American Road Trip: Children’s Literature Style
The other day I cooed, gurgled, and generally fell into fits of unmoderated bliss when I saw that Children’s Illustration had linked to Seven Stories, "the first museum in the UK wholly dedicated to the art of British Children’s Books." I said I wanted to go to there. Then someone pointed out that there are plenty of lovely museums dedicated to the same darn thing right here in America.
Well, not really. I have a 9-5 job, after all. But why not take a quickie tour with me around and about the States.
Let’s start the tour in Texas. Well, why not? Anyone who has ever experienced the power and glory that is the yearly TLA Conference knows that Texas does their children’s literature right. And if you take a turn in Abilene, you’ll have a chance to see The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (or The NCCIL). NCCIL is actually author/artist William Joyce’s baby, and is best described on their site in this way: "The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature collaborates with award-winning artists to produce exhibitions of their artwork that are distinctive, appealing to museum visitors of all ages, and of the highest quality."
The story, near as I could make out, is that when William Joyce wrote the picture book Santa Calls he wanted one of his characters to wear a cowboy hat. Ipso facto, that character had to be from Texas. Abilene, Texas. The town’s former mayor found out, met Mr. Joyce, they became pals, and four years later, "the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature was incorporated as a non-profit organization, and a statue depicting the children from Santa Calls, “Childhood‘s Great Adventure“ by Rick Jackson, was erected downtown."
Moral of the story: Always set your stories in Abilene, Texas.
From Abilene we turn our eyes upward and eastward. From Texas to Ohio we go. It’s The University of Findlay where you can find your very own Mazza Museum of International Art from Picture Books. Back in 1982 Findlay was celebrating its 100th birthday and people wanted to do something special. Whammo blammo, instant museum (caveat: May have been somewhat less instantaneous). "From the initial donation of the Mazzas for the first four works of art, the Mazza Museum has grown to more than 3,000 original illustrations." Interested? Better schedule a tour. They don’t let folks in any old time, you know.
Finally, the only children’s illustration museum I’ve actually been to. Turn your eyes to Amherst, Massachusetts where you’ll find the sole museum in American named after a children’s picture book author/illustrator.
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art exudes calm. It is considered the first full-scale museum in the country devoted to national and international picture book art. Says the website, "The Museum’s 40,000 square-foot building houses three Galleries dedicated to rotating exhibitions of picture book art from around the world; a hands-on Art Studio for creating masterpieces of one’s own; an Auditorium for performances, films, and lectures; a comfortable Library for reading and storytelling; a Café serving simple and delicious fare; and a Museum Shop stocked with creative gifts and old and new picture book favorites."
You can read my tiny tour of it here if you’ve a mind to.
Now this is just a quickie glance at the museums dedicated to children’s literature. Feel free to tell me if I’ve missed any, since none of this is to say that there aren’t other places worth visiting. Consider collections like Minnesota University’s Kerlan Collection or children’s literary art galleries like the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton, MA. With planning and skill, a person could conceivably do a loop of the country, visiting such places. Children’s bookstores could fill in the gaps in the meantime. Remind me when I retire to do this. Sounds like fun.
Thanks to Marc Tyler Nobleman for the idea.
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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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