Picture books play such a formative role in the development of a child, and a new exhibit celebrates the literature and art form.
“The Picture Book Re-Imagined: The Children’s Book Legacy of Pratt Institute and Bank Street College of Education,” at Pratt Manhattan Gallery, explores the manuscripts and illustrations of more than 70 books published from the 1930s on.
Curated by author and historian Leonard Marcus — who was also behind NYPL’s popular “The ABC of It” exhibition a few years back — the show features a selection of original children’s book artwork by Pratt alumni and faculty as well as books and manuscripts by Bank Street alumni and staff — two NYC institutions that are influential in the world of children’s literature.
It also includes a look at the creation of a children’s book from start to finish, plus a reading room and a pop-up bookstore where children can find works featured in the exhibition.
amNewYork spoke with Kristin Freda, director of the Bank Street Library, about the exhibition.
As this took shape, what became the big idea?
[Marcus] decided to focus the exhibit on this theme — the child, the city and the world. And really a lot of the images are city images, or city life.
What are some highlights of the exhibit?
“The Noisy Book.” This is one of the few books where somebody from Pratt — that’s [illustrator] Leonard Weisgard — and somebody from Bank Street — [writer] Margaret Wise Brown — actually collaborated together. They have about 20 books together, but the book that’s featured in this exhibit is “The Noisy Book.” We had a Pratt art student design a little reading room where kids can go in and on the walls, she recreated one of the interior drawings of “The Noisy Book.” It’s called The Noisy Room. It’s really adorable. And Bank Street Library purchased copies of all the books featured in the exhibit [for the room]. We had to hunt down a lot of these books — some of them are out of print, or are more rare. We thought it would be so neat to be able to put your hands on these things.
What makes a children’s book stand the test of time?
I think children’s picture books have to speak to the children, not to the adults. There’s a lot of books out there that adults can read and enjoy, but which a child would get bored of pretty quickly. The language really has to suit the developmental age of the child, and that’s really hard to do. And the imagery and the pictures have to meet the words, they have to really come together and create a whole. A child can look at the pictures and pick up the story from that, even if they can’t read the words yet.
What do you hope adults and children take away from the exhibit?
I think an appreciation of the picture book. Being able to just see that art close up, and in person, and then getting an understanding of the history of the picture book. It really was something that people had strong philosophies about.