Constructing the Canon of Children's Literature: Beyond Library Walls and Ivory Towers

By Anne Lundin | Go to book overview

Chapter One

Best Books: The Librarian

"Only the rarest kind of best of anything can be good enough for a child."

-Walter de la Mare, Bells and Grass

What story to tell of Anne Carroll Moore, the great star in the sky over the landscapes of children's libraries? Legends abound of her power over the national publishing scene, her children's literature empire on 42nd Street, and her eccentricities and alter egos. I will tell one anecdote that illustrates the imagistic talents of Anne Carroll Moore. When New York Public librarian Anne Carroll Moore was offered the rare opportunity to write her own children's book page in 1924 in the New York Herald Tribune, the first full-page spread on children's books in the American press, she chose the title, "The Three Owls," inspired by a library weathervane and symbolizing the equal powers of author, artist, and critic in the making of children's books. The author is easy to figure; the artist is the illustrator, but who exactly is the critic in the early 1920s? Who but the children's librarian in her prime, hooting in the dark?

When Moore later wrote a column for the Horn Book and compiled her writings into book form, she again chose that predatory night bird as her emblem. Not only did she regard owls as the most picturesque and human of all birds, according to her biographer Frances Clarke Sayers, but she also raised to an apogee of art the criticism of books for children. 1 Books were written, illustrated, and then appraised by none other than the children's librarian as artist in her own right. Here was a dynamic profile of the librarian: not the mere custodian of books looking elsewhere for expertise, not the timid, bespeckled spinster dusting books on the shelf, but instead a figure of great prowess, of swooping cultural authority, equal to creators of art. Hardly a meek image, the owl is a sign of wisdom, and this third owl was indeed wise in the ways of the world.

This is the larger story I wish to tell: how children's librarians took over the children's book world in the first half of the twentieth century and made their mark on the literature, especially on a high standard for children's books, one

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Constructing the Canon of Children's Literature: Beyond Library Walls and Ivory Towers
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Series Editor's Foreword ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Prologue xiii
  • Chapter One - Best Books: the Librarian 1
  • Chapter Two - Best Books: the Scholar 57
  • Chapter Three - Best Books: the Reader 109
  • Epilogue 141
  • Notes 149
  • Selected Bibliography 161
  • Index 167
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