It started innocently enough. With grandchildren on the horizon, why not buy enough copies of books I had enjoyed as a child to share with my children. Music books, for instance, that brought back memories of watching my mother struggle at the piano with the accompaniments, and singing loud enough to drown out my sisters. I looked for fresh new copies, but none was still in print. This discovery was followed in fairly short order by three significant events: a fellow vacationer introduced me to "books for sale" in the AMERICAN BOOKMAN'S WEEKLY; I went to a Book Fair in Los Angeles and met Justin Schiller; and on August 21, 1983, I attended a children's book auction in West Hollywood.
It was on that date that what Nicholas Basbanes has called a "gentle madness" became what Werner Muensterberger calls an "unruly passion." Twenty-five years later the passion is aroused not by shiny, colorful songbooks but by a shabby miniature book of "cries," missing two leaves, a seemingly unrecorded publication from Philadelphia, 1802. From sentimental reminders of my personal past I have gradually learned to appreciate the history and significance of children's books as tools to teach, to entertain, to challenge, to indoctrinate. And to understand that these books may be the best evidence we have of the changing attitudes toward the young of our species and what we, as adults, expect of them.
As many children did, I "learned to read" by having books read to me by my parents, memorizing them and then sitting, speaking the text aloud, turning the pages at just the right time. My love affair with books has never ended. Working on this exhibit has been a joy of sorting through 350 years of books for children, reading and looking at fabulous illustrations. Would that such time was easier to carve from my regular work life!
My special thanks to Pamela Harer, my co-curator, who knows more about this field than anyone I have ever known. She is responsible for the majority of the captions and identifications on the checklist. She has either donated or loaned most the materials on exhibit. Thank you, too, to Kate Leonard for the smashing graphics for the physical exhibit. And finally thank you to Jack and Lynn Kroupa, my parents, who instilled the love of reading and books that form my earliest memories.