Milner Library’s Special Collections is home to several noteworthy children’s literature collections. In addition to these children’s literature collections, there are numerous children’s titles contained within the Harold K. Sage Lincoln Collection and the Circus and Allied Arts Collection.
During the 1950’s and 60’s, Illinois State University was among several universities to receive portions of Lois Lenski’s personal collection. A popular and prolific author and illustrator whose career spanned over forty years, Lois Lenski (1893 - 1974) received the Newbery Medal for her 1945 novel Strawberry Girl.
The collection contains autographed first editions of most of Lenski's books, as well as foreign editions, manuscripts, and original illustrations. Milner Library owns the original manuscripts for Lenski’s Coal Camp Girl, Corn Farm Boy, Houseboat Girl, and San Francisco Boy.
In addition to these book-related holdings, the Lenski Collection also contains articles, plays, and speeches by Lenski, reviews of her books, Christmas cards and bookmarks designed by Lenski, original Lenski paintings, drawings, prints and lithographs as well as a portion of her doll and toy collection. Milner Libary has also developed a web resource on Lois Lenski featuring Houseboat Girl materials.
In 1949, Will Johnson (1872 - 1968) - a graduate of Illinois State University and local bookseller - donated his personal collection of children’s books to Milner Library. Johnson continued adding to this collection until his death in 1968. Today the Johnson Collection contains over 700 titles. Taken as a whole, this collection presents a fascinating cross-section of American children’s trade books published from the early 1900’s to the 1960’s.
One of the most notable aspects of the collection is the large number of books autographed by the authors and illustrators. Over half of Johnson’s original book collection contains autographs, inscriptions, or drawings by the author and/or illustrator. In addition, the Johnson Collection also contains numerous foreign language titles, many of which are not yet cataloged.
With the support of Robert Hertel, Director of Milner Library from 1959 to 1965, Milner Library purchased a large collection of historical children’s literature. The emphasis of this collection is mostly nineteenth-century British and American children’s fiction with a strong representation of popular series fiction. Authors who are well represented in this collection include Jacob Abbott, Louisa May Alcott, Horatio Alger, Randolph Caldecott, Maria Edgeworth, Juliana Horatia Ewing, Martha Finley, Kate Greenaway, G. A. Henty, Oliver Optic, and Kate Douglas Wiggin. This collection also contains a sampling of influential children’s magazines from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Among these titles are Chatterbox, Little Folks, Merry’s Museum, Peter Parley’s Annual, and St. Nicholas Magazine.
This large collection of elementary school primers, readers, and texts covers all areas of study and is primarily from the late nineteenth century. While cataloging has not been completed on this collection and many titles will not be included in the Milner Online Catalog, Special Collections maintains a list of all titles grouped by such subjects as readers, spellers, grammars, science, history, and geography.