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Contact: Mary Caffrey 609/258-5748
Date: October 15, 1997

Princeton to Dedicate Cotsen Children's Library

Book Collection Exhibition Designed to Spark Lifelong Love of Reading

PRINCETON, N.J. -- On Thursday, October 30, 1997, Princeton University will dedicate the Cotsen Children's Library, which comprises one of the worldís finest historical collections of children's books as well as an interactive exhibit designed to inspire children to read. Media are invited to attend the event, which begins with a 4:15 p.m. reception in the main gallery of Firestone Library. A ceremony follows at 5 p.m. on the library patio. The Cotsen Childrenís Library will be open to the public during normal library hours beginning October 31, 1997.

The Cotsen Children's Library is the result of a December 1994 gift from Lloyd E. Cotsen, Class of 1950, who is a charter trustee of the University. Cotsen, the former chairman and CEO of Neutrogena Corporation, is now head of Cotsen Management Corporation in Los Angeles, Calif. His gift included a pledge of $8 million to create new facilities within Firestone Library and to endow research on children's books and education based on the Cotsen Children's Library resources.

For scholars, the Cotsen Children's Library will provide resources that include deposits of more than 22,000 items and two gifts to the University. Gifts are the Tillson Music collection, which includes nursery rhymes, sheet music, musical toys and children's song books, and the 130-item Perrault collection, which includes early editions of Perrault's fairy tales, also known in English as "Mother Goose." The collection will be available to researchers sometime in early 1998.

For the general public, the highlight of the Cotsen Children's Library is the permanent interactive exhibition, an area off the main entrance of Firestone Library that will be open to casual visitors and, in the future, to groups of school children. Visitors to the exhibition will be struck by its imaginative design. The ceiling rises to 22 feet, and a "giant book" serves as the centerpiece of the display. Planners of the exhibit aimed for children to discover that books are passports to other places, other times and other people. The themes of "Go Anywhere, Anytime" and "Be Anyone" are carried out in an attractive space in which classic tales are used to introduce children to different types of stories as well as the use of setting, characters and language in literature.

Go Anywhere, Anytime: The "Giant Book." Jane Bloom, curator of well-received New York City exhibitions such as The World of Pooh, Tar Beach and Seuss, served as curator for the "book," whose 14-foot covers and spine fan out across the exhibit floor. Doorways in the bookís covers transport children into one of three "worlds", each represented by a children's classic. A wardrobe -- from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- leads to scenes from the C.S. Lewisí Chronicles of Narnia, which introduce children to the world of high fantasy and its connections to mythology and folklore. The world of nonsense, represented by Lewis Carrollís Alice in Wonderland, is entered through a keyhole; here, children will play word games that incorporate puns and riddles from Alice and from other children's literature. The animal story Charlotteís Web introduces the themes of time, the seasons, and friendship. A diorama of Garth Williams' illustrations will provide children with a summary of the E.B. White story, and an audio track by the author will introduce children to changing seasons as a literary device.

Be Anyone: The Fairy Tale Theater. This space asks children to place well-known characters in unfamiliar situations. In the Voices exhibit, children get the opportunity to "become" characters through the use of special telephones that alter their voices. The Faces exhibit lets children alter their appearance, thus "becoming" other characters, by manipulating photographs of their faces. In the "Be Anyone" play room, children will get to pick a script of a fractured fairy tale, myth or fable. Children can cast parts, act out the script and record it in front of a chromakey wall -- similar to the "blue screen" used by movie actors before special effects are added. Minutes later, when children see the final product, they will be surrounded by an animated background. Work by the creator, Ben Rubin of Ear Studios, has been featured at New Yorkís Museum of Jewish Heritage and at the Brooklyn Bridge Association.

The main goal of the exhibition project is to convey the idea that knowledge of and experiences with books are sources of personal empowerment that broaden horizons and increase awareness of life's options. The exhibition also aims to teach children about the art of the written word and illustrations, taking children beyond what they may know about books, and by extension, the world. The prime audience is the fourth to sixth grades; secondary audiences are first- through third-graders and the seventh and eighth grades. The exhibition team includes Childrenís Library Curator Andrea Immel, Curator of Rare Books Stephen Ferguson and gallery designer Lynne Breslin, who has also done installations for the Unites States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Whitney Museum and the Nelson Atkins Gallery. Architects for the project are Henry Smith-Miller and Laurie Hawkinson, of New York City.

In addition to the public exhibition, the Cotsen gift created a fund for scholarship and conferences that explore aspects of the history of childrenís literature and education. The first of these conferences, which takes place the day of the dedication, will be "Playing with Knowledge: Text, Toys and Teaching Children in Georgian England." The conference will explore the legacy of innovative Georgian writers and publishers whose contributions to the development of modern child-centered pedagogy are still not widely recognized. The conference highlights one of the greatest strengths of the Cotsen collection: a group of 3,500 English books and toys from the Georgian period (1700-1839), including imprints by Newbery, Harris, and Darton.

Also, two related exhibitions will be on view in the Rare Books and Special Collections Department: "The Key to the Garden: Children's Literature at Princeton," located in the main gallery, and "Orbis Pictus: The World Illustrated in Children's Books," located in the Milberg Gallery.