In Trove Of Kids' Book Treasures, A Glimpse Of The Work Behind The Magic Once a doctor's hobby, the Kerlan Collection is now one of the world's great collections of children's literature. Over 100,000 books offer visitors a chance to see the writer's process — for free.
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In Trove Of Kids' Book Treasures, A Glimpse Of The Work Behind The Magic

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In Trove Of Kids' Book Treasures, A Glimpse Of The Work Behind The Magic

In Trove Of Kids' Book Treasures, A Glimpse Of The Work Behind The Magic

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/445086331/445751197" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Good night, stars. Good night, air. Good night, noises everywhere, said the old lady to the little rabbit. Wait a second. That's not how the story goes. But apparently, there was an earlier version of the children's classic "Goodnight Moon," which reporter Alexandra Starr reveals. She takes us down - deep down - into the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, where the veil is lifted on thousands of children's classics.

ALEXANDRA STARR, BYLINE: The Kerlan Collection is 83 feet underground by elevator. So it's cold down here.

LISA VON DRASEK: Yeah, put on that sweater. Do that.

STARR: That's my tour guide, Lisa Von Drasek. She's the curator here. She says there's a reason it's 55 degrees.

VON DRASEK: This is the temperature that is perfect for books and paper.

STARR: The Kerlan houses more than 100,000 books, including the novels of Kate DiCamillo, who's also with us. She wrote the classic "Because Of Winn-Dixie" and has won the Newberry Medal twice.

KATE DICAMILLO: It's very "Raiders Of The Lost Ark-y" down here.

STARR: The room does look like that final warehouse scene in that movie. The space is bigger than two football fields, and it's filled with shelves. On those shelves are files with familiar labels - Arnold Lobel's "Frog And Toad Are Friends," Maurice Sendak's "Where The Wild Things Are."

VON DRASEK: There is Clement Hurd, who illustrated "Goodnight Moon."

STARR: It's all here because of a man named Irwin Kerlan. He was a doctor and University of Minnesota graduate. His passion, though, was children's books. He started collecting first editions in the 1940s. Then, as Von Drasek explains, he became friends with the authors and illustrators.

VON DRASEK: He would go on studio visits, and he noticed that they were throwing away manuscripts and original art. I have letters and letters - please don't throw anything out. Just send it to me. Here's a self-addressed stamped envelope.

STARR: The result is 12,000 early drafts - and counting. Upstairs, Von Drasek shows us the preliminary drawings for "Goodnight Moon."

VON DRASEK: So this is the great, green room, the old lady whispering hush. This is a draft. It says so at the top. And the old lady is an old lady. She's not an old rabbit lady. She's an old lady. So you see how that transforms to the finished book.

STARR: This is something you see a lot at the Kerlan. Authors will discard characters and add new ones. Sketches can change radically over 15 drafts. DiCamillo says those alterations basically document the creative process.

DICAMILLO: That's the part that really grabs me. You can come in here and see how people work, and you also start to see that it's work.

STARR: Which makes the library a valuable teaching tool. The Kerlan is open to anyone. Mary Rockcastle, the director of Creative Writing Programs at Hamline University in Minnesota, takes students every year.

MARY ROCKCASTLE: It illuminates the process, and it demystifies it. When they see how many times someone of the caliber of a Kate DiCamillo revises, they realize you must change it to get better and better.

STARR: All of DiCamillo's manuscripts are at the Kerlan. She feels a little abashed about that.

DICAMILLO: It's like people looking at my dirty underwear.

STARR: But she feels it's important. She hopes making her drafts available will give encouragement to the fourth-grader who dreams of publishing a book or the lawyer with a novel in her desk drawer. There's a message in those drafts. It's the old saying the essence of writing is rewriting. For NPR News, I'm Alexandra Starr.

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