Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why Children's Books Matter

Do I really need to defend children's books? I think not. And neither does the New York Public Library. But its current exhibition, The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter, goes a long way in reminding us of how dear the books of our childhood are to us and how they shape our love of language, rhyme, storytelling, and pictures.

The exhibition path leads from early primers through classics, bright picture books, intricate pop-ups, mass series like Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, comic books - mostly English and American, but many international examples are on display, as well.

When I was there most of the visitors were adults, not children, and to be honest, the set-up is more museumesque than Disneyfied, though many of the displays are darn clever. Delightful discovery, or rather rediscovery, seemed to be the dominant vibration. I was certainly like a kid in a candy store as I found old friends, some long-forgotten. And it was wonderful to see bits of original manuscripts or illustrations-in-progress.

The exhibition certainly gave me ideas of books that Liam and Charlotte simply must have. Some were favorites of mine when I was little. Some were favorites of their mama's. And some were new to me. Oh, yes. I took notes.

Watching all the (mostly) adults' reactions to finding childhood favorites, remembering when and where they were when they read them, it was easy to understand why children's books matter. Those books have such an emotional appeal. Kinda made me want to check out a stack of kids' books and reclaim them.

But as enjoyable as that might be, children's books are meant to be shared with a child, read aloud, with heartfelt discussions about the story and pictures. And don't we all add little twists to those cherished stories - funny voices, maybe an extra line or two that makes it our own?

Why do children's books matter? Because sharing stories and building memories matter. Because silly, outrageous, creative, scary, funny, sad, delightful stuff matters. Because common truths matter. Because Alice, Pooh, Max, Madeline, Harry, Charlotte, and Hungry Caterpillar matter. Because storytelling, story-reading, story-remembering, and story-passing-on-to-future-generations matter.

I rest my case.

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