For Release: Immediately
Department of External Affairs
Free Library of Philadelphia
1901 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1189
(215) 567-7710
FAX (215) 567-7850
Contact: Communications and Development
For Release: Immediately
Contact: Communications and Development

Rare Book Department To Exhibit Children’s Cautionary Tales

Or Else: Cautionary Tales for Children exhibition will highlight children’s literature
from the past three centuries

PHILADELPHIA, PA, January 22, 2016—Books for children don’t always have happy endings. For over 250 years “children’s literature” has balanced a desire to keep little readers’ attention with a mission to keep their attentions proper. On display in the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia beginning February 22 is Or Else: Cautionary Tales for Children, an exhibition that highlights the moral reckonings, both morbidly satirical and mortally serious, in children’s literature from the 18th century through today. Or Else will run through July 23 and features nearly 100 books and illustrations, as well as a stocked reading nook for visitors to experience the stories directly.

Titles on view in Or Else will include Isaac Watts’ Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language For the Use of Children (celebrating its 300th anniversary), William Blake’s radical poetry on childhood, Heinrich Hoffmann’s gruesome classic Struwwelpeter, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and enduring modern favorites like Tomi Ungerer’s The Three Robbers and Maurice Sendak’s Pierre.

The objects in the exhibition showcase the transformation in literature for children, from its 18th-century beginnings that tended toward Calvinist moralism to mid-19th-century works with a larger place for imagination and humor.

The familiar, funny, and fierce pieces in Or Else dovetail nicely with the Rosenbach of the Free Library’s current exhibition Down the Rabbit Hole: 150 Year of Alice in Wonderland. Carroll’s masterwork directly parodied Watts’ famed piece, and it is an excellent example of the changing tone of children’s literature in the mid 1800s.

“Classic mid-century books like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland mark the beginning of modern children’s literature,” says curator Caitlin Goodman. “These books emphasized imaginative spaces for children and indicated a shift in social attitudes about childhood itself.”

The Rare Book Department is open from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday. While the public may visit at any time during those hours, a guided tour of the department’s general collections is available at 11:00 a.m. every day. For more information on the Department, please visit or email

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The 61-location Free Library of Philadelphia system advances literacy, guides learning, and inspires curiosity with millions of digital and physical materials; 25,000 yearly programs and workshops; free public computers and extensive Wi-Fi; and rich special collections, including  those at Parkway Central Library and at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. With more than 6 million in-person and millions more online visits annually, the Free Library and the Rosenbach are among the most widely used educational and cultural institutions in Philadelphia and boast a worldwide impact.


Department of External Affairs, Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103-1189
(215) 567-7710, FAX (215) 567-7850