts to suppress such books and silence their authors. While some books are obvious, there were plenty of surprises forming building blocks in that alcove tower! My favorite? Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

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I always knew make-believe was a powerful force for good. Why else would we have the power of imagination, if not to use it? Not only are quotes from the objectors displayed, but first editions of several of the “objectionable” books are on view.

Towards the end, there is a fantastic display dedicated to illustrators, the artists who make children’s books come alive and give form to beloved words.  For those who like to test themselves, at the very end, there’s an interactive quiz testing to see just how much you absorbed from the displays of manuscript pages, first editions, audio files of authors reading their works, and more.

Whether taking a break from the summer’s heat or reveling in the glories of our chosen field, “The ABC of It” is well worth the visit. On view during regular library hours in the Gottesman Exhibit Hall in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (the one with the lions) through March 23, 2014.

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