Road Trips

After last weekend’s cold and gloom, it has been a beautiful sunny week here in Philadelphia–the kind of week that makes me glad that I work only three blocks from Rittenhouse Square and can soak in the sun on my lunch break. It’s also the kind of weather that gets me in the mood for a nice scenic road trip and, in fact, the collections department has been on the road a lot recently handling loans to a couple of exhibits at other museums.

For those of you Philadelphia-area folks, you should check out The Brandywine River Museum’s exhibit “Drawn From a Story: Illustrations by Selected Caldecott Winners,” which opens tomorrow. Obviously Sendak’s Wild Things will be there (on the title wall, no less) but there are also tons of other really fantastic drawings, all the way from the first-ever winner, Dorothy Lathrop, to the 2010 winner Jerry Pinkney.

I looked up Lathrop’s 1938 Caldecott acceptance speech and it’s really fascinating. Apparently she was attracted to the more dramatic animals, including Elisha’s bears and the pigs which ran over a cliff after Jesus cast a man’s demons into them, but her editor said they were too scary for children and made her pull back to tamer scenes. As she commented “Who would have believed that those young beings whose weekly fare is the animated cartoon in which great wolves with wide open mouths and dripping jowls tower in relentless pursuit like the nightmare creatures of delirium until they blot out all else and engulf at last even the beholder – who would have believed that those children would blanch at the story of Elisha’s two she-bears?”

The question of what is too scary for children comes up over and over again in discussions of Sendak’s work and Lathrop’s comments made me realize what a universal problem this is for innovative children’s books creators. Sendak himself said in his own acceptance speech,”Certainly we want to protect our children from new and painful experiences that are beyond their emotional comprehension and that intensify anxiety; and to a point we can prevent premature exposure to such experiences. That is obvious. But what is just as obvious –and what is too often overlooked– is the fact that from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, that fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, that they continually cope with frustration as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.”

So anyway, the Brandywine River show is well worth a trip, especially on a beautiful spring day. To sweeten the deal, they are offering free tickets to children who read (or have read to them) 8 Caldecott winners. See their website more more information on this

The other Rosenbach collections on the road have a much longer trip. A selection of Sendak drawings will be part of “Monsters and Miracles: A Journey through Jewish Picture Books” which opens at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles on April 8. So for all you left-coasters who missed the Sendak on Sendak show in San Francisco, here’s your chance to show some Rosenbach love. East coasters, don’t despair, the show was developed collaboratively between the Skirball and the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA and it will be coming to the Carle this fall.

And as always, there’s also lots of great stuff happening right here at the Rosenbach, from new objects in our Friend or Faux exhibit (including Jefferson’s letter-copying machine, on loan from the American Philosophical Society) to this weekend’s Sendak in Spring festivities. I’ll be spending a sunny Sunday helping out at Sendak in Spring, so I hope to see lots of you come by–you could even combine a visit here with a picnic in Rittenhouse Square. That’s what I’m thinking of doing with my family, so if you see me, give me a wave!