Native Village
Youth and Education news
December 2009  Volume 2

Once upon a time . . .
Books donated to Anderson University illustrate that children's stories weren't always as simple as

By Dan McFeely

Condensed by Native Village

Anderson, Indiana: 6,000-plus rare and first-edition children's books are being donated to Anderson University by Elizabeth York, a wealthy alumna and avid collector. The million-dollar gift includes many first-edition and printings from 18th- and 19th-century classics, authors, poets and illustrators.

York also acquired a number of rare American Indian children's books published by the U.S. Indian Service in the 1940s -- books such as "Bringer of the Mystery Dog (Sunka Wan Wak'An)," which was written in English and Sioux.

Marilyn Courtot, who runs the Children's Literature Comprehensive Database in Washington, D.C.,  said such rare finds are a treasure in learning about different cultures, time periods and techniques used to teach values to children.

"Teachers will have a unique opportunity to see how things have progressed from the moral issue focus of children's books to what we have today," she said. "Children were seen to be little minds that needed to be formed."

In the past, book themes and illustrations were often more realistic, if not morbid: An 1878 Caldecott illustration from the classic "Babes in the Wood" has a color drawing of two dead children being covered with leaves in the forest. Other drawings depict dead dogs, and there are poems about tattletales who will get their tongues slit and tossed to the dogs.

"We have moved away from that stuff as people felt it would be too difficult for children to accept," Courtot said. "In those earlier books, this is just the way it was, the way you imparted lessons. They told them the real truth.

"It is definitely a unique twist, and it will likely draw children's literature specialists from all over the country who will love the opportunity to see the original books. When you look at a reproduction, it's never the same.  Nobody dies anymore; everyone is rescued and saved. The hard-hitting moral is lost. It is fascinating to see what they were doing 100 years ago.

Anderson University's Library Director, Janet Brewer, said the last count put the number of books at more than 6,000.

"But Dr. York is purchasing more books all the time ... " Brewer said. "Her dream is that we can one day offer a master's in children's literature. Schools our size doing that are few and far between."

It will take about a year to properly catalog the books. Some will be displayed and in special exhibits. Most will be available upon request for research and reading.

Among the 6,000-plus rare and first-edition books donated to Anderson University:

1878 Caldecott collection of illustrations, including "Babes in the Wood" and "An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog" -- both with graphically morbid illustrations.

1884 "Mother Goose or the Old Nursery Rhymes" collection, illustrated by Kate Greenway.

1902 "The Tailor of Gloucester," the privately published version by Beatrix Potter, appearing a year before it was published by Frederick Warne Co. in London.

1943 "Bringer of the Mystery Dog," a book produced by the U.S. Indian Service for children of the Sioux. Printed with side-by-side text of English and Sioux languages.

1960 Best in Children's Books series with short stories such as "The Magic Porridge Pot," illustrated by a young up-and-coming artist named Andy Warhol.

1963 "Where the Wild Things Are," first edition by Maurice Sendak, along with five hand-written letters from Sendak to his New York publisher, written in 1966.

1978 "Cajun Night Before Christmas" by Trosclair, in which Santa is pulled by alligators, dresses like a muskrat and brings a "sackfull o playt'ing" to kids on the bayou.

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