FLORENCE – One of the most extensive collections of original children’s book illustrations is now on display at the Kennedy-Douglas Center for the Arts and the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library.   The show opened January 2.

Childhood Classics: 100 Years of Children’s Book Illustration from the Art Kandy Collection will include more than 140 original works from 50 artists. The works encompass 75 children’s books.

The exhibition explores the history of children’s book illustration from the turn of the century pen and ink Mother Goose art of Sarah Noble Ives, to the most popular works of today, including the digital creations of Mo Willems.

Illustrated books evoke an immediate response in children as they connect with the story through images of the characters and setting. That response often remains long after the child reaches adulthood.

Florence Arts and Museums Director Libby Jordan said some of the artwork included in the exhibition takes her back to her childhood enjoyment of reading.

“I remember the soft illustrations of Beatrix Potter as Peter went through his perils in the garden, the whimsy of Dr. Seuss who remains my reference when seeing something outlandishly crazy, the bravery of Stuart Little, and how my heart broke for Wilbur when Charlotte died,” said Jordan. “I can still see the images that these artists introduced into my life.

“The importance of narrative art in childhood literature is simply immeasurable. It is through this art that stories come alive, escorting children down the path into the wonderful world of reading.”

Florence-Lauderdale Public Library Executive Director, Abby Carpenter said, “For many of us, our first memories of ‘reading’ were the illustrations.”

“Characters and stories came to life because we could see the pictures and imagine who these characters were,” Carpenter said. “Maybe some of them were just like us and others perhaps became our best friends. As adults, we still feel a sense of happiness and nostalgia when these memories are reignited or when we get to share these characters with our own children for the first time.”

Several of the artists whose work is included in the collection have received Caldecott Medal awards and honors, the highest recognition bestowed on children’s book illustrators. Among them are Garth Williams, Rosemary Wells, Richard Scarry, Beatrix Potter, and Hilary Knight. Classic characters including Babar, Eloise, Madeline, the Cat in the Hat, Stuart Little, and Dick and Jane are among those featured in the exhibition.

Brochures outlining the schedule of speakers, activities, and workshops are available at both the art center and the library in January.

The exhibition is made possible through a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, funding from the Kennedy-Douglass Trust, and the Florence-Lauderdale Library Foundation.  Because of this funding, programs that will include speakers, storytelling, and art workshops will be offered free to children and adults.

The Council on the Arts is the official state agency for the support and development of the arts in Alabama. Grants from the agency are made possible through an annual appropriation from the state Legislature, and federal funds from the National Endowment for the Arts.