One Hundred Famous Children's Books

GrolierProspectus.pngThe Grolier Club of New York is planning one of its landmark "One Hundred" exhibitions, this time with its eye on children's literature. Showcasing the best known and most admired children's books of the past 400 years, it is sure to be a hit with collectors, book trade professionals, and the general public. A 300-page exhibition catalogue is also in production, featuring essays by American bookseller Justin Schiller, Canadian scholar Jill Shefrin, British scholar Brian Alderson, Eric Carle Museum Curator Nick Clark, and American scholar and Cotsen Children's Library Curator Andrea Immel.

An exhibition of this breadth and depth is no slapdash affair. I asked the exhibition's curator, Chris Loker, a few questions about this multi-year undertaking.

RRB: Tell me about your career in children's books.

CL: As a long time rare book enthusiast, I began working in the antiquarian book world in 2002 in San Francisco, when I joined my husband, John Windle, in his business, John Windle Antiquarian Books. After a 25-year career in the corporate world in Human Resources, I was energized by the dramatic change of working full-time with rare books. In 2004 we decided to expand John's business into a new area ~ children's literature ~ and my bookshop, Children's Book Gallery, was born in 2006.

Although I'm now on hiatus from my business to devote my full efforts to the Grolier Club's inspirational children's book exhibition project, my shop's focus has been on antiquarian children's books from 1750 to 1950 that represent the best of the marketplace, both in rarity and condition. I've focused primarily on books of charm, character and color for young children and adolescents. This has included alphabets, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, pop-up and movable books, grammar books, books of education and virtue, as well as traditional picture books and storybooks.

RRB: How and when did this project get started?

CL: We got started on this landmark project two years ago, in 2010. One Hundred Books Famous in Children's Literature is an exhibition of one hundred renowned children's books published from 1600 to 2000. This exhibition will be mounted in New York City at the Grolier Club, America's oldest bibliophile society, in late 2014. To give you a frame of reference, The Grolier Club has organized just four "Grolier 100" book exhibitions in its 130-year history. One Hundred Books Famous in Children's Literature is the fifth in this canon of exhibitions.

The Grolier Club had planned for some years to organize this children's "Grolier 100" exhibition. In 2010 I proposed curating a children's book exhibition at the Club, and was asked if I would take on this broader-scope event. Since that time I've worked with an international advisory committee of ten children's book scholars and collectors to select the exhibition's "one hundred famous books," and to borrow those books (along with historically important ephemeral items and related objects) from twenty lending institutions and collectors. The tasks that remain before the show goes up in December, 2014 are to write and publish the 300-page exhibition catalogue, and to organize the display of the one hundred celebrated books and beautiful related objects that we hope will bring joy to all exhibition viewers and catalogue readers. I also will continue my fundraising activities to support this important exhibition event.

RRB: Are you still working on the exhibition catalogue, and how is that proceeding?
CL: Yes, the exhibition catalogue is being written "as I type." This exciting and exacting process began in January of this year, and is proceeding very well. I expect to have a draft of the catalogue finished by December of this year. Then members of our advisory team and I will edit the draft, and send the catalogue manuscript to be designed and printed by the well-known New York book designer, Jerry Kelly, in 2013. The catalogue, which will have a full-page bibliographic entry and a full-page, color photograph of each of the one hundred books, will be printed in 2014 to be ready when the exhibition is unveiled on December 10th of that year.

RRB: As Joel Silver pointed out in one of our recent issues, The Grolier Club "One Hundred" exhibitions have become overnight checklists for any great collections in a particular area. How do you expect the list will affect the market?

CL: This is hard to comment on, Rebecca, since the marketplace is always so tough to anticipate. Certainly we hope that One Hundred Books Famous in Children's Literature will be well received by the collecting community. And I agree with Joel Silver that the previous four "Grolier 100" exhibitions have become classic checklists for collectors, as well as key bibliographic references in their fields. My belief is that a major exhibition of this kind usually has an energizing effect on the collecting marketplace. And in this case, I hope it becomes a stimulus for collectors to consider literature for children with the same excitement and commitment that we see in the collection of literature for adults. It would be wonderful, as well, if this exhibition inspires new collectors to enter the field to experience the joy of collecting fine works for children.

The exhibit is scheduled to open in December of 2014. We'll be following along till then, checking back in with Chris every now and again to watch this major exhibition and catalogue take shape.