The de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection

Interviewing Karlie Herndon about the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection's mission to preserve the original works of authors and illustrators dating back to 1530.

Woodblock (1882) depicting the dish and the spoon for an illustration in Hey Diddle Diddle, from the Randolph Caldecott Papers. 
Woodblock (1882) depicting the dish and the spoon for an illustration in Hey Diddle Diddle, from the Randolph Caldecott Papers. 

In this interview, Karlie Herndon, Assistant Professor and Curator of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi, talks with Choice about the de Grummond collection and its mission to preserve the original works of children’s literature authors and illustrators including Ezra Jack Keats, John Green, the creators of Curious George H.A. and Margret Rey, and many more. Throughout the conversation, Karlie details the background of the collection, the research possibilities it provides, and the value of the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival in cultivating a sense of community for children’s literature enthusiasts. Karlie further shares what editor’s notes and correspondence reveal about the inner lives and motivations of authors and illustrators, along with the design process behind de Grummond’s Tudor Place: The Secret Dollhouse exhibit. 


How would you describe the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection to a perfect stranger?

For book lovers, it’s Narnia. You enter this unassuming brick building deep in the south of Mississippi and find yourself transported to a place filled with centuries of children’s books. It’s a magical place.  

As mentioned on your website, the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection is home to the “original manuscripts and illustrations of more than 1,400 authors and illustrators, as well as over 200,000 published books dating from 1530 to the present.” How did a collection of this magnitude come about? Are there any guidelines on how materials are selected for the collection? 

The number of books has grown quite a bit – almost 250,000 now! The collection’s founder, Dr. Lena Y. de Grummond, was a retired librarian who came to the University of Southern Mississippi to teach future children’s librarians. She saw a deficit in their education: there were no original materials for them to examine, and the process of publishing a children’s book was somewhat of a mystery. Even today, many people are shocked by how much time, talent, and energy goes into making a 32-page picture book, for instance. Dr. de Grummond started writing letters—sometimes up to 300 a week—to authors and illustrators of children’s books. They donated original materials and copies of their books, and the collection has only grown since then. We continue to receive donations from authors, illustrators, editors, scholars, collectors, and fans of the de Grummond.  

We do have some guidelines. For original materials, we accept donations from authors and illustrators of children’s books; materials from writers and scholars who focus on the field of children’s literature; and materials from people who had careers in the children’s publishing industry. There are always exceptions to all of these rules, but these guide us in our decisions. We also collect books, of course, and we seek out rare books in addition to accepting donations of more widely available children’s and young adult books.  



How do you see the collection being used within and outside of academia? How do de Grummond’s bibliographies, research guides, and fellowship program factor in? 

Various manuscripts with editing sticky notes, from the John Green Papers.
Various manuscripts with editing sticky notes, from the John Green Papers.

There are so many academic research possibilities in the collection. There is a cultural perception that children’s books are “easy” or ephemeral, but people forget that these texts are made by adults who are steeped in their culture, their nation, and their time. Children’s books offer a reflection of cultural shifts, and they hold a history of events, outlooks, technologies—you name it. In the de Grummond, you can track the history of illustrated children’s book publishing with our examples of wood and linoleum blocks, color separation, and beyond. The de Grummond also holds a record of the growing inclusivity and diversity in children’s publishing. The rare books, various editions of popular books, and modern ARCs provide insights into the ways publishers revise books for new audiences. It’s a deep and broad mine of information for a vast array of disciplines. Our research guides and fellowships assist researchers in finding and honing topics to delve into. 

Outside of academia, the de Grummond has been a key resource for documentaries, educational materials for K-12 students, and aspiring creators. Many people are amazed by the number of editor’s sticky notes on manuscripts like Looking for Alaska, part of our John Green Papers. Letters between creators and fans, editors, even romantic partners reveal the rich lives of children’s book makers. The collection is also just a wonderful place to remember the joys and struggles of learning to read, to revisit books you haven’t seen in 50 years, and to see the eraser marks and coffee splotches (put there by their creators!) on original materials. 

It is my understanding that a selection of works in the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection has been digitized. Can you describe the differences between handling physical and digital materials? What benefits does being housed at the University of Southern Mississippi’s McCain Library and Archives provide? 

Handling physical materials can be intimidating for some folks, so digital materials offer a way to interact without any anxiety about damaging an item. Since none of our materials circulate, digitized items also offer a much more accessible avenue for examining materials in our collection. On the other hand, handling the physical item or object can be revealing: the texture or weight (even the smell) can provide information, and for a lot of people who know and love a book or character or creator, handling something original can be an almost spiritual experience. We have a letter signed by Jim Henson, and when I first came across it, it was like reading a letter from an old friend.  

One major benefit of our location in the McCain Library and Archives is the group of colleagues who share this space. de Grummond is under the umbrella of Special Collections, and we collaborate on events, exhibits, and ongoing initiatives like the Item of the Month, instituted by my colleague Jennifer Brannock, the Curator of Rare Books and Mississippiana. The head of Special Collections, Lorraine Stuart, was essential in helping de Grummond put together an exhibit and two holiday-themed talks this December. The whole team works together to provide research services and instruction to patrons for all of Special Collections.  

You’re quite new to your role as curator. What has been your favorite part of working with de Grummond thus far? Is there an item in the collection you believe deserves more recognition? 

I’ve had the chance to work with some truly wonderful people. Our patrons are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and our donors are gracious and generous with their time, energy, and thoughtfulness. Working with the people we’re here to serve has been the best part of the job so far. 

This is such a difficult question because I believe the whole collection deserves more recognition! One item that brings me never-ending joy is The Speaking Picture Book (1893). It’s a massive book, but it holds fewer than ten pages. It’s made of carved wood and has delicate pull strings that produce sounds like a donkey or a nightingale, and it’s a fascinating example of book technology and innovation.  

