Library exhibition trolls the dark side of children's literature

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Syl Kacapyr

In the late '90s, a certain boy wizard kicked off a tidal wave of fascination with children's literature among readers of all ages.

Much of that literature contains elements of magic, violence, drugs, death and sex that some adults deemed problematic, but it didn't start with Harry Potter. Even before Mother Goose and the Brothers Grimm, characters in books for children and young adults have always reflected the darker elements of society.

The newest exhibition from Cornell University Library -- "Wardrobes and Rabbit Holes: A Dark History of Children's Literature," opening Nov. 7 in the library's Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections -- showcases that darkness and explores the vast wonderland of children's literature.

Young-adult author M.T. Anderson, who will kick off the exhibition with a lecture, doesn't exactly write happy-ending fairy tales.

Anderson won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2006 and has written several award-winning books for children, teens and adults -- including "Feed," a dystopian adventure set in a world where most people's brains are plugged into a constantly flowing network of information.

"We are thrilled to host M.T. Anderson's lecture," said exhibition curator Eisha Neely. "He's a brilliant writer, and his work incorporates so many of the themes explored in this exhibition: fairy tales, dystopias and the profit-driven industry that children's literature has become."

"Wardrobes and Rabbit Holes" is composed primarily of the library's own collection of rare materials, including:

The exhibition opens with Anderson's talk at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7, in Lewis Auditorium, Goldwin Smith Hall. Immediately afterward, the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections hosts the exhibition opening reception in the Hirshland Gallery, level 2B of Carl A. Kroch Library.

"Wardrobes and Rabbit Holes" remains on display in the Hirshland Gallery through March 22, 2013.

The lecture and reception are supported by the Stephen '58, MBA '59, and Evalyn Edwards '60 Milman Exhibition Fund, the Nathan Zimelman endowment, and Jon and Virginia Lindseth '56.

Gwen Glazer is the staff writer for Cornell University Library.

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