discovery toys blog of billie elias
Tips for parents who play with their children or who want stay-at-home income.
Toys for special need, autism, gifted and typical kids.

July 06, 2013

A trip to the New York Public Library's Children's Books exhibit

A trip to this magnificent edifice (now named after financier Stephen A. Schwarzman) has always been special, but never more significant to me than when it involves children and reading.  Some of my fondest memories are of my mother reading to me and the pleasurable hours I spent snuggled up with and reading to my own child. Although we visited our local branch often, our visit to the 42nd Street library was mainly to visit the map room, one of the most visually interesting rooms for a child in that building.  If you haven't been to the main library recently, I highly recommend you go see the current exhibit.
From now until March 23, 2014 the library has on display a sympathetic exhibit...a comprehensive homage to children's books. On display are many of the books that you or your children read while growing up, along with photographs of some of the authors or their subjects, personal letters, interactive touch screens and plenty of loose books or comics that you can pick up and read.  Here you'll find Mary Poppins, a video of Eric Carle showing how he made "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," "Fun with Dick and Jane," "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," a sky-high tower of books (including Anne Frank's diary) that were once censored,  Edward Stratemeyer's Bobbsey Twins/Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys, L. Frank Baum's Oz series, "Charlotte's Web," Peter Rabbit/Beatrix Potter, "Goodnight, Moon" (which has a life-sized replica of the great green room from the book, seen below).

Take a random walk through the interesting arrangement of galleries.  Each book or genre or famous author has its own vignette of a space.  One of my personal favorites was a gigantic gift box that you can enter, with a single book prominently displayed: a Little Golden Book that was, in fact, given to my son as a gift -- "The Poky Little Puppy."

Although I visit the Bank Street College of Education several days a year (to display Discovery Toys), I had no idea how influential it was in the early days of picture books. Its founder, Lucy Sprague Mitchell observed that children live in a world largely based on their immediate surroundings and their development as healthy, socially and emotionally secure "whole children" was fundamental.  Books like "Goodnight Moon" and the Steichen's "The First Picture Book" are based on that.

Below the set of unit blocks is a photograph by Edward Steichen's based on those blocks.  The card next to the blocks explains that nearly 100 years ago Caroline Pratt, founder of City and Country School in Greenwich Village (and collaborator with Lucy Sprague Mitchell in the Bureau of Educational Experiences), invented unit blocks like these to provide "open-ended play." (Incidentally, that's the term Lane Nemeth used for her Discovery Toys...meaning there's no right way or wrong way to play with these materials, and no age limit: as a child ages they find new uses.) This same concept inspired him to leave the left-hand page blank so grown-up and child together could fill in their own dialogue.


In the 1940s Pooh author A. A. Milne donated the collection of original Winnie-the-Pooh dolls (including Pooh's friends Kanga, Eeyore, Tigger and Piglet) to the American publisher E. P. Dutton. The dolls were then donated to the library in 1988 and were displayed behind bulletproof glass in the Children’s Reading Room at the Donnell branch in Rockefeller Center.

If you've been wondering what happened to the beloved Winnie-the-Pooh dolls since the Donnell Library Center closed in August 2008, you have a chance to see them again in this exhibit.

Before you go, I highly recommend reading Edward Rothstein's review,"Bedtime With Puritans and Wild Things--Public Library’s ‘ABC of It’ Looks at Children’s Books."

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