The de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection has several exhibits including Tudor Place: The Secret Dollhouse, which centers on the work of illustrator Tasha Tudor. A unique aspect of this exhibit is a dollhouse modelled after Tudor’s first home with items handmade by Tudor herself. How much thought goes into designing these exhibits and how do they shine further light into authors’ and illustrators’ artistic processes? 

The Tudor Place is unique in that we have photographs of how the dollhouse’s creator, Harry Davis, had it arranged. One dedicated staff member spent hours arranging each book, card, and candlestick in that house, so it was a big project. The exhibit room came together with efforts from faculty, staff, and a community member who formerly curated an art gallery, so we spent a lot of time and energy making it an inviting space, reflecting the coziness of Tasha’s own homes. We’ve had several other exhibits in the last year or so, one featuring the art of The Lantern House, which focused heavily on Adam Trest’s process in illustrating the book. We try to provide examples of original art (including the printer’s marks and notes) when we create exhibits. The finished products are stunning and timeless, but the work that goes into them is so important for us to acknowledge and appreciate. 

View of the desktop in the Tudor Place dollhouse's library. Includes three bronze rabbits (front, center) that belonged to Beatrix Potter and were a gift to Tasha Tudor from Potter's biographer. Also includes miniature watercolors painted by Tudor (back, right). 
View of the desktop in the Tudor Place dollhouse’s library. Includes three bronze rabbits (front, center) that belonged to Beatrix Potter and were a gift to Tasha Tudor from Potter’s biographer. Also includes miniature watercolors painted by Tudor (back, right). 

In an age of book banning and increased censorship efforts, how important is it to preserve children’s literature? Further, what value does the de Grummond collection provide to authors like Ezra Jack Keats, for whom the collection is their sole repository?  

Looking back at what we’ve preserved, we can see how much children’s literature has changed, even in the face of adversity. While we can’t know what the future holds, it’s so important for us to collect and preserve the work that is being created today, with the intention of looking back and examining trends, changes, and the books that cause ripples far beyond the year they go out into the world. The Keats Papers help reveal the huge gap that existed at the time in terms of racial diversity in children’s books. Keats’s work celebrated and explored the lives of children he saw every day in his real life, but almost never on the pages and covers of books.  

How does the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection contend with the lack of diversity in children’s publishing and ensure that diverse voices and characters are represented within the collection? How does the Ezra Jack Keats Award aid in this work? 

Dr. de Grummond cast a wide net in her letter-writing campaign, and we’re proud to have materials from a (relatively) diverse group of people; even so, every collection has gaps and silences to address. I hope that as we continue to show the world how much we care about the materials we preserve, how welcome people feel when they visit de Grummond or attend the annual children’s book festival, and how dedicated we are to the idea that every child should have an opportunity to see themselves in a book, then we will continue to expand the diversity of voices and identities represented in de Grummond. Our co-administration of the EJK Award with the EJK Foundation has been essential in uplifting more representative and inclusive picture books. It is such a delight to have the award winners join us at the festival, and to see their circle of support grow.  

I imagine the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival has contributed greatly to the collection’s outreach by bringing together teachers and librarians across the United States. Is this the case? What other promotional efforts is de Grummond engaging in?  

The Kaigler is such a treat! I hope everyone reading this will attend at least once, even if you’re not in the children’s literature world. People from all over the US attend the festival, and we often hear them say how well we embody the sentiments of southern hospitality! The festival goes a long way toward building relationships with incredible storytellers and artists, and it also gives us a chance to exhibit some of our materials for a large audience. We have some other projects in the works, but one thing I’m proud of is the October run of social media posts we put together for National Archives Awareness Month. I had a blast showing off some of the amazing things we have here, and lots of people checked in daily to see what we had in store. We have partnered locally with folks like Hinds County Community College, where we had a traveling exhibit displayed in 2023. We also take part in the wonderful Mississippi Book Festival annually. 

I understand that you’re seeking a curatorship endowment to fund a variety of projects including a children’s literature clinic and traveling exhibits. Could you describe these plans in more detail and explain the benefits of traveling exhibits like de Grummond’s Curious George Collection?  

We would love to provide workshops for the folks whose work eventually (we hope!) comes to our collection for preservation. The children’s literature world has been so supportive and generous in helping us build this collection, and the endowment will allow us to bring in established creators to work with up-and-coming writers and illustrators. This not only gives us another chance to bring renowned children’s literature “greats” to campus, but it also gives us a path to build relationships with early career creators. We want to be on their minds as they clean out their workspaces as each new book is published! Traveling exhibits are also so important, as they get our materials in front of more people who may not otherwise be able to physically visit us here, or even know we exist. The Curious George exhibit in Japan was enormously impactful. I hope the future holds more opportunities to have libraries, schools, and museums around the world showcase our one-of-a-kind collections.  

“The children’s literature world has been so supportive and generous in helping us build this collection, and the endowment will allow us to bring in established creators to work with up-and-coming writers and illustrators.”


About the interviewee:

Karlie Herndon headshot.

Karlie Herndon (MA, MLIS) is the curator of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection in Hattiesburg, MS. She is the 2024 co-chair of ALA’s Best Graphic Novels for Children selection committee, and she is currently completing a dissertation on the late-Victorian British nursery space in children’s literature. 


To learn more about the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, please visit: https://www.degrummond.org/

Follow the de Grummond on Facebook and Instagram.

This interview was conducted by Ashley Roy. She is the digital media assistant at Choice.


Enjoy this interview on children’s literature? Check out our TIE Podcast episode, Discussing Diverse Representation in Children’s Books with Author Kaija Langley.

Looking for more? Check out more Ask an Archivist interviews from Choice.