By Karen Carmody-McIntosh
Actor and author Jamie Lee Curtis recently donated her papers to the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota — including drafts, proofs, correspondence, and production material for a dozen of her picture books for children, including the best-selling Today I Feel Silly.
“I have been a big fan of Curtis’ books, since her first,” said Lisa Von Drasek, Curator of the Libraries’ Children’s Literature Research Collections.
Von Drasek said she is excited to share the collection with researchers, educators, and the broader community of children’s book lovers.
“If I were to select one outstanding attribute of her writing it would be her child’s-eye view,” Von Drasek said. “She has the ability to give voice to the children in her books. She really understands child development — and has never forgotten the fears, the joys, and the concerns of the very young child.”
Von Drasek also has been in discussions with children’s book illustrator Laura Cornell, the artist for all of Curtis’ picture books. Acquiring Cornell’s papers and artwork will enrich the collection and allow researchers to see more details about the collaborative creative process between the writer and artist.
“You have to understand what a treasure trove this is for a researcher,” Von Drasek said. “It is a rare gift to be able to see the author’s process.”
More than a repository
Materials in the Children’s Literature Research Collections are preserved, well cared for, and are public resources for community learning.
“The reputation of the collection precedes my arrival,” Von Drasek said. “I have added to it through the development of educational assets.”
These assets include online educational materials like digital exhibits, which are freely available for students of all ages. Other digital learning materials teach the process of picture book creation, the methods and materials used by children’s book artists, and much more.
This proved to be very important to Curtis in making her decision.
“Jamie Lee Curtis was very specific that she wanted her papers to go to a repository that would be teaching from these materials,” Von Drasek said. “We discussed her goals for her papers. We have received everything that she has written for children to date, as well as the materials that Laura Cornell had provided to her — the dummy books, which are illustrated rough drafts, and things like that.”
Part of Von Drasek’s job is helping writers and artists learn about the children’s literature archive at the University of Minnesota. Von Drasek gets the word out by talking to the creators, as well as by building relationships with their publishers and their editors, whom the writers and artists trust.
Resources for learning
The Children’s Literature Research Collections has a variety of digital materials to offer. To get started, check out the online learning resource Balloons Over Broadway, which goes into detail about the process of making a children’s book.