In a lively new picture book, first-time author Susan Verde captures a girl’s experience of an art museum as a creative space filled with fun and imagination. A far cry from the familiar portrayal of museums as boring and stale, The Museum shows children how to enjoy the art-viewing experience and make it their own.
Verde’s text marches along in rhyming stanzas: “When I see a work of art /something happens in my heart. / I cannot stifle my reaction. / My body just goes into action.” Accompanying illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds, known for his Judy Moody artwork, portray a young girl physically invigorated by the works of art around her. She dances after seeing Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” saddens at a blue-faced painting and gets hungry when she sees a still life with apples. The girl and the museum are drawn in light washes, while the paintings come to life in vivid color, offering Reynolds’ homage to several famous works of art.
When the girl discovers a blank canvas, she doesn’t know what to make of it—“Where is the color? / What does it mean? / It’s the strangest art / I’ve ever seen”—until she closes her eyes and something happens. She begins to see colors, shapes and pictures coloring the canvas in her head. Brightly colored objects outlined in black fill the page, as the blank canvas becomes the girl’s own creation: “It’s mine to fill the way I choose,” she says, as she twirls in a joyous expression of her own creativity.
When the museum closes for the night, the girl walks out with the confident assurance that the museum’s “rhythm exists in all I see.” The book’s final wordless spread perpetuates her lesson, as the girl is seen frolicking in a whimsical and brightly colored landscape reminiscent of “Starry Night.” The endpapers at the beginning of the book show walls covered with framed artwork, while those at the back of the book are filled with empty frames.
For parents who have trouble communicating the excitement of art to their children, The Museum can serve as the starting point for a conversation. The book is also a wonderful reminder of visual art’s power to encourage and empower self-expression. Children and adults will finish this book excited about their next art experience, and perhaps tempted to dance through the halls of a museum in the near future.