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Every book has a story

Every book has a story.

Check in frequently to read the behind-the-scenes scoop on the Newberry’s popular Book Fair. The blog is maintained by “Uncle Blogsy,” otherwise known as Dan Crawford, Book Fair Manager.

What Popped Up

So they’ve given me a Meggendorfer. This is a momentous occasion, even leaving aside the fact that Meggendorfer is fun to say. (I need to check: someone may have given me a Blickensderfer, too. If so, I shall just have to retire: there will never be such a week again at the Newberry.)

I have dealt with Meggendorfers before, but never a real one. The others have all been small copies of the real thing. This is a genuine original Meggendorfer. This will cause me sleepless nights, but I don’t get to sleep much in June and July anyhow.

Lothar Meggendorfer was a German cartoonist of the nineteenth century who decided to apply himself to children’s books, and produced a legendary array of toy theaters, pop-ups, movables, and toy books. These were fun, colorful, ingenious, and a bit pricey. Children loved them and treasured them. (Adults also had fun with them, as he was one of those geniuses of the children’s book who realized you had to captivate the parents too, if you wanted to market a book.)

Time goes by, though. A book with moving or detachable parts grows old quickly: pieces are torn, pull tabs get pulled off, bits are lost. The modern copies of Meggendorfers are on slick, coated paper which is fairly heavy duty, but the originals were not: they didn’t have the paper then and, anyhow, it can make some of the effects harder to work with. AND the originals were bigger than the modern copies, making the effects that much more striking but also that much more fragile.

My Meggendorfer is broken in two: the front half is separated from the back. Everything seems to be there, though I have not collated the book. (Library term: it basically means you go through the book, counting maps, pictures, and pages to be sure everything that’s supposed to be there is there.) And, wonder of wonders, the pages I have tried still work.

It’s a movable. If you pull this bit of paper, which is at least 120 years old, the fish hidden below the waterline still jumps out to try to catch the dragonfly. Pull this tab and the artist still waves his hands to chase away the goat chewing on his canvas. The colors, by and large, are still bright. If you’re careful, you can experience the same wonder that some lucky child did when the book was all new and in one piece.

Now then, pork chop marmalade: here’s the problem. How do I display this wonder?

Some eight thousand people come shopping at the Book Fair. There is no way this Meggendorfer would survive if even one percent of that number stop and pull the tabs. Furthermore, I have seen how you folks operate. Turn my back for fifteen seconds, and the front half of the book will be at the north end of the Collectibles section, and the back half will be at the south end, if not actually sitting in the Art section.

One can, of course, have an Attendant. This is what you need if you want to play with many of the ancient movables actually in the Newberry collection. You will get a little note with the book stating that if you want to hear the moo-cow moo or see the carpenter hit his thumb, you must ask a librarian to come pull the tabs or tug on the strings for you. So I COULD just appoint a Meggendorfer Volunteer. But oh, the fistfights as they argue about who gets that honor, and oh, the sorrow on the part of those who are told they just don’t have what it takes to wear the title of Meggendorfer Attendant. And then what do I do with that volunteer when, after the first fifteen minutes, somebody BUYS the Meggendorfer? What does a Meggendorfer volunteer do in retirement? Life will be so flat and stale, and the likelihood of us getting another Meggendorfer is small.

Well, such are the trials of a Book fair Manager. I’ll keep you posted. Now I have to go check on that Blickensderfer.

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