Museums! If you think you are a museum lover before you have kids in your life (whether to teach or to raise), you become a museum worshipper once kids appear. You just experience them differently… no more staring for hours at a painting and actually reading about the materials and life of the artist – you experience them at warp speed, but still with thinking and probing and learning. Kids might not want to linger (at least not the younger ones) but the way they see things, and the questions they ask will give you a whole new outlook and appreciation. You might find yourself playing I Spy in the paintings , or Hide and Seek among the antiquities. And you’ll definitely start experiencing a whole world of museums that you probably never knew existed (Fire Truck Museums, Kid-seums and the like). Well, now you can experience them this way, too: reading about museums! Here are books for everyone in the family that take you deep inside a museum.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler by E.L. Konsigsberg
Imagine hiding out and secretly living in a museum! That’s what Claudia and her brother Jamie do in this 1967 Newbery award-winning novel. We both love the Metropolitan Art Museum–and can imagine ourselves happily camping out there for a week, as this duo manages to do. In the course of their adventure, they discover a mystery as well as the wonders of the museum’s treasures. Ruth savored reading this book aloud to her little daughter Meghan–who can’t wait to read it to her little ones and experience it anew. A perfect read-aloud adventure to introduce children to the magic of the museum experience.
A book about art, history, a father and daughter–and a fabulous story? What’s not to love! Artist Piotr Barsony acts as guide and story-teller through his “imaginary” museum, describing genres of paintings, and the history of modern art–all through the Mona Lisa. Just imagine the differences between for example, a Van Gogh Mona and an Andy Warhol Mona. A perfect book for all ages.
Toddlers and Pre-School:
You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman
This book has many things going for it, one of which is the fact that it is a true picture book. Not one single word. And when your throat is hoarse from reading, it’s the kind of book you can sit and flip through with the kids and let them provide the narrative. Which is both restful and highly entertaining. It’s about a little girl and her Grandma taking a trip to the Met. The security guard tells the girl that she can’t bring her balloon into the museum, but agrees to watch it for her. The moment she leaves, the balloon escapes, and leads the guard and an ever growing entourage on a merry chase through the city. The balloon’s journey through New York mirrors the girl’s journey through the museum and it’s delightful and enjoyable on several levels.
Miffy at the Museum by Dick Bruna
With sing-song rhymes, Miffy the bunny explores and discovers the wonders of a museum, wondering what the artist thought, and contemplating growing up to be an artist herself. Miffy has been around for almost 60 years, and there’s a reason why. The simple line drawings and barely there stories draw kids into whatever world she is visiting. It’s a fun book to bring along to an art museum and ask kids the same questions Miffy asks.
Museum Trip by Barbara Lehman
Another winner from the author of the fabulous (and award-winning!) The Red Book. In this wordless picture book, a boy enters a work of art. As viewers, we get to see him from shifting perspectives as he shrinks into the mazes and pathways that make up the different works of art. We even peek at him as he receives a medal, which he still has on when we leaves the museum, his real size again. The celebration of imagination, and mixing of real and daydream are a kind of magical realism at the pre-school level. Love this book!
all of the above, plus. . .
The Museum by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
For both of us, going to museums and seeing artwork creates a bubbly effervescent kind of physical joy. Exactly what writer (and yoga teacher!) Susan Verde writes about poetically, and Peter Reynolds illustrates to perfection in this marvelous little picture book. Try reading it to little ones before a trip to the museum. . .it will serve as a wonderful introduction.
Library Mouse: A Museum Adventure by Daniel Kirk
A museum adventure is just the ticket for Sam and Sarah, two mice who live in a museum. Sam, an author, and daily journal keeper, creates a new notebook for sketching as well as writing and decides that the nearby museum would be just the place to try out his new explorer’s journal. Sarah, always up for excitement and exploration, is all set to go, but does have her doubts about the uses of a journal for such an adventure. Pretty soon, though, she’s a fan, too, as they include ticket stubs, maps, and drawings of Egyptian mummies, dinosaurs, and other cool discoveries. They also meet a surprising new friend and artist. . . We loved–and chuckled over– the masterpieces reproduced lovingly with mice as subjects in the “special gallery.” A wonderful way to introduce young art lovers to great art through history, with a twist!
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Our favorite of the Blue Balliet series of artist detective stories for middle schoolers. Like The Mixed-Up Files. . ., Chasing Vermeer
features two intelligent kids who put their heads together to solve a puzzle. At the heart of the mystery is a stolen Vermeer painting. Petra and Calder, two sixth-graders in the amazing Ms.Hussey’s class, try to figure out the clues in a set of pentominos (mathematical puzzle pieces), a mysterious book, and public clues published in a newspaper. The great city of Chicago makes a terrific setting for this art caper. If you enjoyed this duo’s adventures and want more art mystery, check out: The Wright 3 and The Calder Game.
The Court of Stone Children by Eleanor Cameron
“Magical” and “intriguing” are two words we often hear readers use to describe this wonderful historical fiction/ghost story that brings to life the atmosphere of a small museum, and what it’s like to run one. The plot is intriguing, as we meet the characters through the eyes and world of Nina, a young girl going through struggles in her recent move to the city. In her visits to the museum, she encounters others involved in their own struggles. We thought about listing this one under family read-aloud, since it has appeal for adults and kids alike. . .so consider it as an additional chapter book read-aloud, or put it into the hands of the teens and tweens in your life to savor on their own.
Adult Readers (YA and Beyond)
The Diviners (YA) by Libba Bray
One of our favorite settings: New York City in the 1920’s, complete with silent movies, Ziegfield girls, speakeasies, . . .and of course museums. Evie O’Neill loves it all when she moves from her boring rural home to live with her uncle in the big city. But the museum where he is a curator is a bit of a challenge; The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult is known by the locals as “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.” Soon after Evie’s arrival, she is drawn into the investigation of a series of murders, and also discovers her own occult powers. The dramatic supernatural plot is compelling and draws young adults–and older ones, too–into the mystery. A great read–and fortunately, the first of a planned series.
The Art Forger: A Novel by B.A. Shapiro
Twenty-five years ago, the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston was robbed; thirteen masterpieces were stolen and have never been recovered. Barbara Shapiro bases her mystery novel on this famous heist, re-imagining where a famous Degas painting might now be. The tale is filled with intrigue–and fascinating true information about art forging. I found the writing voice humorous and clever, and the relationships believable. Of course, growing up in the greater Boston area, the Gardner museum was a favorite for both Meghan and me (Ruth). And perfect timing for our read of this new book: the FBI recently announced they have solved the case, but haven’t found the originals yet. For a fact-based, entertaining glimpse into the world of art, artists, and museums, give The Art Forger a try.