May 19, 2014

Why Children’s Books Matter

New York Public Library on 42nd & 5th Ave
I recently went to an exhibit at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue in New York City.  It is titled “Why Children’s Books Matter”. This exhibit walks you through the history of children’s books from early colonial times through Manga and the graphic novels of today. I really enjoyed the displays that included some of my favorites. From Alice in Wonderland to Winnie the Pooh, to Where the Wild Things Are, all the classics were represented. There were examples of children’s books from Russia and India, a history of the origin of children’s books, and a reading section where kids(or adults for that matter) could sit and read from the shelves of children’s books available. Some of the displays included props that I have never seen anywhere else.
The Original Winnie the Pooh & Friends
I think that kids will really love some of the interactive displays there.  There is a replica of the car from The Phantom Tollbooth, a life sized fireplace from Goodnight Moon, and a rabbit hole from Alice in Wonderland for kids to crawl through.  Even if you don't bring any children, there is still enough on display to invoke memories from your own childhood.  The original Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal was on display along with Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger. Mary Poppin’s umbrella was alongside the original book and clips from the movie were playing on the adjacent wall.  Across from this exhibit, original drawings from the Wizard of Oz hung on the wall.

My First Introduction to Poetry
What really made me feel like a kid again was seeing a vintage copy of Mad Magazine on display. This magazine helped fuel an irreverent sense of humor which I still have to this day. It also introduced me to poetry and taught me the concept of rhyme and meter before anyone else. Before I had ever read Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in school, I read Rhyme of the Modern Skateboarder in Mad Magazine. Like any good children’s book, this exhibit doesn't preach to you. It doesn’t tell you why children’s books matter. It simply shows you the work and lets you draw your own conclusions. But I do know why children’s books matter to me. They introduced me to a vast array of ideas and different ways of thinking. They taught me about the world and about myself in ways that I could relate to.  They also influenced me in ways I would not fully understand until much later on in life. After all, who knew back then that I would wind up recommending that budding poets read vintage copies of Mad Magazine to sharpen their poetry skills?  If you get a chance, I highly recommend seeing this exhibit.