You may still have a copy on a shelf somewhere: your favourite book from your childhood. It was the one you insisted your parents read every night before bed, or the one you read alone with a flashlight under the covers after all the lights had been turned off. It was your introduction to worlds that existed only in minds and hearts; it was your introduction to the limitlessness of your own imagination.
Children's books can say much more about a culture and an age than they tend to get credit for. Often perfect examples of a successful marriage of art and literature, they reflect the values we wish to instill within the next generation. They are also where your own love of reading began, and possibly your penchant for furry monsters. And yet they often fall under the radar; the best are celebrated with a disclaimer: "It's a great kids' book." When was the last time you heard anyone call The Very Hungry Caterpillar a masterpiece?
And yet, as W.H Auden said, "There are no good books only for children."
It is this quote that begins the journey into the New York Public Library's new exhibit, "The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter". The collection of treasures –Alice Liddell's own copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, recordings of E.B. White reading excerpts of Charlotte's Web, Nathaniel Hawthorne's family copy of Mother Goose – is set into a historical context, illustrating how children's literature alludes to a vision of childhood at the time, from stern lessons in morality to frivolous flights of fancy. And along the way you can pass through that famous great green room.
"The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter" runs through March 23rd, 2014 at the New York Public Library.