April 13, 1995
Vol. 14, No. 15

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    Planes, Trains and Automobiles

    Colorful illustrated characters from the books of L. Frank Baum, Walt Disney, Hardie Gramatky and more than a hundred other authors and artists populate the cases at Regenstein Library's Department of Special Collections in the exhibition "Planes, Trains and Automobiles: The Transportation Revolution in Children's Picture Books."

    The exhibition, which originated with Neil Harris, the Preston and Sterling Morton Professor in History and an avid collector of children's literature, has been mounted to "underscore the graphic imagination and energy that lie behind children's books," Harris said. "We're trying to encourage people to look at the genre and to ask what kinds of themes emerge."

    One theme Harris has found in children's literature is the presentation of mechanized transport in book illustrations. "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" focuses on this subject, examining works from the United States, Great Britain, France and Russia.

    "Almost from the start, artists and promoters of various kinds found transportation themes an absorbing subject," Harris writes in the exhibition catalog. "Trains and steamboats, and later, automobiles and airplanes, were at once novel, awesome, fearsome and liberating, engaging not only by virtue of their mechanical ingenuity, power and scale, but also through the romantic associations of speed, distance and adventure that clung to them. And appealing as well, because of the complex rituals and procedures associated with their management and use. There were, simultaneously, moral, pedagogical, scientific and purely sensationalist grounds on which to encourage interest in the details of the transportation revolution."

    "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" discusses the implications of transportation imagery, tracing its characteristics and the evolution of the transportation revolution as recorded in children's literature from the mid-19th century to the present. Books on display range from The World and Its Wonders (1844) to Subway Sparrow (1993) -- with Little Toot (1939), The Little Engine That Could (1930, 1976, 1984, 1991), Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (1939) and Thomas the Tank Engine (1992) among the parade of titles in between.

    About half of the 150 books in the exhibition have been provided by Harris, who has been collecting children's literature for numerous years. He estimates his picture-book library to include about 800 volumes.

    "I began collecting children's books because I was interested in illustration," Harris said. "Some of my favorite works in the exhibition are those from the Jersey City Printing Company, which produced really wonderful colors. Those books are fascinating examples of innovative printing." Harris' contribution

    exemplifies the fruitful interaction among collectors, donors, scholars and research libraries without which many significant works in the children's literary canon would be lost, said Alice Schreyer, Curator of Special Collections.

    "For 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles,' Harris provided invaluable breadth in the area of late-20th-century books," Schreyer said. Other materials in the exhibition were culled from the Library's Encyclopaedia Britannica Collection of Books for Children.

    "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" will be on view in the Department of Special Collections in Regenstein Library through July 10. An illustrated catalog written by Harris accompanies the exhibition. For more information, call 7028705.

    -- Carmen Marti