I have the pleasure of living a short drive from a mecca for picture book fans: The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Located in Amherst, MA, the museum is designed to “inspire a love of art and reading through picture books.”
It was founded in November 2002 by Eric Carle (well-known author/illustrator of over 70 books, including the iconic classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar), and his wife Barbara Carle.
The museum is a wonderful place to explore with children, but you will get much more out of your visit if you do a little planning ahead of time. The museum is not a children’s museum, per se. Actually, one of the things I like about taking my kids there is that it affords a small, safe environment for them to learn proper museum etiquette. You won’t find Eric Carle’s caterpillar or butterfly or brown bear all over the walls (although they do cleverly haunt the bathroom tiles). What you will find are several dimly lit galleries (which highlight the work of picture book authors and illustrators on a rotating basis), a welcoming reading library, and an interactive art studio. There is also a rock-star gift shop, but I limit my time there so as not to spend my children’s college savings accounts prematurely.
To make the galleries more enjoyable for children, be sure to ask for the scavenger hunt style activities at the front desk or from one of the docents. Or, if you know what artist is currently on display, you can set up some activities ahead of time.
We recently visited the exhibit, “The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats” (on display through October 14th). Fortuitously, the other parent joining me on the outing is a “Librarian Mom” and just happened to have at least 7 of Ezra Jack Keat’s books in her home library. On the drive up to the museum, we had our kids each choose one of the books to read. Then we told them to find one picture from their chosen book that they would be “on the lookout” for in the gallery. (My favorite part was the 90 seconds of silence that accompanied their book reading).
Here are said children with their Keats books, ready to hunt.
They were so excited to match the pictures from the books in their hands to the ones framed on the walls. The staff in the room circulated without hovering, helping the kids to experience the art work while maintaining some decorum. Not easy!
My favorite part of the exhibit was the display of letters that fans of Keats’ had written him over the years. Keats was one of the first picture book artists to portray African-American children in his work, and many of the letters thanked him for that and defended him against critics.
After enjoying the galleries, we wandered into the kid-friendly art studio. In a room with floor-to-ceiling windows, several tables were set up with inviting art supplies. Suggested art projects rotate frequently. A friendly staff member explained the ‘project du jour’: Imagining your perfect day. Adults and kids alike got in on the act, using the large variety of paper provided to make cut-outs, and then finishing with watercolor paints.
Here’s my modest attempt, depicting me and Librarian Mom talking about nature, books, and ranting about whatever’s on our minds:
What would you imagine as your perfect day? Would you turn into a butterfly?
Or go to the beach….
…and enjoy the sunset?
Or maybe you’d just hang out with your family:
Whatever your pleasure, be sure to make time for a trip to this special museum. It’s inspiring!