A De Grummond Primer: Highlights of the Children’s Literature Collection edited by Carolyn J. Brown, Ellen Hunter Ruffin, and Eric L. Tribunella

A De Grummond Primer: Highlights of the Children’s Literature Collection
Edited by Carolyn J. Brown, Ellen Hunter Ruffin, and Eric L. Tribunella

Primer provides glimpse of children’s literature wonders awaiting in Hattiesburg

By Clara Martin Hammett
Special to the Clarion Ledger

What if someone told you that the foremost collection of children’s literature in the world was located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi? 

Due to the tenacity and dedication of a librarian at the University of Southern Mississippi named Lena de Grummond, the so-named de Grummond Collection is a secret treasure vault containing everything from a 1549 edition of Aesop’s Fables to illustrations donated by the creators of Curious George, H.A. and Margaret Rey. 

In the 1960s, Mrs. de Grummond would write to authors and illustrators requesting papers and drawings that would “serve the librarians and teachers’ of Mississippi, but ‘through them, the children—all [Brown’s italics] children of Mississippi’.” Imagining the tumultuousness of the civil rights movement and the spotlight Mississippi often found itself in, de Grummond’s plea turned up many donations from authors and illustrators, as well as de Grummond’s casual comment at the end that “such gifts are tax deductible, you know.”

In addition to the actual works of literature in the collection, what makes the de Grummond Collection so unique is the correspondence between Mrs. de Grummond and the authors and illustrators to whom she reached out; a myriad of typewritten and often times handwritten letters and notes with accompanying illustrations such as Curious George walking to Hattiesburg, or a typewritten letter by J.R.R. Tolkien (author of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy). 

“A De Grummond Primer: Highlights of the Children’s Literature Collection” is a walk through the collection, both in terms of the history of the collection as well as a history of children’s literature as it fits into the collection. 

The primer is divided into essays written by experts in the field of children’s literature, and the foreword by curator Ellen Ruffin is as warm and welcoming as she is in person. Editor Carolyn J. Brown’s essay “Lena de Grummond and the Founding of the Collection” sets the tone for the entire book.

The primer then progresses through the history of children’s literature, running the gamut from the origin of children’s literature in fairy tales and fables, hornbooks and chapbooks as devices to develop literacy skills in addition to readers and primers, the Golden Age of illustrated children’s books that includes a page from Randolph Caldecott’s “The House that Jack Built (1878)” that is in the de Grummond collection and children’s series fiction in the collection such as a title page illustration by W. W. Denslow of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900). 

The primer continues with essays on nineteenth-century children’s magazines, toy books, picture book art, African American children’s literature and writers, Southern children’s literature, contemporary children’s and young adult writers, a history of Little Golden Books, the H.A. and Margaret Rey Collection and the Ezra Jack Keats Collection. To say that these essays are written by experts in the field of children’s literature is an understatement.

Truly, the de Grummond collection has reached far and wide in both academic and literary circles, and while taking a walk between the shelves of the collection is most preferable, reading the essays in “A De Grummond Primer” is the next best thing to visiting the collection in person. With stunning photographs of incredible illustrations and other artifacts that are part of the de Grummond collection, the University Press of Mississippi has published an outstanding work.

Clara Martin Hammett is a writer from Jackson, MS. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a former bookseller from OZ, the children’s book section of Lemuria Books. She has reviewed books for the Clarion Ledger and Twenty by Jenny, a children’s book review website.


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