This is a little different type of post here on Story Pockets, less about working with children and more about messing around with books. I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures in historical children’s literature.
“There once was a boy named Pierre, who only said, ‘I don’t care.'” (Maurice Sendak, Pierre) Words to music so often stay in our minds long after mere words go away. This is the first line of a song from the television show “Really Rosie,” which was aired in February of 1975. I never saw the show, but my grandmother sent me the soundtrack album, and it soon became the soundtrack to my life. I could probably sing all of the songs by memory to you right here, if pressed. In all of my imaginings, I never would have guessed that a record album sent to me by my grandmother would be so important to me almost forty years later. Let me tell you a little bit more. “Really Rosie” is based on five books by Maurice Sendak. The first book is The Sign on Rosie’s Door, and the remaining four books make up a set called the Nutshell Library: Pierre, One was Johnny, Alligators All Around, and Chicken Soup with Rice. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh does not own the Nutshell library in one set, but if you type the phrase “Nutshell Library” into the Classic Catalog as a title, all four books come up, and you can order them one by one. The set by itself is adorable, let me tell you, and its adorableness got me in a lot of trouble, by and by. In 2013, I received the Bechtel Fellowship from the American Library Association’s Children’s division, ALSC, to study historical children’s literature at the University of Florida. I thought I was going there to study books about manners, since that is what I wrote on my research proposal. To prepare for the fellowship, I did research on such contemporary manners books as, What do you say, dear? and What do you do, dear? Undoubtedly, it was those two irreverent titles, both illustrated by Maurice Sendak, that got me on the track I followed instead: writing about Mr. Sendak and his connection with chapbooks. I can hear you now, asking me, “What’s a chapbook?” Let me give you a quick definition: Chapbooks, cheap pamphlet type books, were made in the 18th and 19th centuries and sold from town to town by chapmen, who were traveling peddlers. These are not to be confused with poetry chapbooks, which is a whole other kettle of fish. One day while I was in Florida, I looked at the chapbooks about manners that I’d been studying in one hand and The Nutshell Library in the other, and a light bulb went off. You can read more about the ensuing hijinks in my article that was published last month in Children and Libraries. by Suzi, Downtown & Business