July 5, 2023

Uplifting Children’s Literature and its Creators at the Kerlan Collection

Author Kathryn Kochanowicz, Content Specialist

The books we read as children have a way of sticking with us for the rest of our lives. We still remember the first characters we looked up to, the illustrations that drew us deeper into a beloved story and the family and teachers who read with us and made these words and pictures come alive. The Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota is one of the world’s premier archives of children’s literature, helping ensure the work of authors, illustrators and editors is studied, preserved and celebrated for years to come.

Founded with the collections of Dr. Irvin Kerlan, an FDA scientist, University of Minnesota alum and book collector, the Kerlan has expanded since his original transfer of materials in 1949. Now over 100,000 children’s books and other related materials from more than 1,700 authors and illustrators make up the collection, including original art by Clement Hurd (illustrator of Goodnight Moon), drafts of work from Ezra Jack Keats (The Snowy Day) and proofs and letters from Madeline L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time). The Kerlan also houses an extensive collection of rare comic books, science fiction and fantasy and other nineteenth and twentieth century literature.

“The mission of the Kerlan is to collect, preserve and make the history and literature as well as the creative process of writing and illustration, accessible to researchers, scholars, students, faculty and anyone with an interest in children’s books,” says Lisa Von Drasek, the collection’s curator and an expert on children’s literature.

The Kerlan also actively engages with contemporary children’s literature. Each year, they honor an exceptional children’s literature creator with their Kerlan Award. Andrea Davis Pinkney, a celebrated author, editor, publisher and librettist won the 2022 award. “The Kerlan has always served as a children’s literature North Star,” said Pinkney.

For Pinkney, as well as other authors and readers, the collection is a window into the creative process and a source of inspiration. “When you walk into the Kerlan, you peel open the creative lives of hundreds of children’s book creators. The Kerlan provides access to thousands of materials, inviting visitors to experience the joy and power of what it takes to create a children’s book.”

Funds from DAFs enable the Kerlan to broaden the scope of the collection as well as make more of it available to a broad audience.

Anyone can visit the Kerlan Collection in-person and study their collections, and Von Drasek and library staff are increasingly digitizing the works as well, developing online archives that can significantly broaden access to these unique primary sources. “These are labor intensive, open access resources which provide primary source materials to thousands of teachers and librarians, scholars and students each year,” says Von Drasek.

Looking forward, the Kerlan plans on establishing an endowed curatorship and diversifying the collection with global children’s literature. But the Kerlan would not be able to advance their mission without generous charitable support. “Funds from DAFs enable the Kerlan to broaden the scope of the collection as well as make more of it available to a broad audience,” says Von Drasek.

Pinkney wishes to impress upon the public that, “Now, more than ever, it’s vital to support endeavors that provide access to resources,” Pickney says. “The Kerlan’s digital exhibits extend a hand to the community of readers and learners, reminding all of us that stories endure, inspire, and lift us up, even in the most challenging times.”

About the Author

Kathryn Lena Kochanowicz is a Content Specialist at National Philanthropic Trust. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2019 with a degree in English Literature & Creative Writing, and currently resides in Hatboro, PA.