NY Book Art Posters: Charles Schulz to Maurice Sendak

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A couple of years ago I stumbled upon six art posters at a garage sale, theme: New York is Book Country. Enchanted by the delightful cartoon drawings depicting both reading & Manhattan, I wanted to know more about this event & how it snagged such notable children's authors as Charles Schulz and Maurice Sendak to design its posters. Turns out the history of New York is Book Country mirrors the ups & downs punctuating the book fair & book publishing industry over the last 30 years.

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Books, Sunshine and Celebrities

New York is Book Country was a non-profit created in 1979 to host a one day street fair in New York City promoting literacy and the joy of reading. Benefiting the Children's Services Division of the New York Public Library, the event featured booths overflowing with books and prominent authors along NYC's 5th Avenue. Founder and President Linda Exman effused, "this fair celebrates the city as well as books", as it promoted poets, novelists, and playwrights while bringing authors into local area schools.

Early New York is Book Country book fair.
Early New York is Book Country book fair. | Source

 

Mission: promote literacy and get people to see bookstores as hospitable places filled with treasures, where one could browse and stay awhile (a theme cleverly capitalized on by Barnes & Noble). Early NYIBC book fairs included t-shirts and five dollar posters, with costumed characters such as Clifford, Pooh, Arthur and Bart Simpson wandering 5th Avenue between 48th-57th Street.

Awards for booths included Best Showcase for a single book or author, Best Appearance, and Best Interaction with the fairgoers, such as "How to Photograph Dogs" from the Dog-Lover's Book Shop.

Charles Schulz, 1986

Charles Schulz (1922-2000) created the beloved Peanuts comic strip. Peanuts appeared in more than 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries for nearly 50 years, from 1950-2000 and remains one of the most popular comics of all time.
Charles Schulz (1922-2000) created the beloved Peanuts comic strip. Peanuts appeared in more than 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries for nearly 50 years, from 1950-2000 and remains one of the most popular comics of all time.

The Posters

Each year a major artist created and donated the artwork for the poster's design. Sole criteria: it had to be recognizably New York. Maurice Sendak ("Where the Wild Things Are") contributed four times, from the first poster in 1979, to the fair's 25th anniversary in 2003 (prior to this, the outdoor fair was only cancelled twice- once due to rain, and in 2001, after 9/11).

Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, in 1986, contributed a charming poster featuring Linus building a Statue of Liberty-shaped sandcastle; street artist Keith Haring depicted books with legs dancing in the New York City streets, in 1985.


Keith Haring, 1985

Keith Haring (1958-1990) used the primacy of line to create public art. From 1980-1985, Haring produced hundreds of bold chalk drawings on paper panels in the NY subway system. Haring also created over 50 murals & public artworks from 1982-1989.
Keith Haring (1958-1990) used the primacy of line to create public art. From 1980-1985, Haring produced hundreds of bold chalk drawings on paper panels in the NY subway system. Haring also created over 50 murals & public artworks from 1982-1989.

The artists were on hand to autograph their posters for any of the 250,000 New York is Book Country attendees who decided to purchase one; the original creation was auctioned off to benefit the non-profit. Out-of-towners could mail five dollars plus $1.50 for postage and handling to the New York Public Library and have a poster delivered to them, unsigned. The artwork year after year ranged from low-key to inspired, and, by presenting the same theme, offered an insight into what makes each successful artist unique.


James Stevenson, 1982

James Stevenson (1929- ) is the author and illustrator of more than 100 children's books, including What's Under My Bed? and The Worst Person in the World. For thirty years he created 80 covers and over 2,000 cartoons for New Yorker magazine.
James Stevenson (1929- ) is the author and illustrator of more than 100 children's books, including What's Under My Bed? and The Worst Person in the World. For thirty years he created 80 covers and over 2,000 cartoons for New Yorker magazine.

Big and Small Alike

For $500-$600, large and small publishers could set up a booth at New York Is Book Country, showcase their products, promote their authors, and sell some books. Attendees had the opportunity to casually chat with favorite novelists. George Plimpton was on hand at one booth to promote his efforts as Editor at The Paris Review.

Events were held during the month bringing authors and illustrators into local schools and libraries. Meet the Author events featured over 100 authors, ranging from History, Science Fiction, Graphic Novels, Mysteries to Best Sellers. Forty new exhibitors were joining NYIBC every year.

