Children’s Classics, Brought to Vivid Life

The Newark Public Library celebrates the 150th anniversary of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" with an exhibit featuring more than 50 illustrated works.

From “Martina the Beautiful Cockroach” by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Michael Austin. Photo courtesy of Newark Public Library Special Collections.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Lewis Carrol penned the classic nonsense novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (commonly shortened to Alice in Wonderland). Now considered a classic, beloved by children and idolized by counter-culture artists—not to mention drug users—the short novel has inspired countless film adaptations, musicals, songs and comic books. The White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the Caterpillar, the Queen of Hearts and Alice herself can each stand alone as cultural icons.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Alice’s publication, the Newark Public Library is hosting the exhibit “Fantastic Tales: Adventures in Illustrated Children’s Books from the Special Collections Division,” featuring more than 50 illustrated works.

“I wanted to do something creative to celebrate the anniversary, something to celebrate the imagination,” says Nadine Sergejeff, Special Collections manager at the library, who has masters degrees in Library Science from Rutgers University and Museum Studies from Seton Hall.

With more than 3,000 works in the library’s Special Collections, Sergejeff worked hard to select a beautiful representation of fairy tales, folk tales, animal tales, and myths ranging from the 19th to 21st centuries.

The library’s website provides a brief history of children’s literature:

Prior to the Victorian Age, stories which contained fantastic elements were considered unacceptable for children. The Fables of Aesop were among the earliest tales to be printed in 1484, only for the reason that they conveyed spiritual and moral lessons to children. The first illustrated books were costly to produce. However, the advancement of printing techniques later enabled the affordable production of colorful, vibrant, and fascinating pictures. By the mid–19th century, children’s materials began to include illustrations, as to make them more appealing.

The oldest work in the exhibit is a 1761 edition of Select Fables of Aesop and Other Fabulists. There’s modern stories represented too, including Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. The illustrators include Arthur Rackham, Maurice Sendak, Jerry Pinkney, Ashley Bryan, Leo and Diane Dillon, Floyd Cooper, Carole Byard and more.

The exhibition is on view in the Main Library’s second floor gallery May 15-September 5, 2015 during regular Library hours (Closed on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and every Sunday). For more information, please call 973-733-7779.


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