Children's literature and secondary works about children's literature are both collected by the Penn Library, first, as a form of literature with intrinsic value and interest; second, as a literary form taught within the contexts of literature and education classes; and third, as a body of critical literature with interests for students in many different fields. "Children's Literature" refers both to books for young children and to young adult literature (meant for audiences up to 12th grade. The Libraries purchase comics and graphic novels as well as traditional books, and focuses on works written for and by diverse audiences.
These materials are normally found in the various literature classifications in the Van Pelt stacks (including a significant portion at PZ, for fiction and juvenile belle lettres), as well as in Rare Books and Manuscripts. Non-fictional children's literature -- history, biography, science, etc -- are found scattered in non-literary classifications, and fictional children's works by authors who also publish for adult audiences may be located in the adult literature section. Materials that are less frequently used are found in LIBRA, the Penn Libraries Research Annex in West Deptford, NJ.
A collection of children's books once housed together, the Illman-Carter Collection, is now dispersed to the general circulating stacks, Rare Books, and LIBRA. From 1904 to 1946, the Illman School for Children, directed by Miss Adelaide T. Illman and Mrs. Alice Carter Dickinson, existed at the corner of 40th and Walnut Street. In 1946, the school was incorporated into Penn's School of Education as the Illman-Carter Unit, forming the elementary education branch of the School. When the School of Education became a graduate school in 1965, the Illman-Carter Unit was disbanded. The Illman-Carter Library was incorporated into the Penniman Library, the library of the Graduate School of Education.
Although many of the books were absorbed directly into Penniman, the children's books presented a particular and unique group. With the death of Miss Illman in 1968, a group of the Illman alumnae contributed a sum of $800 to the Penniman Library for the formation of an appropriate memorial and the alcove in which the books were housed became the Illman-Carter Collection of Children's Literature in 1970. When the Penniman Library was merged into the general Van Pelt collections, the Illman-Carter Collection was housed in an alcove on the 2nd floor of Van Pelt until 2006. The majority of the books had been published during the 1920s and early 1930s and form a period collection in the history of children's literature. For a while, subsequent Caldecott and Newbery Award titles were added to the Illman-Carter Collection, but are now added to the general collection.
More recently, the Libraries have used the GOBI Children's awards approval plan to purchase hundreds of books retrospectively and prospectively. This growing collection of juvenile literature about immigrant and refugee experiences complements other segments of the Penn Libraries’ collections that similarly focus on diversity in children and young adults. In 2018, the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts received a major collection of African American children’s books from collector Joanna Banks. Then, in 2019, the Kislak Center also received the archive of African American children’s book author and illustrator Ashley Bryan. These collections join papers of Atha Tehon, children’s books designer who worked on notable works like Julius Lester’s The Old African (2005) and the award-winner Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions (1976); holdings of Soviet children’s books from the 1920s and 1930s; early children’s books, including many fictional works for youth in the Singer-Mendenhall Collection; early children’s series books and dime novels; and titles in the Caroline F. Schimmel Fiction Collection of Women in the American Wilderness. In 2021, librarians identified over 1000 works to create The Immigrant and Refugee Experiences in Children’s and Young Adult Literature Collection, which is housed in the general collection.
The most significant other resources for children's books in the Philadelphia area include the Free Library of Philadelphia, whose Children's Literature Research Collection, Illustrated Children's Books, and Early American Children's Books all have great historical strength and depth. At Princeton University, the resources of the Cotsen's Children's Library are remarkable.