Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Sweet and Saur

October 17th, 2016

Many a 20th century herpetologist credits his or her early interest in herpetology to the books of Raymond Ditmars. He published eight books on amphibians and reptiles for children and adults alike and, although many professionals consider him merely a popularizer and a showman, his scientific and public contributions to herpetology were substantial. When he was hired as Assistant Curator in charge of reptiles at the Bronx Zoo in 1899, his personal collection of reptiles formed the nucleus of the zoo’s collection. Later on in his career, he was active in developing techniques for curing reptile diseases, produced nature movies, created a clearing house for distribution of antivenins produced in Brazil, and co-founded an American antivenin institute. He was a popular lecturer as well.

Raymond Lee Ditmars. The Book of Prehistoric Animals, 1935. Call number Ellis Omnia D50, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Raymond Lee Ditmars. The Book of Prehistoric Animals, 1935. Ellis Omnia D50

Although this volume (and several others authored by Ditmars) is from the Ellis Collection of natural history, the Department of Special Collections also has a collection of children’s literature, more than 7,000 volumes from the late 18th to early 20th century, including lots of natural history. In fact, books for children, from a 16th-century gardening manual to 20th-century science fiction, turn up in almost all of our collections, and in them, herps abound.

Sally Haines
Rare Book Cataloger

Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit and catalog, Slithy Toves: Illustrated Classic Herpetological Books at the University of Kansas in Pictures and Conversations

Happy 150th Birthday, Beatrix Potter!

July 29th, 2016

In celebration of the 150th birthday of the beloved children’s author and illustrator, Beatrix Potter, I am featuring a few examples of her beautiful work found in our Special Collections here at Spencer Research Library. Please enjoy the selections below along with a short biography introducing you to one of the most influential figures in children’s literature from the twentieth century.

Beatrix Potter was born on July 28, 1866 in London, England. Although she was a lonely child, she was able to find joy in drawing and painting things from the natural world, recording the plants and animals of the English countryside in stunning detail. As an adult she continued to illustrate, even drawing in the margins of letters sent to the children of her former governess, Annie Moore. Her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit came about from the drawings on one of these very letters from September 4, 1893!

Front cover of Beatrix Potter’s "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" published in Philadelphia by H. Altemus in 1904.Pages 34-35 ofFront cover of Beatrix Potter’s "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" published in Philadelphia by H. Altemus in 1904.

Front cover and pages 34-35 of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit published in Philadelphia
by H. Altemus in 1904. Special Collections. Call Number: Children 5159. Click images to enlarge.

After partnering with the publishers of Frederick Warne & Co., twenty-two ‘little books’ with lovely color illustrations were produced. Some of these stories even featured her own pets, like the hedgehog Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.

Front cover of Beatrix Potter’s The tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle published in New York by Frederick Warne & Co. in 1905.

Front cover of Beatrix Potter’s The tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle published
in New York by Frederick Warne & Co. in 1905. Special Collections.
Call Number: Children 2972. Click image to enlarge.

Because of her skill with writing exciting stories, painting detailed and colorful pictures, and using clear language, Potter’s works quickly became children’s classics.

Pages 52 & 53 of Beatrix Potter’s The Roly-Poly Pudding published in New York by Frederick Warne & Co. in 1908.

Here is an excellent example of Potter’s ability to capture humor and action in both the text
and accompanying illustration from pages 52 & 53 of Beatrix Potter’s The Roly-Poly Pudding
published in New York by Frederick Warne & Co. in 1908. Special Collections.
Call Number: Children C606. Click image to enlarge.

She eventually married William Heelis, a solicitor, in 1913 and retired to her farm, Hill Top, to become a prize-winning breeder of Herdwick sheep and a champion for local land conservation. After her death on December 22, 1943 she left 15 farms, several cottages, and over 4,000 acres of land to her husband and on his death to the National Trust, a conservation organization for the United Kingdom.

