One of the many things I already love about city living is the many museums that surround us. We have visited three art museums so far and are anxiously discussing and planning our next available days to visit more. I am overjoyed to pass on our love of art to our daughters and what better tool to aid that endeavor than gorgeous picture books that celebrate and discuss art museums! Have a look at three picture books that revel in the joys, etiquette, mystery and adventure that comes with visiting an art museum.
In a way, the picture book is like a little museum. It is a small collection of beautiful art in (typically) 32 pages. These three books push that concept even farther by combining the illustrations with images of fine art that are found within the art museums they describe. I have had two of these books for several years, and treasure them like postcards of the particular museums they detail. Let’s read three!
1. The Museum by Susan Verde, art by Peter H. Reynolds, 2013
This is the newest of the group and is an excellent beginning when going to or coming from any museum. Verde’s text describes the experience of seeing so many different pieces of art and the kinds of emotions they can evoke. It is an excellent way to approach a museum at any age, although I’m not sure I should encourage breaking into a dance in the middle of a museum. But why not!
I’m a deep fan of Reynolds’ ability to capture energy and emotion with such loose linework, and I am also amazed here to see his versions of famous paintings combined with his character. What fun he must have had interpreting them into his style. He has such a great sense of balance and simplicity with how much detail and color to add to each page. This is a wonderful book to learn how to not only enjoy art, but also figure out how to respond to it even when you encounter pieces you don’t understand.
2. Seen Art? by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, 2005
The next book is humorous in concept as well as unique in shape. A small, thin landscape layout gives an appropriate modern feel to this book that centers around the Museum of Modern Art while giving clever thought to what definition truly defines art. Scieszka and Smith have concocted a tale about a boy attempting to meet up with his friend named Art, but he gets mistakenly diverted into a tour of the new Moma building in search of “art.” A good companion to the first book in our grouping, this book also deals with the idea of how art makes you feel by having the boy encounter various patrons of the museum wishing to show what they consider to be true “art.”
There are a lot of plays on words, something Scieszka always does masterfully; and Smith’s funky character styling is a sharp contrast to the actual photographs included of famous works of art. One of my favorite things is the added appendix in the back that details each piece of art included and a short description of it. Such a fun and unique resource about art, museums, and that ever-circulating question, “what is art?”
3. You Can’t Take a Balloon Into The Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Preiss Glasser, 1998
The last of our books is actually wordless, which perhaps is very appropriate when approaching famous works of art. The illustrations of this book are stunning in style as well as sheer detail in each page. A mixture of single image spreads and graphic novel-like individual boxes, the story is simple while surrounded by an almost Where’s Waldo kind of backdrop.
It all starts when a little girl walks up to The Metropolitan Museum of Art with a balloon in hand. One of the staff authoritatively declares the balloon must go, but then guiltily promises to keep watch over it while she enjoys the museum. The balloon escapes and leads the man and many others on a chase throughout Manhattan surrounding the museum, all while the little girl and her grandmother marvel over the museum contents, pictured in real photographs and cut-outs. It is a fantastic story, with amazingly expressive details and a wonderfully purposeful use of color. This is a book to be pored over as you study the story, illustrations and the celebrated works to remember housed at the MET.
Whew! Museums always make me tired, but oh so inspired. It really is amazing how much culture and life museums can contain and I’m so thankful some picture book artists have given us stories about museums so that we can experience pieces of them even while just reading on the sofa.