Books that capture the magic of museums
Every year, Montrealers enjoy one day when they can visit most of the city’s museums for free.
This year, Montreal Museums Day is on May 26 and it’s a great time to introduce children to the wonder of museums. The treasures on display can be wonderfully inspiring, as they often feel cloaked in mystery and intrigue, their origins and meaning sometimes clear, sometimes unknown. Seeing the ancient bones of a dinosaur reconstructed into the silhouette of its former self or spotting all the hidden details and colours in a painting can make the imagination run wild. Just look at the many books based on museum masterpieces to understand the important role they play in preserving our history and culture.
Children’s books are no exception, and here are a few that can help get your children ready for their next museum visit.
The Museum (Harry N. Abrams, $18.95)
by Susan Verde – Ages 3-6
There’s no better place to start a child’s museum journey than with this book that celebrates the feelings and emotions that a visit to the museum can elicit. When a young girl makes a trip to the art museum, she can’t help but put into motion the energy she feels through the paintings and sculptures on display. In rhyming prose, she exuberantly describes how her body feels compelled to interpret in its own way, what the artist was trying to convey through his/her own piece of art. First-time author Susan Verde and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds perfectly capture the powerful impact that art can have on creating and generating new ideas. After reading this book, children will be itching to see what reaction they will have to the artwork they see at the museum.
Seen art? (Viking Juvenile, $21)
by Jon Sciezka – Ages 4-7
The longstanding collaboration between author Jon Sciezka and illustrator Lane Smith has led to some of the most ingenious, hilarious and memorable books for children, and their picture book Seen Art? is no exception. When a young boy sets out to meet up with his friend Art, but can’t find him, he asks a woman if she has “seen Art?”
Her reaction is to lead him straight to New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). As he continues to search for Art through the museum, and asks patrons the same question, he is directed towards some of the most famous pieces housed there, including works by Vincent Van Gogh and Andy Warhol. Each person sends the boy towards his/her favourite piece, showing how our relationship to art can be a very personal and subjective experience. The book also reflects how a museum can become a defining component of a city, and contribute to its spirit and landscape. Children will be entertained by the boy’s quest to find Art, and the ensuing discoveries he makes on his journey.
The Girl Inside the Castle Inside the Museum (Schwartz and Wade, $21.99)
by Kate Bernheimer – Ages 5-8
Many museum artifacts seem to hold their own worlds hidden within. Whether it’s a painting depicting a Biblical scene or the remnants of some ancient civilization, the treasures found in museums hint at stories and characters that we can only wonder about. This enchanting picture book explores those other worlds by bringing to life the experience of being in a museum from the perspective of the art itself. A miniature castle is on exposition at a museum and inside lives a little girl, who each day observes the people who come to see her. Within her castle, there is a whole landscape of bustling activity. It is beautiful and serene, yet the girl finds herself lonely when her visitors leave at night. It will make children consider the life that has come to a standstill in a painting or sculpture, and realize that as an observer, they can have as much influence on a piece of art as it can have on them.
Time Flies (Dragonfly Books, $8.99)
by Eric Rohmann – Ages 3-5
Natural history museums bring to life eras gone by as our planet has evolved. They are living jigsaw puzzles that attempt to piece together our world as it once was, based on clues found by scientists. Few sights are more impressive than the large skeleton of Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex at the Field Museum in Chicago. Her skeleton hovers menacingly in the lobby, reaching far towards the high ceiling above and it seems nearly unfathomable that such a creature once roamed the earth. In this Newberry award-winning picture book, author/illustrator Eric Rohmann takes his inspiration from Sue and recreates the Field Museum at night, where the dinosaur skeletons on display almost seem to come to life. Without words, the book follows the flight of a small bird that gets trapped inside the museum at night. The bird flutters about, coming face to face with a prehistoric world that it knows nothing about. As it flies through the museum, the prehistoric creatures come to life and suddenly the bird is transported to another time, unfamiliar yet directly connected to the bird’s own present-day shape and form. The book illustrates how a trip to the museum can also be a trip back in time, giving us insight into how our world once was, and why it is now the way it is.