Tag Archives: Children’s Literature

How to tame an opossum…and other childhood preoccupations through the Barnard children’s letters

In 1876, Sanford Curtis asked John Hall Barnard about his career plans, depicting the options of a naval officer aboard a ship or a man sitting in an office. His own plans took the shape of a detailed farm scene with animals and a hoe, a rake, and a pitchfork.

Processing collections according to updated archival standards gives RBML archivists the opportunity to discover anew our collections. In this post, Processing Archivist Celeste Brewer offers us insights into the practice of children writing letters during the Civil War-era. Historians typically foreground the writings and papers of “Great Men,” but as Celeste notes, paying attention to children’s words and ideas helps us see nuances in interpersonal relationships of the past.

With summer vacation here for most school-aged U.S. children, perhaps Willy Fred, Porter and John will inspire you to get your kids to put pen to paper instead of eyes-to-screen. 

“We have bows and arrows and we shoot the pigs away from the gate,” seven-year-old Willy Fred Barnard announced to his father on October 4, 1854.  This news opened the earliest in a group of letters written by children between 1854 and 1878, which can be found in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s newly processed Barnard Family Papers collection.

William Frederick Barnard (1848-1863) and his older brother, Augustus Porter Barnard (1847-1911), wrote letters to their father, John Gross Barnard (1815-1882) as soon as they were able.  These letters are unusual for several reasons.  First, that they exist at all; the Barnard children came from a wealthy family that valued education highly.  (Their uncle, Frederick A. P. Barnard, would become president of Columbia College in 1864.)  Willy Fred and Porter were privileged to be educated by private tutors from approximately the age of six.

The first letter from Willy Fred Barnard to his father, John Gross Barnard, about a visit with family at Niagara, New York.

Even the minority of young children living in the mid-nineteenth century who could both read and write—and had access to writing tools more permanent than a piece of chalk and a slate—had little reason to write letters to their parents until they were old enough to go away to school.  However, Willy Fred and Porter’s father was an officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Their mother had died in 1853.  The boys lived in rural Maryland with their aunt and uncle, Sophia and William F. Brand.

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RBML is hiring a Curator of Literature

bookstore shelves with levitating book

This is not how RBML handles books. Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

We’re pleased to announce an opening here in Columbia University Libraries’ Rare Book & Manuscript Library for a new Curator of Literature.

The ideal candidate is an accomplished and creative professional with an MLIS or PhD in English, American Literature or related fields.

Primarily, the Curator develops, manages and actively promotes the use of RBML literature collections through programmatic outreach, awareness, public programs and instructional activities.

The Curator is responsible for developing holdings in literature in all formats (e.g., print and archives) through purchase and donation.

Key to the Curator position are archival and/or librarianship skills related to stewarding literature collections that are in place, prioritizing their organization, description, conservation, digitization, and security.

Though very broad in scope, RBML’s Literature collections concentrate around the history of publishing, “obscene” or erotic literature, poetry between the World Wars, the European realist novel, the Beats, African-American literature of the twentieth century, and contemporary poetry, as well as eighteenth-century belles lettres, the novel, fine press and artist books, and twentieth-century small press production.

Columbia University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer and strongly encourages individuals of all backgrounds and cultures to consider this position.

Please see the full advertisement for more details, qualifications and how to apply. PDF: Curator of Literature Ad

“Mr. Farley! This is War!”

Annalisa Pesek, RBML Intern (summer, 2011)

Today’s climactic moment as an RBML intern arrives at that time in the day when your fingers are beginning to tingle from the constant re-foldering and you start to question whether or not the demise of your career as an archivist will be the result of your enduring curiosity.  As my fits of laughter interrupt the silence resonating in the basement of the Lehman Library, I can’t help but share the contents of an impassioned fan letter addressed to Mr. Walter Farley, author of The Black Stallion series. I’d been waiting for this moment after spending the past two months assembling some order to approximately 22 boxes of Farley’s personal papers (only 22 or more to go) and now I am perhaps discovering more about the man’s shortcomings from his readers than from what I find to be often queer but informatively creative stories involving so far not only a Great Stallion, but also a Great Dane, and now a Girl.  Farley’s series has and continues to attract readers of all ages.

However, stumbling upon this particular correspondence between Farley and a devoted fan, who describes herself as, “ . . . a girl, a 13 year old girl in love with horses” deserves a second, third, and even fourth reading. Writing in a voice reminiscent of a youthful Cleopatra ready to wage war, the writer confronts and demands revision if not at least reconciliation regarding Farley’s decisions for the actions of his main character, Alec, (Farley’s leading man) who appears in nearly every book.

The Black Stallion and the Girl, one of his later stories published in 1971 received more attention than his previous works, according to my knowledge from his archive. For some, the book was considered sexist, for others, not sexist enough as was in the case of the letter you are about to read.

This fan letter prompted Farley to write a semi-curt reply, defending his book and encouraging the haughty youth to relax and reread the content due to her lack of fully understanding the context.

His reaction leads the girl to feeling remorse (unfortunately) which leads to her confession – the truth behind her angry words was her imagination and her desire for young love with ALEC, thus her impulsive jealousy of The Girl, Pam who gets to be with Alec prompted her war bent pen to the point of raising hell!

As a newbie archivist opening box after box of unsolved mysteries and untold stories, I will never know anything more about this reader or the influence Farley’s books may have had on her life, but I am certain the three of us in Lehman that day, including Chris, Carrie, and myself strongly identified with the spirit of the 13 year-old girl in love with a fictional character, sharpening her sword, wishing she was the one Alec loved, wishing she was The Girl.

C’mon, haven’t we all experienced or imagined we experienced unrequited love with a fictional character(s) or a living/dead author(s)? I know I have plenty of confessions . . .