Backpack to Buggy

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Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see? …

April 16th, 2009 · No Comments · Destinations

… the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art staring back at me.

This museum changed how I look at picture books (which as the parent of a toddler, I do a lot.)  We all liked Eric Carle’s books, so thought it would be a nice stop on a rainy day.  What we found was a museum that engaged both adults and children of all ages in learning, playing, creating, reading and enjoying.

The mission of the museum “is to inspire, especially in children and their families, an appreciation for and an understanding of the art of the picture book.”  Wow, it succeeded! With galleries highlighting artists and books, an extensive library of picture books, a drop-in art studio, an auditorium, a shop, café, open spaces, and kid friendly options everywhere, we explored for three hours (until closing time.)

How many times have you read The Very Hungry Caterpillar?  Did you know the original title was A Week with Willi Worm?  In celebration of its 40th birthday, one exhibit showcased how Eric Carle put together the book and editions over the years.

Mirielle and her picture in front of the Very Hungry Caterpillar's birthday cake.

Mirielle and her picture in front of the Very Hungry Caterpillar's birthday cake.

Not to knock Carle’s work, but it was Those Telling Lines: The Art of Virginia Lee Burton exhibit that changed how I look at picture book art.   I went backwards through the exhibit (hey, with a toddler you go where they let you) enjoying the art but also seeing how it enriched the story telling.  Then I started to recognize the characters.  It was the author/artist of Mike Milligan and his Steam Shovel.

The galleries are “look, don’t touch,” but curators keep it kid friendly with drawing supplies, interactive games for younger children, and copies of  books reflected in the art on display.  There is also lots to touch and do in both the drop in art studio and the library.  Both spaces include toys and play areas appropriate for younger children.  Adults will happily be sucked into art projects and rereading childhood favorites.

As a warning to parents who suspend the “don’t buy” rule when it comes to books, the shop is outstanding — possibly one of the best collections of children’s books and graphic novels in North America.  (If you know of others, please let me know.)   We bought the Virginia Lee Burton anthology, Animal Farm illustrated by Ralph Stedman, and a few art books and supplies. Everything Eric Carle is available as well.

A final note of thanks to the designers of the museum, a “best practice” to architects of public spaces, and one more sign of child friendliness is the preschooler sized bathroom facilities.  In the women’s rest room, there was a toddler/preschooler sized toilet and a sink at a child friendly height with a stepstool.  (It is amazing how many newer facilities geared to young children don’t even bother with a stepstool much less kid-sized facilities.)

The best bathroom for potty training (I want one.)

The best bathroom for potty training (I want one.)

We bought a membership on the way out and can’t wait to come back for the Winnie the Pooh show in May.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is located in Amherst, MA adjacent to Hampshire College.

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