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Celebrating 50 Years of Children's Literature at Southern Miss

15 Feb 2016 6:42 PM | Sarah Mangrum

When Lena de Grummond came to The University of Southern Mississippi to teach children's literature in the School of Library Science in 1965, she envisioned resources that went beyond the classroom textbook. The de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection is the result of one woman’s dream to collect original materials from authors and illustrators of children’s books to use as resources for students in library science. If students could study the creative processes of authors and illustrators by examining the manuscripts and illustrations first hand, she knew they would better appreciate the literature.

De Grummond became acquainted with a number of authors in her previous position in Louisiana as state superintendent of Louisiana School Libraries, and to accomplish her goal, she sent handwritten letters to them, as well as to her favorite children’s book authors, to request original manuscripts and typescripts, illustrations, sketchbooks, and any materials related to the publication of a children’s book, including galleys, dummies, publisher correspondence and fan mail. At one point, she wrote as many as 100 letters per week. The first to respond were Bertha and Elmer Hader, the husband and wife author-illustrator team, who sent manuscript materials, dummies and illustrations for Ding, Dong, Bell (1957). The contributions from the Haders were soon followed by more from Lois Lenski, Elizabeth Coatsworth and Roger Duvoisin.

“Dr. de Grummond had a vision, and I have no doubt she knew what she was creating from the very beginning.  She developed relationships with authors and illustrators through correspondence, which is a great legacy for us.  The correspondence with H. A. and Margret Rey shows how their relationship developed through the years.  The personal interest Dr. de Grummond had for the donors was remarkable.  She knew details about their lives, their children’s names, their new projects, etc.  She was sincerely interested in them, and the feeling was mutual,” says Ellen Ruffin, current curator of the collection.

Founded in 1966, the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection has grown far beyond its original intent, and is now one of the largest such collections in North America. The collection contains the works of more than 1300 authors and illustrators, including Randolph Caldecott, John Newbery, Kate Greenaway, H.A. and Margret Rey and Ezra Jack Keats. These are some of the most celebrated names in children’s literature with Caldecott, Newbery and Greenaway all having prestigious national awards named in their honor, and the Rey’s being the creators of Curious George. Keats, the man behind The Snowy Day, is one of America’s most groundbreaking authors with his efforts to break the color barrier in children’s publishing, and The Snowy Day is considered to be one of the most important American books of the 20th century.

These original materials are supplemented by a book collection of more than 160,000 volumes of historical and contemporary children's literature and include Aesop’s Fables that date back to 1530, a board game from 1790, more than 100 version of the Cinderella story and the papers of popular young adult author, John Green. Researchers from across the United States, around the world and all disciplines at Southern Miss visit the collection on a regular basis to study its fables, fairy tales, folklore, alphabet books, nursery rhymes, textbooks, religious books, moral tales, fantasy, fiction, primers, and children's magazines. Complementing these holdings are scholarly studies, biographies, bibliographies, and critical works.

Now 50 years later, de Grummond’s legacy lives on. Her influence remains strong and Ruffin says that she is often quoted in correspondence with potential donors. While the collection is available for use by students at Southern Miss and researchers, Ruffin has pointed her efforts to the development of the collection, and to some degree, de Grummond’s unique style can still be found in those efforts. The growth of the collection ensures its longevity and increases its value to the world of children’s literature.

Since its founding 50 years ago, the collection has become one of the largest and most well-known collections of children’s literature in the world. Today, the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection hosts numerous world-class exhibits from some of the industries’ most well-known authors and illustrators, including Rosemary Wells and Tasha Tudor. The collection also plays a significant role in the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival each year by hosting the de Grummond Lecturer and the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, a national award given to newcomers in children’s literature. 

McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi.

Photograph of Dr. Lena de Grummond at her desk.

Submitted by

Dawn Smith, M.S.

Assistant to the Dean for Publicity and Outreach

University of Southern Mississippi Libraries 



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