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THE ABC of It: Things to Think About

By April 4, 2019May 13th, 2021The Kerlan Blog

Wide view of the ABC exhibit gallery. Amelia Bedelia dummy and finished book open in glass case. Picture book panels in background.

What is The ABC of It?

The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter is a physical exhibit at the Elmer L. Andersen Library. For information about the exhibit, hours, and location go here

Cover, Wanda Gág, Millions of Cats

The original exhibit was at The New York Public Library. Children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus, the author of over 28 books, was charged with selecting materials from the NYPL collections and creating content that linked those objects with history, educational theory, child development and art for an exhibit. (recent Publisher’s Weekly interview with Marcus here.)

That exhibit was so popular that it was extended twice, ran for over 14 months and had over 1/2 a million visitors.

  At the University of Minnesota

Leonard S. Marcus talking to our docents about Wanda Gág

We did not recreate the NYPL exhibit. We selected Leonard S. Marcus’s words from the NYPL case labels and we selected materials from the collections that would illustrate them. For example, Marcus discusses the making of picture books using Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats. The Kerlan Collection holds the original art, printer’s advance, manuscript and family photos. We were able to pair Marcus’ words with the Gág collection that we hold.

The Catalogue

Sadly there was no catalogue the NYPL show meaning a loss of Leonard S. Marcus’ words. Visitors to the University of Minnesota The ABC of It will find a density of text accompanying the objects. A visitor would have to spend hours standing and reading and might not want or be able to, therefore there is a book physical (University of Minnesota Press) and an open access e-editions ( available here).

Cover of The ABC of It

The physical book is available in bookstores and distributors as well as from the University of Minnesota Press. Here.

Is this a comprehensive history of children’s literature?

No. This is one scholar’s words and point-of-view limited by time, space and materials. There is so much more we would have wished to display and explicate.

Brownies’ Book Cover

If anyone has a copy of the Brownies’ Book please donate it to the Kerlan Collection. For more about the Brownies Book and its impact  read “To Be Great, Heroic or Beautiful”: The Enduring Legacy of The Brownies’ Book  by Dr. Jonda C. McNair and  Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop in  The Horn Book.(Here)

We have asked our visitors to think about what is contained in this exhibit, what is missing, what had they wished for? We are recording and saving these comments as they inform our work.

Visitors comments and questions

Further Readings

As we think about children’s books and their place in our lives, education and culture there are scholars and teachers who give us insight. (what informed the exhibit here )

This bibliography is on display on the 3rd and 2nd floor of the Andersen Library as well as copies of the articles lists. A PDF of the list here

We welcome groups

If you wish to bring a group of 10 or less, no need to let us know, just come and enjoy. For example, we have had many book groups choose a favorite from their childhood to discuss and recommend and then visit The ABC of It. We are open until 7 pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

If you have a larger group or wish to schedule a visit accompanied by a docent please email Our office staff is available Monday through Friday 9 am to 4:30 pm. Our phone is 612-624-4576.

Things to Think About Series

The ABC of It: Things to Think About 2

The ABC of It: Things to Think About 3: Dr. Seuss

The ABC of It: Things to Think About 4: Caddie Woodlawn




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