William Steig, 1984

William Steig (1907-2003) was a cartoonist, illustrator and author of children's books. Shrek!, his book about a green ogre, was translated into the popular films. In 1970, Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble won the Caldecott award.
William Steig (1907-2003) was a cartoonist, illustrator and author of children's books. Shrek!, his book about a green ogre, was translated into the popular films. In 1970, Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble won the Caldecott award.

Good Ideas Spread

The large number of publishers and initial enthusiasm made it easy to raise the $250,000 needed yearly for booths, advertising, staff time, press releases and postage costs. Other cities took note: book fairs proliferated throughout the country- Miami Book Fair International, L.A. Times Festival of Books, and more (Nashville, Seattle, San Francisco). But New York is Book Country was perhaps the first of its kind. Meanwhile, more and more events were added such as the Author Lunch at Park Avenue's Waldorf-Astoria, featuring Slaughterhouse Five author Kurt Vonnegut.


James Gurney, 1996

James Gurney (1958- ) is an artist and author, best known for his illustrated book series Dinotopia.
James Gurney (1958- ) is an artist and author, best known for his illustrated book series Dinotopia. | Source

Beginning of the End

New York is Book Country's non-profit board initially featured specialty booksellers, small presses, independent publishers and bookstore chains. By 1997, in a C-SPAN street interview at the fair, NYIBC Founder and President Linda Exman noted that where seven or eight bookstores once stood along the book fair's strip of 5th Avenue; now only one, Barnes & Noble, remained. Publishers, like the bookstores themselves, had also condensed: Random House had bought up seven or eight competitiors such as Fawcett and Ballantine. Doubleday was bought out by Bantam, B. Dalton's by Barnes & Noble. Booksellers Scribner and Brentano's had already gone under.

Maurice Sendak, 2003

Sendak created four different posters for New York is Book Country, in 1979, 1988, 1998, and 2003.
Sendak created four different posters for New York is Book Country, in 1979, 1988, 1998, and 2003.

Expand too far and something goes pop

The fair too, had changed from its humble beginnings, perhaps biting off more than it could chew; in 2003, for its 25th anniversary, patrons could choose between attending a benefit featuring Frank McCourt, Mary Higgins Clark, and Maurice Sendak with cocktails and hor d'oeuvres, a Literary Brunch at the Waldorf-Astoria with James Patterson, Mitch Albom and others for $150, or a presentation by Steve Martin previewing his new novel The Pleasure of My Company (free!), among other literary events. The little street fair was attempting to be a big player in a city already brimming with entertainment choices.

The 25th anniversary year even saw the publishing of a book, Metropolis Found, commemorating the fair, along with the aforementioned galas, happenings, and 300-plus booths. How do you follow that up? You don't. The founder retired/stepped down. Publisher and public support waned. Money became scarce.

Arnold Lobel, 1981

Arnold Lobel (1933–1987) was a popular American author of children's books including the beloved Frog and Toad series and Mouse Soup.
Arnold Lobel (1933–1987) was a popular American author of children's books including the beloved Frog and Toad series and Mouse Soup.

Age of the Corporate Sponsor

Big city book festivals today often rely on corporate sponsors who provide both funding and a strong arm in dictating how events are run and who gets invited to participate. The age of the little booth on the corner, like Meg Ryan's book shop in You've Got Mail, may be over. After missing 2005-2007 entirely, the NYIBC book fair relocated from 5th Avenue to Washington Square Park in 2008, much to the dismay of locals who resented both the congestion and their lack of benefit from the event. Hastily moving the fair to Central Park in '09 clinched it - the New York is Book Country book fair and its non-profit folded for good in 2010.

Sandra Boynton, 1983

Sandra Boynton (1953-) a children's book author and illustrator, has designed approximately 5,000 different greeting cards, selling 50-80 million cards per year in the 1980s for Recycled Paper Company.
Sandra Boynton (1953-) a children's book author and illustrator, has designed approximately 5,000 different greeting cards, selling 50-80 million cards per year in the 1980s for Recycled Paper Company.

