Evanston Public Library exhibit features famous book illustrators

Grace Johnson and Grace Johnson

An international exhibit featuring children’s book illustrations allows readers to come to their own conclusions at the Evanston Public Library.

The exhibit, “An Imaginary Library: Children’s Books That Don’t Exist (Yet)” opened Oct. 9 at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. The organizers of the exhibit asked famous children’s book illustrators from all over the world to draw an illustration for a book they had in mind but hadn’t actually written yet.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to see artists from other parts of the world and see what their style is like,” said Janice Bojda, the head of children’s services at the Evanston Public Library. “They have such a different sensibility and to me that is the attraction.”

The exhibit was brought to Evanston in a collaboration between the Northwestern University Library and the Evanston Public Library. The illustrations were originally collected by the International Youth Library in Munich; the exhibit has since traveled all over the world.

Jeffrey Garrett, NU’s associate university librarian for Special Libraries, approached the Evanston Library to feature the exhibit since it already was coming to St. Charles, Ill. for the eighth annual conference of the United States Board on Books for Young People.

“It’s special because the artists whose original work is in the exhibit are among the most famous children’s book illustrators in the world,” Garrett said. “It is really a top drawer selection of artistic talent.”

The artists also supplied enough of an idea of the plot for the viewers of the exhibit to understand where the illustration is going, but the public is still invited to use their imagination, Garrett said.

“The artists don’t have the obligation to write the book, they just have the idea for the book,” he said. “This encourages the viewer of the art to develop the book in his or her own mind; it’s an act of procreation between the artist and the viewer.”

The 75 illustrations included in the exhibit are spread throughout the entire Evanston library, with artwork in the main room of the library, the children’s room and upstairs, Bojda said.

“It’s a great opportunity for people who love art and children’s books to see something that’s unique and that they probably won’t get to see again,” she said.

Because the exhibit focuses on illustrations rather than words, it has a special appeal to children who haven’t mastered reading yet, Garrett said.

“A mother or a father or a big sister or brother could take a smaller child with them to the exhibit and say what do you think this is about and they could come up with their own story,” he said. “They might ask is that the real story and the adult could say that’s the real story if you want it to be, because there is no real story, the story is being made fresh every time you look at it.”

The exhibit will be on public display at the Evanston Public Library through December.

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