By GUY LAMOLINARA
Because the Library of Congress collects universally, it has one of the nation's premier collections of children's literature.
To some people, "children's literature" is somewhat of an oxymoron, but to experts in the field or, in fact, to anyone who has ever read a book as a child that he or she can still remember, "literature" and "children" do belong together.
According to Sybille Jagusch, chief of the Children's Literature Center, "Although in a children's book a theme will be presented on a level appropriate for a younger audience, the themes are no less meaningful to adults. And that is why we remember a favorite children's book long after we are no longer young."
Thus the Library is able to present the exhibition "From Sea to Shining Sea: An American Sampler." Viewers will be able to note how children's literature has evolved over the centuries, as the exhibition offers books that show the early days of the republic through the 1960s.
"The Library undoubtedly has the most comprehensive collection of American children's books," said Ms. Jagusch. "Through copyright deposit, for more than a century we have received most every children's book published in America."
As its subtitle suggests, "From Sea to Shining Sea" contains a sampling of the more than 200,000 books in the Library's collection. Stories, folktales and poetry, nonfiction, non-English books; books in braille, movable books and those in electronic formats -- all are represented.
Since its founding in 1963, the Children's Literature Center has been an advocate for the study of children's books. It provides information to Congress, children's book specialists and the general public. In addition to acquiring children's books, the center organizes lectures, symposia and exhibitions.
The selections in "From Sea to Shining Sea" were chosen not by date but for their singular representation of aspects of American life. They show a variety of styles: Walt Disney cartoons, a Cinderella theater book, woodcuts, watercolors, pop-ups. The books, said Ms. Jagusch, "express Americans' spirit of optimism, a can-do attitude, humor and ease."
The first of the exhibitions' four sections, "The Land," introduces the exhibition's theme by exploring the land and its peoples; newcomers traversing the nation's vast territories, Indians celebrating nature; the unique pleasures of growing up on an island.
A 1993 volume compiled by Amy L. Cohn, From Sea to Shining Sea: A Treasury of American Folklore and Folk Songs, harks back to the old-time American spirit. This anthology was illustrated by 15 distinguished picture-book artists and includes the Abbott and Costello classic shtick "Who's on First?"
Although most children's books portray a life far more idyllic than reality, by the 1960s some books depicted a more authentic view of American life. Chris Raschka's 1993 Yo? Yes! was a Caldecott Medal honor book, selected for its slice-of-life illustration of two city boys who engage in a nearly wordless, body-language conversation.
As its title suggests, the second part of the exhibition, "The Community," focuses on American neighborhoods large and small, rural and urban; in an Indian reservation. In Annie and the Old One (1971) illustrator Peter Parnell's spare pictures relate the story of young Annie and how she finally accepts her grandmother's death, or "return to the earth."
The 1963 Caldecott Medal winner, The Snowy Day, is appealing to children young and old, as it relates a child's wonderment in new-fallen snow.
Joseph Forte's illustrations for Ib Pennick's 1986 The Story of the Statue of Liberty is a history lesson on how the New York Harbor landmark came to America and is a fine representative of the art of moving illustrations.
In "America at Play," the exhibition's third section, a vintage 1937 comic book features Mickey and Minnie Mouse and friends in Mickey Mouse's Friends Wait for the County Fair, which was illustrated by Walt Disney himself.
Anyone who has ever fought the battle of an ever-expanding waistline will find a soulmate in Arthur Getz's 1980 Humphrey the Dancing Pig, in which a fat-obsessed pig gambols his way to a smaller size with surprising consequences.
Jazz, Harlem and striking black-and-white illustrations populate Ben's Trumpet, a 1979 book about a boy's love of the syncopated rhythms of his Manhattan neighborhood.
In Old Mother Hubbard and Her Wonderful Dog (1991), Mrs. Hubbard's hungry pet learns to occupy himself in unexpected ways.
Many of the most famous and fondly recalled children's stories can be found in the exhibition's final section, "Tell Me a Story." Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (1968 edition; first published 1868); L. Frank Baum's Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, a handsome reproduction of the fourth title in the popular Oz series, first published in 1908; and Red Riding Hood, in a 1987 version with illustrations that bring a new twist to the story of the travails of a little girl who encounters the quintessential smooth talker are all on view.
Other familiar favorites are The Little Engine that Could (1954), Pollyanna (1913), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Charlotte's Web (1952).
"From Sea to Shining Sea" is on view June 25 through Jan. 2 in the Madison Foyer of the James Madison Building, 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. The Library is closed on Sundays and legal holidays.