Relive childhood through show of famous children’s literature at the Lilly Library


“Christoph Columbus Genuensis” is a remarkable 1960s pop-up book from Vojtěch Kubašta.

As adults, many of us recall a special book from childhood. Perhaps it was a library book, a gift or a favorite bedtime story. Page after page, it taught us to read, tucked us into our slumber or otherwise unleashed our imagination.

Through Sept. 26, many of these special books are on display at the Lilly Library exhibition “One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature.”

Edmund Dulac

Edmund Dulac illustrated the Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch edition of “The Sleeping Beauty and Other Fairy Tales.”

Lilly Library director Joel Silver and associate director Erika Dowell have curated a delightful show completely drawn from their library’s rich and varied holdings.

“To me, what is special about this exhibition is the way so many people can connect with it. Almost everyone will recognize some book from their childhood, perhaps a favorite, or perhaps one that they had forgotten until now,” Dowell said. “Not only can you learn about the history of children’s books, but there is also this opportunity for a personal connection.”

The exhibition spans the 17th century to the late 20th century with a mix of early instructional books, classic fairy tales, adventure stories and other offerings.

Visitors will find familiar favorites such as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Winnie-the-Pooh.”

Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” is here, too, and she’s not the only Potter represented. A “Harry Potter” book by J.K. Rowling is the most recent selection in the show.

History by the “Hundreds”

The show at Indiana University Bloomington takes its title and inspiration from a celebrated exhibition at the Grolier Club of New York last winter, which featured 10 books on loan from the Lilly Library.

Gigantick History

The “Gigantick History” books were pocket-sized.

The Lilly exhibition and its predecessor both focus on enduring children’s literature. “Really, you need to see whether it lasts; I think their feeling was three generations,” Silver said.

“Grolier Hundreds” have been presented only six times since 1903. The themed New York shows are especially important to the history of IU’s Lilly Library because J.K. Lilly Jr. used a Grolier publication related to the first show like a shopping list for his collecting. Over time, he was able to acquire more than 90 of the “One Hundred Books Famous in English Literature.”

Rare early books

Hieroglyphick Bible

“A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible” dates from 1788.

“There are always arguments about when children’s literature started,” Silver said.

The Lilly show begins with an illustrated Latin manual by Johann Amos Comenius, a work printed in 1672. It is one of many pieces from the library’s Elisabeth Ball Collection of Historical Children’s Materials.

Another item from the Ball Collection is a tiny, pocket-sized book from 1740 with an amusing title: “The Gigantick History of the Two Famous Giants, and Other Curiosities in Guildhall, London.”

The collection also contributed the lone surviving copy from a 1763 edition of “A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, Intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy, and Pretty Miss Polly.”

Original Art

In the Lilly show, the number 100 refers to the Grolier theme, rather than a precise number of books or items on display. The total of 98 books includes several titles in different editions.

Walter Crane

Influential author and illustrator Walter Crane created this unique book of 52 watercolors as a gift.

Seven pieces of original artwork also are featured, including a paste-up sketch for “Madeline and the Gypsies,” an original pen-and-ink drawing of St. Nicholas by Thomas Nast and a “Where the Wild Things Are” drawing and print by Maurice Sendak.

Also notable is a hand-written, one-of-a-kind book of 52 original watercolors by Walter Crane. “A Voyage of Discovery” was intended as a gift for his daughter, ending with final page that reads “And Beatrice finds she has arrived in Birthday-Land to her great joy.”

Recurring themes

“You see lots of interesting themes in the exhibition, like fairy tales interpreted and illustrated throughout the centuries,” Dowell said.

Also represented are adventure classics, including several that Silver said he favored as a child: Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” stories.


“Struwwelpeter,” here in English, exaggerates misbehavior.

Some books remain popular, such as Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat” and Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Other once-popular tales have been largely forgotten but are ripe for rediscovery, such as Frederick Marryat’s “The Children of the New Forest” and Heinrich Hoffman’s story of the wild-haired, long-nailed “Struwwelpeter,” which translates to “Shock-Headed Peter.”

Another charmer that has slipped from public memory is a 1908 children’s book about a stray bullet, “The Hole Book” by Peter Newell. The perforations in the pages help tell an amusing story, as the bullet causes chaos like releasing a dog from its chain. “This was a book that I never knew anything about before,” Dowell said. “It’s something maybe that wouldn’t be part of a humorous book today.”

In his introductory text for the exhibition, the director of the Lilly Library acknowledged that J.K. Lilly Jr. and Elisabeth Ball have given a gift to all of us. Silver has written, “We’re very grateful for what they have entrusted to us, and we’re pleased to be able to share their books with interested children of all ages.”

Visitor information, Grolier talk

“One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature” can be viewed at the Lilly Library free of charge 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, through Sept. 26.

The Hole Book

In “The Hole Book,” the pierced pages tell a story.

Beginning Aug. 24, the hours will be extended to 6 p.m. weekdays. The library will be closed Sept. 7 for Labor Day. The show is generally recommended for visitors ages 9 and above.

Chris Loker, curator of the Grolier show, will speak at the Lilly Library at 5:30 p.m., Sept. 10. Loker is an antiquarian book dealer in San Francisco and an expert on children’s literature.

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