Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

The Librarian Lion: Constructing Children's Literature through Connections, Capital, and Criticism (1906-1941)

Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

The Librarian Lion: Constructing Children's Literature through Connections, Capital, and Criticism (1906-1941)

Article excerpt

While much has been written about the pioneering children's librarian Anne Carroll Moore, little has been written about her role as a de facto literary agent. As such, Moore was an innovator not only in children's Iibrarianship, but also in the field of children's publishing. This paper analyzes Moore's letters at the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library and uncovers evidence of her agenting role. Letters written to Moore from authors and illustrators like Greville Macdonald, Walter de la Mare, Leonard Leslie Brooke, Dorothy Lathrop, Florence Crannell Means, and Beatrix Potter demonstrate Moore's involvement-from previewing manuscripts, to placing them with editors, to reviewing finished books, and finally, to selecting works for the library's children. Moore's innovative mentoring work with authors defines her as a leader whose reach stretched from the library to the world of publishing, as she helped shape the burgeoning genre of children's literature.

Keywords: Historical research, children's I ibrarianship, children's publishing, agenting, Anne Carroll Moore

Introduction and Context

Using the Anne Carroll Moore Papers at the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library, this paper focuses on the formative period in the history of children's librarianship and publishing during Anne Carroll Moore's reign at the New York Public Library (1906-1941), and on Anne Carroll Moore herself, a key player in the establishment of a burgeoning field, who served as children's librarian, critic, and mentor and advisor-and as virtual literary agent-to authors and illustrators. During that time, children's literature was beginning to acquire what Bourdieu (1984) refers to as "cultural capital." Children's books were nearly on par with literature for adults as objects containing cultural value. Children's literature was reviewed and criticized, starting with Anne Carroll Moore's "The Three Owls" column in The New York Herald Tribune, and was considered to be an entity powerful enough to shape children's minds. Publishers realized that the cultural capital inherent in children's literature could be exchanged for economic capital, and formed children's departments as part of their editorial programs starting with editor Louise Seaman Bechtel atMacmillan's children's department in 1919.

In that context, this paper focuses on the "Librarian Lion," Anne Carroll Moore, who was a central figure during that foundational period, rising from librarian to primary gatekeeper in the field of children's literature, determining through her reviews and criticism which books were worthy of inclusion in the canon of quality children's literature, and serving as a gatekeeper, connecting would-be authors and illustrators with editors at publishing houses (several of whom she had initially trained as children's librarians). Moore's partnerships with authors, illustrators, publishers, editors, trade organizations, booksellers, and other librarians, at home and abroad, and her role as one of the first critics and reviewers of children's literature, posited her at the center of a sphere of influence. In her role as mentor, intermediary, and eccentric shaper-of-culture (evidenced through letters from authors and illustrators written to her wooden doll "Nicholas"), she played a strategic role in connecting authors and illustrators with editors, and consulting with those authors and illustrators at every stage of the literary process, from manuscript to finished book, to critical reception and awards. Based on the large number of authors and illustrators who corresponded with her who went on to win major awards, Anne Carroll Moore might even have played a subtle role in influencing award recognition. For example, award committee members might have paid special attention to books that received favorable reviews by Moore. And Moore championed those whose work she liked.

This paper analyzes letters written to Moore from authors, illustrators, editors, and publishers and uncovers patterns that reveal her role as a de facto (albeit unpaid) literary agent. …

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