Yes, it really is 700 years, going back to a thirteenth-century Latin bible, but most of these books are more recent—nineteenth and early twentieth century—including all the various genres made for children, mostly to set them on the straight and narrow path, but occasionally to entertain them as well. There’s plenty of unusual stuff here, like a 1975 picture book from Cuba, with colorful drawings done by the children themselves to illustrate the Communist triumph at the Bay of Pigs. And then there’s a 1912 “Girl’s Ethical Reader” from Shanghai, with delicate, color illustrations in a late-Qing-Dynasty style. My favorites are a few of the original wood engravings for “Alice in Wonderland,” designed by Sir John Tenniel, with many subtleties that have disappeared from subsequent editions. Also memorable were the playful, early Modernist illustrations that accompanied the publication of the music for Debussy’s “La Boite a Joujoux.” Many of the books—or pamphlets—are very small, quite appropriate for small hands and young eyes, but somewhat challenging for adults, especially in the dimly lit display cases. But often the exhibition does present super-size reproductions that capture every detail. (Chris Miller)
“Artifacts of Childhood: 700 Years of Children’s Books” runs through Through January 17, 2009 at the Newberry Library, 60 West Walton.