Friday, June 18, 2021

The Origins of the Caldecott Medal

Cover illustration by Caldecott of The Diverting History of John GilpinYou've likely heard of the Caldecott Medal, an honor that is awarded annually to the illustrator of the most distinguished American picture book for children. You've probably even seen an image of the bronze medal on the covers of some of your favorite children's books.⁠ Every year, the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, selects the winner of the Caldecott as well as anywhere from one to five runners-up that are awarded the distinction of being Caldecott Honor Books.

The award was first imagined in 1937 by Frederic Melcher, an influential bookseller and publisher who was also the creator of the Newbury Medal. The Caldecott is named for Randolph Caldecott, a 19th-century British illustrator, and the first recipient was Dorothy P. Lathrop in 1938. The iconic image of a rider and horse on the front of the medal is based on Caldecott's cover illustration for The Diverting History of John Gilpin, published in 1878.⁠ The back is based on an image from Caldecott's illustration of the children's rhyme "Sing a Song of Sixpence." 

To take a look at some of our Caldecott books, come to Rauner and ask for Illus C127c or Sine Illus C35rcaf.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

‘Childhood and Age’ by Dranoel, and ‘Ozymandias’ by Shelley

One of the most exciting aspects of our collections is the way that Dartmouth students engage with them to create new ideas within the context of the classroom. For the next seven Tuesdays, we will publish posts that were originally written by students in Michael Chaney's Literary History survey course during the Winter 2021 term. Each student essay comparatively examines two poems, one from the Dartmouth student newspaper and the other by a canonical American or British author. Matthew Nolan, class of 2021, is today's author.

Childhood and Ageis a poem included in The Dartmouth: Vol. II, a publication that focuses heavily on epitaphic poetry. In the volume, Dartmouth students commemorate and remember friends they’ve lost a long with famous writers and locations, and places important to them now lost or in the past. Childhood and Age is an epitaph to youth, the speaker being the poet, but the subject being the old man, watching on as the sun sets on his life. The author writes, “Past is the storm that swept his early day; / And sinking in the distance, on its rear, / His sun, just setting, bids the bow appear.” On both the literal and metaphorical levels of the poem, the old man is looking back on the twilight of his life; in the calm water he sees the storm henceforth passed. The poem continues, “Mnemonic and assuring-so the gay / Warm light of youth points the far-future way, / While his own weary path must end in silence here.” We can infer that the man is reflecting on his past life while facing the consequences of time’s passing. For the speaker, the rote pattern of life and death is one to take comfort in, however somber it may be for the subject – or the reader.

In Ozymandias, Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley reminds us that despite the greatest efforts of kings among men, nothing lasts forever. Often all that remains long after is a vague reminder of the vanity of great men who thought they could live forever in stone or ink:

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

This quote from the poem, taken originally from the supposed real inscription of Rameses II (now lost), is meant to mock the king, highlighting his arrogance at purporting that he would long remain after desert had reclaimed the world. To Shelley, the monumental stele is a crude reminder of the impermanence of power and empire. However, as modern readers, we must consider the implications of Egyptian burial practices of the Ramesside period of Dynasty XIX, which would indicate that Rameses’ tomb beneath would hold hiska, a placeholder for his eternal spirit which watches over his tomb.”

In light of Childhood and Age, Shelley’s quote represents the vastly different ways men seem to conquer or suffer through the twilight of their lives. The great King Rameses – Ozymandias – is reduced to Dranoel’s old man, looking back at the storm of time that swept his desert empire away. As the visitor to Rameses’ tomb, Shelley occupies both the subject and the speaker in the poem, observing the same notions of Dranoel’s old man, but instead choosing to seek comfort in the seeming impermanence of the structures of power which bind his own world. Viewing the passing of time as a rote pattern is central to both poems, but how their speakers choose to understand and represent this concept differs. Both poems touch greatly on the futility of human will against time and against any attempts to control our own narratives after death. Even now as we read these poems in the 21st century, we abrupt and perhaps enhance any hopes of legacy and continuing narrative set in motion by these poets centuries ago.

Written by Matthew Nolan, class of 2021