The Morgan Book Project: Illuminated Manuscripts by Children’s Hands
Last week I was invited to take part in pretty fascinating project run for the kids of New York City. Just around the corner from my library is a fine little establishment going by the name of The Morgan Library. Maybe not so “little” actually. The library is more like a museum, showing art and exhibits that are beautifully curated. A couple of years ago I attended a Babar exhibit there that was eye opening.
This year the good people of The Morgan did me the honor of asking me to be a judge in something called “The Morgan Book Project”. I didn’t initially know what that was but I was aware that it involved kids making their own books in some manner. The official explanation helped some:
“The Morgan Book Project is a free program, in which the Morgan
collaborates with public school teachers to develop a unit of study
designed to engage students in writing, illustrating, and building a
book. The Morgan Book Project Award is the program’s culminating
Basically what happens is that NYC public school teachers go to this four day summer institute training where the Morgan shows them how to teach their students to create their own original illuminated manuscripts. The result is that during the school years kids of every grade write, illustrate, and produce these amazing books. And it’s not a simple matter of putting pen to paper either. These kids grind their own pigments. They get actual honest-to-goodness gold leaf and apply it painstakingly to portions of their illustrations. Plus they have to make the very corners of their books match up as well. It’s enormously labor intensive, but the results are worth it.
My judging of the books (each teacher submits three of their students for our consideration) was done alongside a heady selection of fellow judges consisting of illustrators, Art Directors, educators, and more. It was also fantastic. These kids clearly poured their hearts and souls into this assignment.
There’s a recent New York Times piece on the project which uses a far better title than the one I wracked my brain to come up with here: Teaching Children the Value of Pre-Web Pages (the “Pre-web” part’s a little clunky but generally speaking they hit this one out of the park).
I’ll be attending a ceremony for the winners soon but if you happen to know any NYC public schoolteachers that would like to take part (I believe The Morgan provides the materials for the kids) you can check out this site for teacher info and this site on the past winners.
Thanks to the good people at The Morgan for allowing me to participate and congrats to all the kids who took part. Can’t wait to see the award ceremony.
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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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