That’s Eric Carle, author of many, many children’s books. I have lost count how many times I have read the Very Hungry Caterpillar or the Very Busy Spider. So I was very excited to be able to go to a book signing by the man himself earlier today. But I couldn’t, because the queue was so long, they weren’t permitting anyone else to join it. He was signing his new book at the New York Public Library, the famous one on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. There were hundreds of people there and a lot of very bored children. I did catch a glimpse of Eric and took a snap, which you can see below, but it’s not very close, so imagine it’s an old man with a beard in a hat. Such a shame not to actually get our books signed and say hi, but we did get to go back into the “ABC of it: why children’s literature matters” exhibition, which is even better second time round.
In the New York Public Library, “The ABC of it: why children’s books matter“. What a fabulous new exhibition on the history of children’s literature. From an original water colour done by Beatrix Potter and given to the NYPL Children’s Librarian of the time to the ever expanding neck of Alice in Wonderland, this is a wonderfully curated gem in the heart of the 42nd Street library. If you are less than 4 feet tall you too can fall down the rabbit hole – or keep going in and out, as J did repeatedly. Or you can snuggle up to the furry Gruffalo and be grateful he’s only there in outline. And I was pleased to see that Winnie and friends had been let out of the their rather sad home in the Children’s Library, to be propped up in much nicer surroundings at the heart of the exhibition. Free and on until March 2014, catch it, if you can.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Dickens may have written one of the most well known opening lines in English literature when he published A Tale of Two Cities in 1859, but it was an American writer, Mark Twain, who took a trip to NW10 (just over the border from NW3) in 1900 and opened Kensal Rise Library. In 2012, the local community is fighting to keep the library as a community asset after Brent Council withdrew library services from the building owned by All Souls College, Oxford, in a bid to save money (I note that in today’s local government finance settlement, Brent’s grant will reduce by a mere 0.5%). I checked in on progress with Kensal Rise Library’s local campaign and was heartened to see that All Souls will allow the community to use 1500 square feet of space for a library in perpetuity. Kind, but they will make a lot of money out of the sale of flats above that space when it’s sold to developers. The reason I write about this is the contrast with NYC. Today the New York Public Library published its plans to develop the iconic 101 year old building on 42nd Street and spend over $150 million to bring it up to date and, for the first time, lend books to the public (currently only branches do this). Shutting down and selling the buildings housing two other libraries and using capital money provided by New York City, a modern lending library will open to the public in 2018. I was saddened by the closure of public libraries in the UK and in NW3 the community rallied round and brought the Heath, Belsize and Chalk Farm libraries into the modern age of community resources, run by local people for local people. I just hope they survive past 2018 when New York opens its famous public library, after its extensive programme of works, run by the city for the city.