Foreword to the Catalogue

Foreword to the Catalogue

Harold T. Shapiro, President of Princeton University, for A Catalogue of The Cotsen Children's Library. I: The 20th Century A-L, p. 27 

    The publication of this first volume cataloguing the Cotsen Children's Library at Princeton is real cause for celebration. Handsomely produced and marvelously illustrated, the volume is a treasure in itself. More important, however, it provides a glimpse of the immense treasure of the Cotsen collection. In fact, to my mind this beautiful volume mirrors a motif that is familiar to many of us from children's literature. I think, for example, of such classics in the Anglo-American tradition of children's literature as Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass or Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. Each of these tales holds out the promise that there is a magical place we may discover, through which we might gain entry into a fantastic new world. In my view, the Cotsen Children's Library itself is such a place--and what an extraordinarily rich world it opens up to us! 

    In this catalogue we encounter only a portion of the treasures to be found here; for while the Cotsen Children's Library encompasses a very broad historical range, including materials as early as fifteenth-century collections of Latin fables for children, this first volume of the catalogue focuses on twentieth-century publications. The volume particularly mirrors our time through the multiplicity of languages found in the collection's holdings; the nearly seven thousand entries documented here represent more than thirty languages. In fact, one of the goals of the collection is to bring together materials from many different nations and cultures. There are even intriguing hybrid works, such as Jean de Brunhoff's ABC de Babar annotated in German, or a bilingual Haggadah printed in both German and Hebrew. The subject-matters of these works are as wonderfully varied as their languages. Of course, examples of classic children's tales are here, such as Aesop's fables or the Grimm fairy tales. Other publications treat children's everyday activities, introduce alphabets, instruct in hygiene, or explain scientific phenomena--topics we might find particularly suitable for children's literature. Yet other works are more surprising--for example, a fantasy that denounces the dumping of industrial waste (the late Ted Hughes' The Iron Woman), a beautifully illustrated textbook produced by Mussolini's ministry of education (Il libro della IV classe elementare), or an anti-Nazi comic book (La bete est morte! by Dancette and Calvo). These compel us to reflect on the extent to which the preoccupations of the adult world--for good or ill--shape the literature available to children. 

    As these examples suggest, the Cotsen Children's Library offers an extraordinary resource to scholars. A number of projects have already drawn on this resource, ranging from a study of American editions of German works for children to a history of educational board games. Princeton students have also begun to utilize the collection, for example, for a thesis on seventeenth-century women writers of fairy tales and a dissertation that includes a chapter on fiction about dolls. These scholarly endeavors are only the beginning of what is possible with a collection of materials as broad, deep, and diverse as the Cotsen Children's Library. These materials not only enable the study of authors and illustrators; they also cast light on family dynamics, the teaching of reading, and the changing perceptions of children, among many other research topics. By bringing together this collection, Lloyd E. Cotsen has created unparalleled opportunities for learning. We are grateful and honored that he has made those opportunities available at Princeton University. 

Princeton University