While not much is known about the ancient Greek storyteller Aesop, including how much of the author’s life is legend versus fact, today many celebrate his birthday. One of the Toppan Rare Books Library collection areas features items for and about children, including volumes of Aesop’s fables.
The library’s holdings include many works that go beyond the fables of Aesop, featuring stories that have enchanted children for centuries such as the well-known Cinderella, Old Mother Hubbard, Arabian Nights, and Pinocchio; others are stories by Newbery Award winning authors and have illustrations by Caldecott Award winners up through the mid-20th century. The library also contains thematic children’s collections such as the Louise Jackson Collection of books about boys and girls having adventures in the American West.
While many of the children’s items in the library feature fun and whimsy many other items depict societal expectations of children and are solely educational in nature. Printed books teach children the proper way to behave in society, with texts teaching etiquette or religious expectations (some of which are based on gender). Educational items show not only how children learned in the past, but can also depict the darker side of society, such as the perpetuation of racism. Works of fiction from the nineteenth century serve a moral purpose in descriptions of orphans and the lower classes.
If you wish to view some of the library’s more light hearted items, currently on display in the American Heritage Center’s loggia is the exhibit, “Cute Children Dressed in Costumes and Clothes of the Past (plus a cat in an apron and a doll in a cradleboard).”
For more information about the exhibit or the Toppan Rare Books Library, please contact the library’s curator Anne Marie Lane at 307-766-2565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Anne Marie Lane, Toppan Rare Books Library Curator and Amanda Stow, Reference Archivist