Art Posters - The Legacy

It's not all bad news. Today, a few small, independent book fairs have sprung up in places like the nearby borough of Brooklyn. Additionally, web-based HubPages and Squidoo have emerged, co-existing alongside ever-larger, traditional publishing houses.

What remains from the thirty years of New York is Book Country events is, above all, a love of reading and the need for self-expression. Both are reflected in the artwork. Those six garage sale posters turned out to be a pretty good find.

Maurice Sendak, 1988

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012) author and illustrator of children's books, is best known for his 1963 book, Where the Wild Things Are and his illustrations in Pierre, Chicken Soup with Rice, and Else Holmelund Minarik's Little Bear books.
Maurice Sendak (1928-2012) author and illustrator of children's books, is best known for his 1963 book, Where the Wild Things Are and his illustrations in Pierre, Chicken Soup with Rice, and Else Holmelund Minarik's Little Bear books. | Source

Which poster do you like the most?

See results without voting

Other New York is Book Country posters

Click thumbnail to view full-size
1979, Edward Gorey, (some years had more than one poster)1980, Pierre Le-Tan1990, Artist unknown1991, William Joyce1992, Faith Ringgold1993, Hilary Knight1994, Lane Smith1996, Daniel Pelavin1998, Maurice Sendak1999, Diane and Leo Dillon2002, Art Spiegelman2004, Ian Falconer2004, Tara McPherson
1979, Edward Gorey, (some years had more than one poster)
1979, Edward Gorey, (some years had more than one poster) | Source
1980, Pierre Le-Tan
1980, Pierre Le-Tan | Source
1990, Artist unknown
1990, Artist unknown | Source
1991, William Joyce
1991, William Joyce | Source
1992, Faith Ringgold
1992, Faith Ringgold | Source
1993, Hilary Knight
1993, Hilary Knight | Source
1994, Lane Smith
1994, Lane Smith | Source
1996, Daniel Pelavin
1996, Daniel Pelavin | Source
1998, Maurice Sendak
1998, Maurice Sendak | Source
1999, Diane and Leo Dillon
1999, Diane and Leo Dillon | Source
2002, Art Spiegelman
2002, Art Spiegelman | Source
2004, Ian Falconer
2004, Ian Falconer | Source
2004, Tara McPherson
2004, Tara McPherson | Source

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Comments 13 comments

Liz Zwingli 5 years ago

Alison, another very interesting hub, thank you. Loved the posters.


acc12 profile image

acc12 5 years ago Author

Thanks, Liz. I love the artwork and the way the artists each went in different directions on the same topic. Glad you liked it!


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

Very informative and interesting hub. I learned so much!

Thanks and voted up.

vocalcoach~


acc12 profile image

acc12 5 years ago Author

Vocalcoach, glad you enjoyed it. I learned a bunch writing it - I didn't realize that one poster was illustrated by Arnold Lobel, author of the always-entertaining Frog and Toad books! Versatile these artists are. Thanks for the vote up.


brianlokker profile image

brianlokker 5 years ago from Washington DC metro area

Terrific look at this late great event. The posters are all wonderful -- it's hard to choose a favorite. I'd love to see the rest, too. Voted up.


acc12 profile image

acc12 5 years ago Author

brianlokker, good idea- I just added a bit at the end showing the other NYIBC posters that I'm aware of. Thanks for the vote up!


brianlokker profile image

brianlokker 5 years ago from Washington DC metro area

Thanks for adding these others. Most are great too. But uh-oh, is that squirrel in the Spiegelman poster using an e-book reader?


acc12 profile image

acc12 5 years ago Author

brianlokker, Indeed, the times they are a changin'.


sestasik 5 years ago

Great hub, loved looking at all the posters and seeing the changes in book fairs overall through time.


acc12 profile image

acc12 5 years ago Author

Thanks, sestasik. Some of them are quite imaginative, many are just fun. Hard to choose a favorite.


Paper Acrobat 4 years ago

I would have to go with Keith Haring just because his work is so unique.. It sticks out like a sore thumb!


acc12 profile image

acc12 4 years ago Author

Paper Acrobat- that's a good one. Also, remembering Maurice Sendak and his artwork today.


Elizabeth Barr 6 weeks ago

Hi. I'm looking to buy a James Stevenson "New York is Book Country" 1982 poster. Is yours for sale, or do you know where I might find one?

Thanks.

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