For several years I had the pleasure of working with children’s books. While I did not write them, I did get an insight into the ways books are meant to introduce children to society. Because they are made with such an educational purpose, they offer an insight into the values that are important for the community that produced them. This is one of the reasons I was sorry to miss the New York Public Library’s exhibition on children’s books, The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter. The exhibition’s website explains:
Today’s brightly packaged, increasingly globalized books for young people have complex roots in world folklore, Enlightenment philosophy, nationalist fervor, and the pictorial narrative traditions of Asian and Western art, among other sources. Collectively, they form a vivid record of literate society’s changing hopes and dreams, and of the never-ending challenge of communicating with young readers in the most compelling possible way.
The exhibition’s curator, Leonard S. Marcus, uses stories from around the world to illustrate different views about childhood. Marcus clearly states the importance he finds in children’s books:
Children’s books are our gateways to a lifelong love of literature and art… They give us the heroes we need just when we need them most: at the start of our quest to discover who and what we are. Viewed historically, children’s books give us the record of each generation’s hopes and dreams. If you want to know what any literate society cares about, you have only to look at the books it has given its children and teens.
That we can possess such cultural capital by reading children’s books is a gift. But the lack of reviews makes me realize that people aren’t interested in unveiling these connections to the past or in learning more about themselves. As the exhibition suggests, children’s books can reveal hidden contexts. And, more often than not, they also reveal stories about ourselves.
—Alexia Raynal, Zeteo Deputy Editor
To read more posts in the fields of children and childhood by Alexia Raynal, visit her ZiR page here.
Cover image is of J