—Arshia Simkin, The Underline
From September to December 2023, visitors to the Orange County Public Library can view a wide-ranging exhibit of children’s book art. The exhibit includes roughly 100 original illustrations, preliminary drawings, and paintings from over 65 illustrators, comprised mostly of of Caldecott winners and bestsellers. There are also illustrations from classics, such as Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar, Garth Williams’ Charlotte’s Web, and more.
The exhibit is made possible by Orange County resident William McLean and his three-year-old daughter, Cora, whose love of books inspired McLean and his wife to start the collection. McLean’s daughter was born during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic; as a result, her main exposure to the wider world came from going to the public library. “In a lot of ways, this collection is pieces from the books that we fell in love with through the library over the first couple of years of reading with her,” McLean said. After Cora’s birth, McLean began reaching out to illustrators of children’s books to express his appreciation of their work; soon he began receiving drawings and sketches in response and the collection grew from there.
The illustrators and authors have been enthusiastic in their responses, McLean noted. David Soman of the LadyBug Girl series wrote to McLean: “What an amazing show! Congratulations Cora, and thank you for including my work in such a wonderful group of artists!” Caldecott Medal winner Matthew Cordell generously created the navigation artwork on the Cora Grace Collection website.
McLean said that while many new parents are familiar with the handful of classic children’s books, finding new reads can be a challenge: that’s why the Cora Grace collection features so many award-winning contemporary works and works by North Carolina artists. He hopes that parents and children alike can take inspiration from the pictures they see on the walls and find new books to try out. For example, one of Cora’s favorite drawings in the collection is Charlotte, North Carolina author and illustrator Matt Myers’ 2021 Dino-Gro.
Beth Hawkey, Youth Services Supervisor at the main library, said, “Having the art here has just been fabulous. It’s brought a lot of traffic in.” She noted that for caretakers such as parents and grandparents “it brings back really happy memories of their childhood favorite books.” For children, they love recognizing familiar characters, such as an illustration from Marc Brown’s Arthur series.
The Cora Grace collection is also partnering with the Friends of Orange County Public Library to raise funds for furniture that is neurodivergent-friendly. McLean emphasized the importance of having libraries function as a place “where all kids feel safe and comfortable.” The fundraising goal is $1000 and a quarter of the funds have already been raised. Hawkey noted that the fundraiser is in line with the library’s overall mission to provide an inclusive space for children who are neurodivergent.
McLean, who studied art and art history, and who is a librarian himself, concluded: “We’re just excited to share it with the community…It’s kind of a little memoir of the importance of the early years of reading with [Cora] but also kind of a love letter to the library.”
- View the collection in person now until December 31, 2023 at the Orange County Public library located at 137 W Margaret Ln, Hillsborough, NC