Central Children’s Room Memories: Michele Landsberg
The seventh in a series of memories by people who love the Central Children’s Room of New York Public Library.
I was so dismayed to learn of the Central Children’s Room and the Donnell Branch. In the mid-80s, I was lucky enough to be living in New York and spent a few months revising, for the U.S. market, my Guide to Children’s Books (published as Michele Landsberg’s Guide to Children’s Books by Penguin Canada). This was a wonderful excuse to spend many happy days in the Central Children’s Room, parked at a desk near the window and reading U.S. children’s books that I had left out of my first edition. It was fun to watch the children visiting the library, and it was wonderful to work there. I remember the quiet, the sunlight falling across the desk, the benign mood of dignified privilege that comes from working in a sacred (to me) public space. One day, after several weeks of this, a librarian approached me with near-Canadian politeness and tact to ask me what I was doing there. I explained my project; she asked for the name of the guide. When I gave it, she exclaimed happily that the library owned several copies, and she took me to the shelf where it was displayed. Life has few more blissful moments than that! To realize suddenly that my work was known and recognized in my most beloved city!
After that, the librarians eagerly granted my greediest requests to see rare books from the stacks. I remember looking at what must have been the first edition of The Story About Ping, the first book I ever read myself, when I was four. I had seen much later editions, of course, but somehow was dissatisfied with them. When I unwrapped that first edition from its plastic, I realized that my memory had held true over all those decades: the blue of the Yangste River was the deeper blue I remembered, the cormorants more fierce than later versions. It was amazing to learn then that the original plates had been destroyed (perhaps during World War Two) and the illustrations recreated for later editions. This impressed on me once more how deep and even permanent is the impact of books loved in early childhood. My mind had actually retained, for more than 40 years, a shade of blue that I had never once seen in the intervening years.
I always walked to the Donnell Branch from 62 and Park (my husband was the Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations at the time, and we lived splendidly) and, even when the building will have vanished, I know I’ll have that same unbidden sense of happy anticipation every time I turn onto 53rd St.
Author of Reading for the Love of It
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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