The Northeast Children’s Literature Collection
The Northeast Children’s Literature Collection is housed in Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. Its beginning dates from the 1960’s with the acquisition of some 600 volumes of 19 th and 20 th century children’s books from author/illustrator Nonny Hogrogian. During the 1970s the library engaged in the selective addition of the best historical and contemporary children’s books and manuscripts, focusing on prize-winners and works by New England authors and illustrators. In 1983, Billie M. Levy, or Miss Billie as she is known, of West Hartford, CT began the process of donating thousands of children’s books illustrated by American artists over the last 200 years, and the works of European artists who have influenced American book illustration. Illustrative techniques include pencil, pen and ink, watercolor, painting in various media, photography, etching and engraving and represent the work of over 1,000 illustrators. Children’s literature was a top topic on campus in those days, with the leaders of the field like the late Dr. Francelia Butler, teaching, publishing, leading conferences and later the Peace Games, in effect helping to bring the study of children’s literature into the mainstream of scholarship. The Collection holds the papers of Dr. Butler and the large number of audiovisual materials created in her classroom. Many of the greatest names in children’s literature, including Maurice Sendak and Big Bird, visited the popular Butler kiddie lit classes.
The Collection is a relatively small one and fairly recently arrived on the scene when seen in the context of other larger and older collections. It consists of approximately 40,000 catalogued books and serials, with another 20,000 in cataloguing storage, and the manuscript collections of over 100 authors and illustrators. The Collection is supported by reference works in the Archives and the Homer Babbidge Library next door, and is blessed by the generosity of many private collectors and donors. Manuscript collections are solicited from children’s authors and illustrators living in or identified with the Northeast and the Eastern Seaboard. Of particular interest are collections containing all aspects of book creation, such as book dummies, sketches and other preliminary illustrations, drafts and revisions, correspondence, and related materials. The materials created prior to the finished work inform researchers on the nature of the entire creative process from conception to completion. It is these materials when used for exhibits, for example, which inform the writing and fine arts students at the University on the processes used by those with published works.
Other uses of the original materials in the NCLC range from images for greeting cards by Cyndy Szekeres and bookplates by Leonard Everett Fisher, to scholarly and academic publications and classroom work. Dr. Phil Nel, a Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson scholar, writes on both of these well-known names in the genre and is presently working on a new biography of Krauss and Johnson. Two University of Connecticut professors are also active, Dr. Katharine Capshaw Smith who teaches adolescent and preschool children’s literature, and Dr. Margaret Higonnet, who teaches fairy tales and Victorian literature for children. In addition, a professor in the educational psychology program gives an extra-credit assignment each spring semester, for the students to research such topics as stranger anxiety, object impermanence, and pattern recognition. Other academic uses include the creation of curriculum guides, specifically in the Leonard Everett Fisher Papers, for his non-fiction book series and the elementary grades. Teachers’ lesson plans may be downloaded or printed from the web page free of charge.
Some of the other uses are to give researchers a well-rounded view of works with a particular theme, such as Linda Bronson’s request for, “all the books you have about Christmas.” She reviewed a wide variety and the result was her Sleigh bells and snowflakes : a celebration of Christmas. For the DVD of Natalie Babbitt’s story Tuck Everlasting, over a hundred original illustrations were scanned for the bonus program at the end, “An interview with Natalie Babbitt.”
There are several smaller specialized collections with the NCLC, such as the Black Beauty collection. We hold 440 discrete editions of this classic by Anna Sewall including two first American editions, several Braille editions, and one gorgeous first British edition. Ms. Sewall died in 1878, shortly after the publication of this classic and so never knew how popular her story about a horse would become. Another specialized, and much larger collection with a direct relationship to multicultural literature, is the Phyllis Hirsch Boyson Collection of Children’s Literature
In April of 2001, Bert Boyson of Brookfield, Connecticut, donated the children’s book collection of his late wife, Phyllis Hirsch Boyson. A teacher and avid collector, Ms. Boyson’s interests included historical children’s books as well as foreign works, fairy tales of all lands, and Judaica, African American, and Native American works. The collection consists of approximately 6,200 items, mainly books, with a few posters and games, and a collection of accompanying artifacts. She amassed the collection during years of teaching and working with children creating exhibits, demonstrations, and displays.
Two ongoing efforts are the Raab Associates Prize and the Connecticut Children’s Book Fair. Another way we support the mission of the University is with the cooperation of wonderful folks such as Susan Salzman Raab, a University of Connecticut Alumna who graduated in 1980 with a degree in English. She has experience in the retail book business and has worked at Bantam, Dell, and Scholastic. With her husband, David, she began her own children’s book marketing agency, Raab Associates in 1986, now based in Chappaqua, New York. During the summer of 1999, Ms. Raab approached the NCLC with the idea of creating a contest open to UConn students of art, for the best illustration of a children’s story or poem to bring attention to the field of children’s book illustration as well e ncouraging students who have an interest in the arts and the world of publishing. A cooperative agreement was developed with the School of Fine Arts Professor Cora Lynn Deibler, who assigns an entry for the contest as part of her fall curriculum. 2008 marked the ten anniversary of the Raab Associates Prize. The assignment for several years has been to create an illustration to accompany a poem provided for the contest by Jane Yolen. The contest winners receive a cash award and a year’s membership in SCBWI, compliments of the society’s president.
The Connecticut Children’s Book Fair brings together prominent children’s authors and illustrators and the general public in an annual event designed to foster the enjoyment of children’s literature. The Connecticut Book Fair is free and children, parents, grandparents, book collectors, and interested members of the public are welcome to attend. Held on the second weekend in November, the Book Fair is a project of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center and the UConn Co-op. Proceeds from sales at the event are used for the growth of the NCLC. In past years we have hosted Eric Carle, Walter Wick, Jane Yolen, Ashley Bryan, Robert Sabuda, Caroline Cooney, and many others. For more information please see our web site at http://bookfair.uconn.edu.