“Max! Harold! Winnie!!!!!”
The children shrieking were not attending a boy band concert; they were at the new exhibit, “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter,” at New York Public Library. The show doesn’t have to do too much to prove that children’s literature helps develop a love of learning, encourages critical thinking and teaches storytelling skills. But it does go above and beyond in showing that great children’s books become ingrained in our souls and become part of our shared culture.
This extensive show is not just a reading nook for bookworms, but an exploration for adults and their children into what makes some books classics and the influence these classics hold over our ever changing culture. For highbrow adults there are gorgeous first editions, a section of historically banned books, as well as a section exploring children’s books as propaganda. Jaded teens will be impressed with the Harry Potter section, the history of comic books and superhero figurines on display. Younger kids (and all kids at heart) will go crazy over the interactive aspects to the show: the literal rabbit hole from Alice in Wonderland, the iPad component to The Little Mermaid, and the driveable white roadster from The Phantom Tollbooth.
My preschool age son went into shock when he stumbled into the 3-D replica of the great green room from Goodnight Moon. A minute later, he actually went berserk over the fur wall inspired by Where The Wild Things Are. “These are my books from home!” he shouted in glee. It was as if the curator had come to our house and created an exhibit culled from his imagination.
Children’s literature is not just about the stories, but also the art and design. For most kids, this will be their first experience with both. Beautiful displays from artists Eric Carle, Edward Lear and Wanda Gag are represented in this show. The magic behind the books is preserved with a replicated illustration from Alice in Wonderland where Alice’s neck mechanically grows almost to the ceiling. To my son, this was literally unbelievable and utterly spellbinding.
Don’t worry too much if your child’s own library has literary gaps. This treasure trove of children’s classics can all be bought at the wonderful accompanying gift shop. Of course, you could get a card for your child and check out some favorites at your local library, too.
After such an inspiring day, we were starving. Our original plan was to have a picnic lunch at chef Tom Colicchio’s upscale sandwich stand, ‘wichcraft, in Bryant Park, but the downpour outside prevented this. Lucky for us, a ‘wichcraft branch is located inside the library directly outside the exhibit door. The pole caught tuna salad sandwich ($9), a hummus/ veggie on multigrain ($8) and a mini cupcake ($1) satiated our stomachs while our minds digested all the fairy tales, fables and great fiction.
The ABC Of It: Why Children’s Books Matter, FREE, New York Public Library, 455 5th Ave., at 41st St, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Gottesman Exhibition Hall 1st Floor
‘wichcraft, Southwest Porch at Bryant Park, 11 West 40th St. at 6th Ave.