The Baldwin Library: A Reader’s Perspective

Dear Reader —

Deep inside the walls of Smathers East, among the pages of Special Collections, lies the heart of a child. For some, that child is Alice, Cinderella, or Tom Sawyer. For others, the child is Little Red, Peter Rabbit, or Harry Potter. The Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, a collection thirty-five years in the making, holds these well-loved children’s classics by the thousands.

Whether you love entering another dimension or world, or enjoy the clever construction of pop-up books, or those that speak, or even those non-fiction topics such as space or the environment, the stacks (as they are fondly referred to) hold a collection that is as varied as it is old, perfumed with the smell of old paper, frayed cloth, and patched leather. One would expect as much from a collection that houses over 130,000 books, manuscripts, ephemera, religious tracts, periodicals, and games. It is both wondrous and intimidating. The child in you, the one that reads deep into the night with no more than a flashlight beneath a blanket, will most certainly weep with joy, for isn’t this every reader’s dream? To have access to a place where the number of books to choose from far exceeds the hours in a day?

There are, of course, classics from childhood. The Chronicles of Narnia. Little Women. And who could forget Winnie the Pooh? There are too many versions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to count, but there is one that is quite magnificent. It is a large, hefty edition illustrated by surrealist painter Salvador Dali, and the colors blend and bleed together in beautiful renditions.

Lion Witch
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is book two of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and is perhaps the most widely-known of all books in his well-loved children’s series. (23h53902).
First edition of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. Illustrations by E.H. Shepard. (23h2834)
When Alice meets the Caterpillar in this exceptional version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol. Illustrations by Salvador Dali. (39p1841 Oversize)

The Baldwin Library is a glimpse into an older, slower life. These are books from a different time. The old worn cloth-bound covers, the expertly embossed letterings of early British children’s literature—a main collection focus. The oldest book in the collection, Aesop’s Fables, was published in 1668, yet it remains intact. There is even a circus display, a new acquisition showcasing a form of juvenile entertainment, where you can balance paper figurines on top of a tightrope.

For you, dear reader, this is as close to peace as you might ever experience. For when you flip through the stories that first sparked your love of the written word, you are transported back to that feeling of self-discovery. Your imagination awakes from its slumber. You see yourself in Dorothy and Harry, Frodo and Scheherazade, on a journey of triumph and great change.

Perhaps the child in us never leaves.

(Featured image at top of article: A selection of Mickey Mouse’s adventures in The Better Little Books by Walt Disney.)

Submitted by Alex Warwick, student intern in the Special and Area Studies Collections.


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