FOR children's book buffs, the Kerlan Collection is a fairy tale come true. To browse through an author's or illustrator's project from start to finish is to witness the creative process of an artist. The collection contains more than 50,000 children's books, with the original manuscripts and artwork for more than 5,000 of them. Founded by Irvin Kerlan, who turned it over to the the University of Minnesota in 1949, the Kerlan Collection includes materials that date back to 1717, with 46 languages represented. Some 750 authors and illustrators have donated their original works to the Kerlan.
But this is no dusty archive. Housed in the majestic Walter Library here, the collection is part of an internationally recognized Research Center for Children's Literature. It's seeing more scholarly activity between its wood-paneled walls than ever before.
``More and more people see that children's books are worthy of scholarly attention,'' says curator Karen Hoyle, ``not because the books are any better, but that this is a body of literature that can be looked at from a scholarly point of view.''
Over the last decade, children's literature has enjoyed a heightened reputation in the scholarly world.
With such a significant collection, the research center and its staff are well-poised to serve scholars as well as to play an active role as a forum in the world of children's literature - organizing lectures, symposiums, traveling exhibits, and awards.
Here teachers, students, librarians, researchers, authors, illustrators, journalists, theater staff - even people on a lunch break - can be found browsing through card catalogs, books, and boxes of materials brought in from climate-controlled storage. Their reasons range from pure curiosity about children's literature to serious studies of social history, censorship, or gender. Some are interested in particular authors such as Wanda Gag, Tomie dePaola, Jean Craighead George, Maurice Sendak, Charles Miko laycak, or Ashley Bryan. The same rules apply to all: Wear white gloves to protect the art, and handle with care.