Page 56 of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher published in New York by Frederick Warne & Co. in 1906.

Potter’s fascination with nature is evident in the loving detail of both plants and animals
found in this example from page 56 of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher published
in New York by Frederick Warne & Co. in 1906. Call Number: Children 2983. Click image to enlarge.

To learn more about Beatrix Potter and view her delightful books, come visit us at Spencer Research Library and check out a few of these items:

  • Peter Rabbit & other tales : Art from the world of Beatrix Potter. New York: New York University, [c1977]. Shelved at Spencer Research Library. Call Number: C18290.
  • Potter, Beatrix. Beatrix Potter’s letters. London: Warne, 1989. Shelved at Watson Library. Call Number: O72 Z48 1989.
  • Potter, Beatrix. Transcribed from her code writing by Leslie Linder. The journal of Beatrix Potter, 1881-1897. London; New York: F. Warne, 1989. Shelved at Watson Library. Call Number: O72 Z52 1989.
  • Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. New York: Frederick Warne, [c1903]. Shelved at Spencer Research Library. Call Number: Children A78.

Mindy Babarskis
Reference Specialist
Public Services

Hidden Treasure Found in the Stacks

April 15th, 2015

Working at Spencer for the past two years, I’ve discovered many amazing manuscripts and old novels that I never dreamed of getting the chance to actually work with. An even more far-fetched idea, however, was finding books that I read when I was a kid and had completely forgotten about.

Yet I did.

It started off as any other day: reshelving books within the stacks. I pushed my book cart, complete with its squeaky wheels, down the rows as I returned the books back to their homes on the shelves. Walking around the perimeter of the stacks, I found a section of books that I hadn’t noticed before. They stood out amongst the old, leather bound covers of books published before the 1700s. Instead, these spines were cloth and colorful, rich in design and detail.

And they looked eerily familiar.

Image of the cover of In the Reign of Terror by G. A. Henty, 1888

The cover of In the Reign of Terror by G. A. Henty.
Illustrated by J. Schönberb. London: Blackie, 1888.
Call Number: O’Hegarty B805. Click image to enlarge.

Leaving my book cart behind me, I walked up to take a closer look, disbelief forming in the back of my mind. No, these couldn’t be the same books I read in middle school, I thought. There was no chance. Upon closer inspection, my gut was proven to be right: I had discovered a treasure trove of books by British author George Alfred (G. A.) Henty. Shelves upon shelves were lined by his masterpieces, a series of adventure books that I’d barely scratched the surface of, reading them in my youth.

Instantly, I was transported back home, as an eleven-year-old, acne-riddled, glasses wearing middle-schooler, standing in my public library. I discovered a book by accident: it had a simple red cover that was torn on the sides. The title read In the Reign of Terror: The Adventures of a Westminster Boy by G. A. Henty. I have never heard of him before, but I decided to take the book home with me and give it a try.

I finished it within the week.

Henty was a mastermind of writing stories threaded within historical events. In the Reign of Terror was about a boy named Harry Sandwith, who was sent to live with the Marquis de St. Caux during the French Revolution, in a time when political stresses tore the country apart during the reign of King Louis XVI. Even though his novels were written in the late nineteenth century and intended for a young male audience (he always started off his tales with a letter to his audience, addressed to his “Dear Lads…”), I still found them to be enlightening, enjoyable and one heck of a political and historical ride.

And I had completely forgotten about Henty and his tales.

Image of the cover of St. Bartholomew's Eve, G. A. Henty, 1894

The cover of St. Bartholomew’s Eve by G. A. Henty.
Illustrated by H. J. Draper. London: Blackie, 1894.
Call Number: O’Hegarty B818. Click image to enlarge.

Since being reunited, I have been reminded of the books that I raided when I was a kid. After reading Reign, I quickly went through our library’s collection back home, which consisted of six titles. My favorite I’ve read is St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which is a tale of the Huguenot Wars.

