The de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at Southern Miss is one-of-a-kind, and this spring, students will have the opportunity to learn more about the collection and children’s literature from Ellen Ruffin, the collection’s curator .
Lena Y. de Grummond arrived at The University of Southern Mississippi in 1966 to teach Children’s Literature to a class of graduate students. To make the class unique for her students, de Grummond began writing to prominent authors and illustrators such as H.A. Ray, creator of “Curious George.” Ray is one of many authors de Grummond began a correspondence with, and at times de Grummond wrote up to 300 – 400 handwritten letters per month. Often, the prominent authors she wrote would respond with handwritten letters and illustrations, which de Grummond would share with her students. This began the collection. Fifty years later, the collection has grown into more than 180,000 books and 1,300 manuscripts and illustrations from all over the world, becoming one of the leading research centers for children’s literature in North America.
In the spring, the School of Library and Information Science at Southern Miss will offer a course in children’s literature taught by Ruffin, an associate professor and curator of the de Grummond collection at Southern Miss. Ruffin has been at Southern Miss for almost 12 years and hopes to give students a glimpse of the incredible collection here at Southern Miss.
“It will be a unique experience because most of the library courses are taught online, but this is a face-to-face class,” Ruffin said. “We’ll meet once a week, and it is a survey course. We talk about a lot of books and have fun, but it’s also a lot of learning.”
Next year will be a significant year for the children’s literature collection at Southern Miss. 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival, which is put on annually by the School of Library and Information Science at Southern Miss. The festival began as a result of de Grummond’s correspondence with authors and illustrators.
“Her students that took the class in ’66 said they never knew what was going to be shown to them when they got to class because she was getting things in from various authors and illustrators and bringing it for them to see,” Ruffin said.
When University Librarian Warren Tracy saw the letters, he immediately recognized their value and realized that they had to become accessible to the public. The book festival was the result, and the first University of Southern Mississippi Medallion – awarded for distinguished service in children’s literature – was given to Lois Lenski at the second festival. Today, the festival and the collection are known internationally, all made possible by de Grummond.
“She was determined to start a collection, and as a result it’s one of the largest collections in the United States, and it’s known internationally,” Ruffin said. “We have researchers who come from all over the world to access some of the books they can get no place else.”
Researchers interested in literature are not the only ones who find value in the resources of the de Grummond collection. Scholars from a variety of disciplines come to Southern Miss to access the primary resources for their research.
“There’s history, there’s popular culture, there is art and writing,” Ruffin said. “We’ve got one collection that would be perfect for women’s studies. Any discipline could find something to research using primary sources here at the de Grummond collection.”
The de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection exhibit is on the second floor of Cook Library. For those interested in the Children’s Literature course being offered this spring, contact the School of Library and Information Science undergraduate adviser J. Edman Pace.