Today, we turn the blog over to the one and only Dr. Dana Sheridan,Cotsen’s scrumdiddlyumptious Education & Outreach Coordinator. This post is based on the program that she and Cotsen curatorial assistant, Ian Dooley, dreamed up for the Cotsen Critix based on collections materials. It’s cross-posted on the two Cotsen blogs for everyone’s enjoyment. Take it away, Dr. Dana and Ian!
The Cotsen Children’s Library is part of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University, but it also houses a whimsical gallery space and outreach programs that promote a love of literacy in children. Today, I’d love to share a collections education presentation we hosted for Cotsen Critix, our literary society for children ages 9-12.
The session was entitled “Weird Books,” and our goal was to give kids a deeper appreciation for the unusual formats books can take. The books were selected and presented by Cotsen’s curatorial assistant, Ian Dooley – a frequent contributor to this blog (here, in fact, is his most recent post on Dickens).
The first book Ian presented was a tiny volume stashed inside a leather-hinged walnut shell. It’s The Bronte Castle Alphabet by Elmira Smith Wilkey (Bronte Press, 1981). The book is a mere 3 cm (1.18 inches) in height!
In contrast to the miniature book, Ian brought out an extremely oversized one – the aptly titled Let’s Count Big Book (World Book Co., c1953). He discussed how this book might have been used in a classroom, and why it needed to be so large.
And what about books that have no pages? While the kids puzzled this question over, Ian brought out two horn books. The first was an Urdu horn book created in Lahore, Pakistan by Mubarak’s Sons Stationers. While undated, it’s most likely 20th century.
Here’s another, very different horn book. The illustrated blocks on the face of the horn book depict the 6 days of Creation. The illustrations appear to be printed from blocks used in the Coverdale Bible, which means that this object dates back to 1535. The kids were simply stunned by its age.
And then there are books made out of unusual materials. Such as this metal book, L’Anguria Lirica (Edizioni Futuriste di Poesia, [ca. 1933]). It’s a collection of poetry by Tullio D’Albisola, illustrated by Bruno Munari. The text and illustrations are color lithographed on tin.
Some books might appear normal, but they contain a secret. This 1877 edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Macmillan and Co.) has a hidden fore-edge painting. Fan the pages just so, and you are treated to John Tenniel’s illustration of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (Ian describes the fore-edge painting of this book in much more detail in this post).
And speaking of Alice, Ian thought the kids might recognize this famous artist’s interpretation of the story.
The melting clock is the giveaway, really. This is a 1969 folio edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Maecenas Press, Random House) with illustrations by Salvador Dali. One very unusual thing about Dali’s Alice is the binding. It doesn’t have one! The chapters float freely apart and are stacked and stored inside a clam shell box when not in use.
Ian also brought out a lift-the-flap book and a book on wheels for the kids to examine. He remarked that while we might not find these formats unusual today, at one time, they would have been extremely novel to young readers. He added that early movable books and shape books like the ones below also helped push the boundaries of what can be traditionally considered a “book.”The presentation’s grand finale was a book so lengthy, we needed to display it on a 6 foot table! It’s The City Park (Viking, 1981), a reproduction of an antique German toy book by Lothar Meggendorfer. The book unfolds into multiple arrangements that can display different scenes and perspectives in a 19th-century city park.
All in all, “Weird Books” was a fantastic presentation full of surprises and revelations for the kids. Ian was kind enough to stay for 30 minutes after his presentation ended, answering questions about rare books, Cotsen’s collections, his job at the library, and inexplicably, robots. Thanks so much Ian!
To see more books from the Cotsen stacks, visit our virtual exhibitions!