Illustration in St. Bartholomew's Eve, G. A. Henty, 1894

An illustration in St. Bartholomew’s Eve by G. A. Henty.
Illustrated by H. J. Draper. London: Blackie, 1894.
Call Number: O’Hegarty B818. Click image to enlarge.

Image of preface in St. Bartholomew's Eve, G. A. Henty, 1894 Image of preface in St. Bartholomew's Eve, G. A. Henty, 1894

The preface of St. Bartholomew’s Eve by G. A. Henty, addressed to “my dead lads.” Illustrated by H. J. Draper.
London: Blackie, 1894. Call Number: O’Hegarty B818. Click image to enlarge.

Now that I have rediscovered Henty, I’ve been looking into him again and trying to decide which book to read next in order to get back into reading him. Yet I also realized that there are plenty of controversies surrounding the author I’d accidentally discovered. While these stories are advertised as stories of adventures for young boys, they were also criticized – both during the time of publication and especially since then – as being xenophobic towards anything that wasn’t part of British culture and nationalism. His books were also labeled as strong propaganda towards British imperialism, raising the question of if there was another purpose behind Henty’s agenda for writing these novels.

None of this political scandal was noticed by me as a young reader, but recognizing it now, I think it would be interesting to go back and reread some of his stories, or pick up a brand new one. Rediscovering one of my favorite childhood authors was something I definitely didn’t expect to happen while working within the stacks. It was an experience that made me feel like I went back in time, while at the same time, opened a door to learning more about this controversial, yet very popular, late-nineteenth-century author.

It just goes to show that no matter what you’re doing in a library – working, researching or just simply browsing – the treasures waiting to be discovered are endless.

Nicole Evans
Public Services Student Assistant

Once upon a Time… in Spencer

January 26th, 2015

Last week you met Mindy Babarskis, now she highlights some illustrations from one of the volumes in Spencer’s Children’s Books Collection.

Spencer Research Library houses around 7,000 children’s books,  and many of these are folk tales and fairy tales. This immediately brings the Grimm Brothers’ European tales to mind, but did you know that A.L. Grimm also published tales from the Middle East and Asia? Here’s a beautifully bound and illustrated edition of Tales from the Eastern-Land by A.L. Grimm, translated from the German by H.V.

Cover of Tales from the Eastern-Land (1852), featuring an image of a gold Buddha Table of Contents of Grimm's Tales from the Eastern-Land

Gold stamped Buddha image on the front cover and the table of contents (with an old and lonely flower petal) in Spencer Research Library’s copy of A. L. Grimm’s Tales from the Eastern-Land,  Illustrated by J.B. Sonderland. London: H.G. Bohn, 1852. Call Number: Children 6035.  Click images to enlarge.

Illustration of a Djinn from Grimm's Tales from the Eastern-Land.

I bet you’ve never seen a djinn portrayed quite like this; not the friendly big blue spirit depicted by Disney. Illustration by J. B. Sonderland in A. L. Grimm’s Tales from the Eastern-Land, 1852. Call Number: Children 6035.  Click image to enlarge.

Illustration of a fainting woman in Grimm's Tales from the Eastern-Land

It wouldn’t be a book from the 1800’s without a fainting woman. Sadly, she forgot her smelling salts. Tales from the Eastern-Land, 1852. Call Number: Children 6035. Click image to enlarge.

Interesting architecture in an illustration from Tales from the Eastern-Land.

The architectural details in this image are wonderful; take some time and study the background of Sonderland’s illustration. Tales from the Eastern-Land, 1852. Call Number: Children 6035. Click image to enlarge.

Illustration from "The Three Trials" in Tales from the Eastern-Land

Here’s an emotional moment from “The Three Trials” in Tales from the Eastern-Land, 1852. Call Number: Children 6035. Click image to enlarge.

Mindy Babarskis
Public Services Library Assistant