By Flo Cunningham, Marketing Communications and Public Relations Director
Once upon a time, in a land not so very far away, lived a charming couple who shared a love of children’s picturebooks. She savored the words, relishing the rhythm, the flow, the flavor of the language. He took delight in the illustrations, the lines and colors and designs that made each book a unique work of art. Together they composed sensitive, insightful reviews of the books, for which they became quite well known across the land. And so it was that they gathered more books … and more … and more — Hillenbrands and Macaulays and Sendaks and Sabudas and more! — until the walls of their home were nearly bursting with tens of thousands of picturebooks. They sat on them, slept on them, cooked with them …
Yes, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but perhaps not by much.
The couple, noted children’s picturebook experts Dr. Kenneth and Sylvia Marantz, amassed a unique collection of more than 21,000 books during the course of their 50-plus years of reviewing them. And while they may not have been sitting, sleeping on or cooking with them, their Columbus home had become quite crowded!
“Between having our kids, Ken’s teaching, my working in schools and our reviewing, we got a lot of books. We had to excavate the other half of our basement to store them,” Sylvia said with a laugh. “It got out of hand.”
Ken started reviewing books for School Arts when he was at the University of Chicago more than 40 years ago. Later, as a professor of art education at The Ohio State University, he found that the so-called “children’s books” really had no age limit when it came to being appreciated as works of art.
“Art educators rely a lot on art reproductions,” he said. “When I came into contact with these books, as a father, I started to realize these were not reproductions, but the original objects. So why use reproductions in art classes when I can use the original art?
“Even graduate students were happy to make use of this material.”
Sylvia approached the books from the perspective of a school librarian, who could see the impact of the books – particularly the images – on young readers.
“I didn’t know as much about the books as an art form until I married him [Ken],” she explained. “Then I saw how they could open kids’ eyes when they’re young and so receptive. And they never look down on picturebooks, no matter how old they get. They come back when they’re in ninth and tenth grade and tell you their favorites and show them to their younger brothers and sisters.”
The Marantzes started reviewing together for a column on picturebooks for Library Talk. While both have since retired from their previous occupations, they continue to review more than 500 books a year for a children’s literature comprehensive database.
But when both stopped teaching full time and knew they wouldn’t use the books as much on a day-to-day basis, they sought a home for the collection.
What to do with all those cherished books?
“When we approached Carolyn [Brodie], bless her heart, she moved heaven and earth to get them to Kent State,” Sylvia said. “And we’re delighted.”
The Marantz Picturebook Collection for the Study of Picturebook Art now has a permanent home on the third floor of the Kent State University Library as part of the School of Library and Information Science, where Brodie, a renowned authority on children’s literature and libraries, is professor. She and Dr. Greg Byerly, associate professor, worked with Dr. Mark Weber, then-dean of University Libraries, to create the space. It sits adjacent to the school’s Reinberger Children’s Library Center, which houses its own collection of more than 10,000 children’s and young adult literature resources, artwork and materials used in courses for future youth librarians in school and public libraries.
The space for the Marantz Collection, which was partially funded by a $249,000 grant from the Reinberger Foundation of Cleveland, Ohio, features compact shelving, display areas for rare books and collections, a distance learning classroom, a storytime area and private study locations. Original artwork, publishers’ promotional posters and character toys adorn the room as well. What makes the collection unique from any other is that the books are catalogued and shelved by illustrator, not author.
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But the best part, for the Marantzes, is not that the collection simply is being housed, but that it is being “put to good use, by young children, by students and librarians, by the art people, by the community,” Sylvia said. “That’s why the collection is here, to be used. This is what we were hoping for.”
The collection doesn’t circulate, but is intended for use as a resource. To that end, the Marantzes last year made a $25,000 cash donation that they hope will be used to encourage research in the collection.
“We see this as a way to bring scholars and researchers in to spend some time in the collection, to uncover insights that we hadn’t seen, perhaps, to bring to light talent and so forth, and also to support publication of some monographs on the subject,” Ken says.
They’d also like to see the collection, which has now grown to more than 25,000 books, used to build a curriculum to show K-12 teachers how to use picturebooks in their classes, which they don’t often do.
In addition, they hope the collection can grow to include more international children’s books.
“We had a few [international books] we’d picked up in our travels and so forth, and some we received for review, but nothing of a systematic nature. This is an opportunity for Kent State to become the international center for exploration of this sort. It doesn’t exist anywhere else, in any of the other picturebook centers we’ve seen,” Ken added.
The research role of the Marantz Collection also received a boost from SLIS alumna Jacqueline Albers, whose generous donation has created an endowment for a Guest Scholar in Children’s Literature.
“We can’t imagine a more beneficial place for the collection to grow,” Ken said. “This is a dream come true for us.”
The Marantz Collection room is available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for tours, meetings and special events. (Hours and days vary by academic semester.) Please call 330-672-0017 for details.
© Kent State University School of Library and Information Science, 2010