In my past few weeks at the Newberry, I have been learning more about the children’s books in the Wing collection on the history of printing and book arts. One of Wing’s many strengths lies in the Laura Bannon collection. Bannon was a Chicago children’s book illustrator and author during the mid-20th century dedicated to instilling creative independence and cultural appreciation in the minds of her readers. Born and raised in Acme, Michigan, she attended the Art Institute of Chicago, where she eventually taught as well. Her first children’s book was published in 1939; she went on to author and/or illustrate over twenty books.
The Newberry has 19 of Bannon’s books, one of which is an instructional book for adults entitled Mind Your Child’s Art: A Guide for Parents and Teachers, as well as a unique collection of original illustrations for several of her published works. The illustrations range from charcoal sketches on tissue paper to full color illustrations. Also included is a dummy for Bannon’s book The Best House in the World. A dummy is a rough model of a book often used by picture book authors and illustrators in order to plan out the placement of images and text on the pages and visualize the book as a whole. Bannon’s dummy looks much like a scrapbook, with blocks of hand-written text on lined paper pasted alongside sketches in bright pastels. You can see notes she had made over the text and in the margins. It is a rare look at a crucial stage of the picture book-making process, and it is really fun to follow along with Bannon’s notes to herself.
The book dummy is just one of several treasures in the Newberry’s Laura Bannon collection. The majority of the books we have of Bannon’s are inscribed by the author, often with a unique illustration opposite the title page. The Newberry was given these books as well as the manuscripts from David Painter, a friend of Bannon’s; presumably these inscriptions are addressed to Mr. Painter, but they are not always specified. Our copy of Red Mittens has a miniature pair of knitted red mittens taped to the title page, and opposite is a pen and ink drawing of a woman in what appears to be a hospital bed rolling down a city street. The drawing is signed by Bannon, with the caption: “See kids! No steering wheel!” What the drawing and caption refer to is a funny mystery, and the origin of the red mittens is puzzling as well. There are many other mysterious inscriptions to be found elsewhere in the Bannon collection, and each one is charming.
Bannon traveled widely and drew inspiration from her visits across the country and the globe. Her adventurous spirit and love of other cultures can be seen in much of her work, and her writing often teaches about the importance of appreciating differences. Take, for example, the following passage from Baby Roo (1947): “The farm animals learned that the hills beyond the pasture fence were not the edge of the world. And they found that an animal from a far-off country could be as good as themselves. For who could help liking Baby Roo when they got to know her? She was such a friendly little thing.”
And who could help liking Laura Bannon when they got to know her? Not I, certainly. Her beautiful illustrations, her funny inscriptions, and her thoughtful words are all full of a passion for children, art, and education that make Bannon a singular find here at the Newberry.
By Jane Fentress, Children’s Literature Intern.
Bannon, Laura. Baby Roo: story and pictures by Laura Bannon. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1947. Wing ZP 983 .B21816.
Bannon, Laura. Laura Bannon collection of illustrations, 1939-1958. Wing Modern MS Bannon.
Bannon, Laura. Mind your child’s art: a guide for parents and teachers. New York: Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1952. Wing ZP 983 .B21826.
Bannon, Laura. Red mittens: story and pictures by Laura Bannon. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1946. Wing ZP 983 .B21812.