Just read me a picture book, please!

I am an avid reader and always have been, my parents have joked that I was born with a book in my hand. I consume books, from science fiction to historical biographies and everything in between. I have to admit though, I find no greater reading pleasure than diving into the world of children’s books. Board books, picture books, beginner reader books, and chapter books; I can not get enough of them.

What makes children’s books so great? 

Besides the obvious – that they are incredibly fun to read – I see children’s books as these tangible portals into imagination and playfulness for their readers. As an educator, I value their work as facilitators of knowledge-making and cultivators of curiosity, imagination, and self-esteem for their young readers. Often times, adults do not always catch on to the subtilties and the beauty within these books as children do. So, I make it a point to read children’s books and enjoy them from a child’s perspective and, honestly, it is so much fun. You can really get lost in the impish nature of children’s books and the remarkable illustrations that accompany the text.


C. Gifford Ambler, Ten Little FoxHounds, 1951.
C. Gifford Ambler, Ten Little FoxHounds, 1951.

Naturally, when I came to the National Sporting Library & Museum last June, one of the very first things that I looked at were the children’s books in our Main Reading Room. As a national research library that supports academic pursuits through our John H. Daniels Fellowship, I was delightfully surprised to find that the NSLM also contains a fantastic, albeit small, collection of children’s books.

People do not always recognize this part of our collection so I wanted to share with you a few highlights from our Main Reading Room and I hope that it encourages you to make an appointment to visit the Library and read them for yourself.

Caution, there are book ending spoiler alerts here!

An all-time favorite is Welcome Home! by Ludwig Bemelmans, the author of the popular Madeline series.


Ludwig Bemelmans, Welcome Home!, 1959, Gift of Ludwig Bemelmans, 1959.

Based off a poem by Beverley Bogort, the reader follows the Gallant Hunt and a clever fox through seventeen brilliant illustrations as the fox evades the Holiday Hounds using his cunning skill. The story ends with the fox safely snuggled up at home with his family as his yearly tradition has been successful.

Ludwig Bemelmans, Welcome Home!, 1959, Gift of Ludwig Bemelmans, 1959.

Not only does this picture book fit within our mission, but it also holds a more personal space in the heart of the NSLM staff. If you look carefully, you can see that the fox is reading The Chronicle of the Horse in bed with his tea and sandwiches (on a side note – check out the fox hunting scene on his tea cup!).

The NSLM has had a long standing relationship with the Chronicle of the Horse. One of our founders, Alexander Mackay-Smith, was editor of the magazine from 1952 to 1976, and they are our neighbors on campus. Glued inside the front cover is a handwritten letter from the author’s daughter, Barbara, thanking Mr. Mackay-Smith for allowing her father to use an image from The Chronicle of the Horse in his book.


Letter from Barbara Bemelmans inside, Ludwig Bemelmans, Welcome Home!, 1959, Gift of Ludwig Bemelmans, 1959.

This very copy was gifted to Mr. MacKay-Smith and, in turn, gifted to the Library that he enjoyed so much. This children’s book is not only entertaining, but is a piece of NSLM history!

Another favorite of mine is a pair of books by Walter Farley that he wrote for the Dr. Seuss Beginner Books series. I am sure many of us can remember seeing that Beginner Books logo with the familiar face of Cat in the Hat and reading these at home or school.


Walter Farley, Little Black, A Pony, 1961, Gift of Annie Weeden, 2008.

Walter Farley, Little Black Goes to the Circus!, 1963, Gift of the Estate of Patricia Meadows, 2010.

I did not read the Little Black books growing up, but have thoroughly enjoyed them as an adult (despite the horrifying clown imagery). Both books chronicle the story of Little Black, a small yet precocious pony, his young boy rider, and their activities together. What I found intriguing, beyond the stories themselves, were the differences in color throughout the books by the same illustrator, James Schucker. In the first book, Little Black, A Pony, the pages are filled with black and white imagery accented by pops of saturated color.

Walter Farley, Little Black, A Pony, 1961, Gift of Annie Weeden, 2008.

It tells the story of how Little Black downtrodden when his rider began regularly riding Big Red, a much larger and stronger horse than himself, finds confidence in himself after saving his rider from a perilous situation using his own bravery.

Walter Farley, Little Black, A Pony, 1961, Gift of Annie Weeden, 2008.
Walter Farley, Little Black, A Pony, 1961, Gift of Annie Weeden, 2008.

The second book, unlike the first has no dangerous icy water, but instead tells of how Little Black proved himself at the circus. The illustrations, while similar in design, are vastly different in color with bright and vibrant full color pages throughout the book.

Walter Farley, Little Black Goes to the Circus!, 1963, Gift of the Estate of Patricia Meadows, 2010.

Little Black attempts to recreate a trick he sees a circus horse performing, but with no such luck. The ringleader laughs at Little Black who becomes a very sad pony (poor Little Black!). His rider decides to cheer him up and encourages him to learn a different type of trick – walking the plank. Our little pony is excellent at this new trick and races to the circus to show off his skill on the highest of all planks and impresses everyone. His rider is sad because he believes his horse has run off to join the circus (as we all have dreamed of doing at one point), but is delighted to see Little Black running towards him and away from the circus. As all sweet books end, they ride off into the sunset together as a happy pair.

Walter Farley, Little Black Goes to the Circus!, 1963, Gift of the Estate of Patricia Meadows, 2010.

We have many more amazing finds in the Library, from picture books to the famous Blaze series by C.W. Anderson, and more contemporary works like our Dr. Seuss’s A Horse Museum. I could go on forever about the children’s books that we have in the Library. I hope that this little teaser will encourage you to not only view our stacks for their amazing academic research properties, but also for the playfulness of our children’s collection.

Want to see these books and more?

The Library is opening up with limited hours and appointments on July 17th, 2020. You can make an appointment to come in and read the children’s books, have a little story time as a family, or enjoy reading them yourself!

Click here to learn more about our visitor requirements for visiting the Library and Museum and how to book an appointment.  

As always, the Library is free and open to the public.

Thanks!

1 Comment

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  1. Thanks Valerie, What a delightful journey through the NSLM Collection of children’s books. I grew up on the coast of Maine where a friend and I rode ponies from morning ’til night. We delivered mail to the neighbors; riding up to their doorsteps, saying, “Is this the address for the pony express!” Pam Stokes Donehower

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