Children’s books offer peek into past

The Children’s Literature Research Collections might be home to thousands of original manuscripts and artwork created for children, but it is in no way an average children’s library. There are no colorful murals on the walls, little tables or chairs encouraging young readers to dig into their favorite stories.

In their place is a single reading room with two long tables, surrounded by windows that look at surrounding collections’ administrative offices. Here the collections’ original manuscripts and artworks are brought to readers and researchers from underneath the University’s Andersen Library.

The collections house manuscripts and artwork from such well-known children’s authors and illustrators as Lois Lowry, Scott O’Dell and Tomie DePaola.

“Children’s books often reflect a society’s contemporary challenges or values,” said professor Karen Hoyle, the collections’ curator.

Several university researchers have used the collections’ materials to aid in their studies. One researcher studied “The Wizard of Oz” in connection with Great Depression-era politics. Another, Ruth Phelps, from the University’s family education department, studied the characters and personalities found in children’s books.

Hoyle said using children’s literature as a research tool opens up another point of view, as if seeing an event or issue through a child’s eyes.

“Students, faculty and staff can connect with children’s books,” she said.


The collections are divided into many sets. The largest of these is the Kerlan Collection, which, Hoyle said, is one of the world’s best-known children’s literature sets.

“The Kerlan (Collection) holds manuscripts and titles for 10,000 titles. Among them are many American classics,” Hoyle said.

It was founded by University alumnus Irvin Kerlan when he donated his vast children’s literature collection in 1949.

Other collections include the Hess Collection of dime novels and series books such as “The Hardy Boys,” The Paul Bunyan Collection and the Laura Jane Musser Oziana Collection of “The Wizard of Oz” artifacts.

Currently on display is the Pirate Collection, which features approximately 500 books, video and toys donated in 2003 by Lionel Johnson.


The thousands of titles and pieces of art at the collections are stored with thousands of other books and artifacts from the University’s special libraries below the library in a cavern.

Hoyle said the cavern environment is kept at a crisp 60 degrees, which is perfect for paper preservation.

The manuscripts are kept in acid-free folders to protect them from decay. The cavern is not open to the public, and visitors must first ask to see a manuscript before a collections’ employee retrieves the object.

Freelance editor Steven Snyder welcomes comments at [email protected]