I first heard about a legendary German castle filled with children’s books from across the world from Jeff Garrett at the beginning of my junior year at Northwestern University. It took me a while to realize that he wasn’t exaggerating — but as soon as I did, I was determined to go to the International Youth Library. I was working on a project on the Argentine children’s author María Elena Walsh at the time and, fortuitously for me, there were a great number of sources on Walsh at the IYL to which I did not have access in the United States. I had pored over the dossier on Walsh presented to the 1994 Hans Christian Andersen Award jury at the Northwestern Special Collections library, but could only locate a handful of the sources listed in the extensive bibliography.
After applying for and receiving an undergraduate research grant, I traveled to Germany in March 2012 to spend two weeks at the library and learned — to my delight — that Munich was pleasantly warm and almost spring-like. My hosts were wonderful people who convinced me to eat white sausage every day for breakfast, and the timeliness of the bus system was also happily noted.
Then, of course, there was the Library. It’s like something dreamed up out of a children’s book — fitting, no? — with its curved hallways, stone courtyard, and moat complete with swans. I hardly had to do any work, so it seemed, thanks to the helpful librarians who quickly assembled a pile of materials for me to read through. I was there at the same time as a research fellow from Australia; she and I soon became friends and even traveled to Salzburg for the weekend.
I made several important discoveries about Walsh thanks to the holdings at the International Youth Library. Walsh’s geographical influence was larger in range than I realized: there were sources in French, Portuguese, and Galician. Most importantly, I was able to establish a direct connection between Walsh and Lewis Carroll — she had read his poems and stories as a child. And my lofty claims regarding Walsh’s transformative status in the world of Argentine children’s literature were corroborated by two excellent encyclopedias of Latin American literature.
When I returned to Northwestern, I had a newfound sense of confidence in my project. Equipped with greater knowledge, I began my critical analysis of Walsh’s novel Dailan Kifki — which would later turn into an article for Bookbird — and curated one of the few student exhibits at Northwestern Library featuring Walsh and her writings. I became so dedicated, in fact, that I applied for more funding, spent the summer of 2012 in Buenos Aires, and wrote my senior honor’s thesis about the politically subversive nature of Walsh’s work for children.
It all comes back, though, to my adviser Jeff Garrett for encouraging me to travel to an inspirational castle-turned-library and a trip that sparked what is sure to be a life-long interest in children’s literature.