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  • Louise Ellis-Barrett & Simon Barrett

A world of musuems ...


Louise works in a museum, in a museum library full of books to be precise so does that make her biased towards the topic of books about museums? Does that mean that although this is a shared blog post she is not the best person to be sharing the writing with? Possibly but then Louise also works with children’s books.

This conundrum does pose a bigger question too; does working in publishing, teaching (as Louise’s co-author Simon does), school libraries or any role that brings you into contact with books can make you biased towards the power of reading? Perhaps it does so perhaps this blog is going to be okay after all?

Museums, to Louise, are some of the very best places in the world for discovery, learning, staring in awe, wonder and marvel. They hold collections of items that may have otherwise been destroyed over time or hidden away from public view. They bring together histories of the world, of people, of cultures, blending them so that everyone can appreciate a local, national and global heritage.

Museums inspire. They inspire careers, they inspire stories, they inspire art. Happily for us, and for the readers of this blog they have inspired Kate’Art Editions to create a series of titles under the series umbrella Happy Museum.

On discovering that the series consists of over forty books, primarily introducing artists Simon decided to concentrate on the latest titles including Klimt, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Monet, and on the centenary of his death, and coincidentally the British Museum Spring 2018 exhibition, the sculptor Rodin.

Many of the titles showcase the life and art of a famous artist, are full of facts, annotated artwork and questions to guide and encourage readers to develop their own understanding and appreciation of the art in question. The books also contextualise the artist, making comparisons to other artwork or ways they have influenced, indeed been influenced, by others. The format of the most recent titles has evolved - the books now encourage readers to create their own artwork in a similar style.

Each book typically begins by showing readers how to observe the details in a picture with an annotated artwork and a short biography of the artist. Readers are then introduced to a number of original paintings, a copy of which they can colour in or, alternatively, use to guide the development of their own art in the style of the artist on a blank page.

The series covers many of the most popular paintings by the aforementioned artists, including Monet’s Water Lily Pond and Hokusai’s The Great Wave. The Fantastic Monsters of Bosch, Bruegel and Arcimboldo is perhaps my favourite in the series with an intriguing subtitle of ‘For sorcerers’ apprentices …’

I love Bosch’s images of beautiful heaven and grotesque art of hell along with the multitude of natural objects that make up Arcimboldo’s portraits. Moreover, each book is about more than just the art. I, personally, was able to enjoy and discover a route into Japanese culture with Hokusai and share a love of gardening with Monet.

The Kate’art series intends to develop a love of art among children and to inspire family trips to a museum or art gallery. Whilst any time is a great time to visit museums and art galleries, taking part in the many family friendly activities they offer during the holidays can be ideal. When it is not possible to make a physical visit Art UK is an exciting, developing project putting UK art online for all to enjoy. There are currently over 200,000 artworks, mainly oil paintings on the website and soon Art UK will be adding the first of 170,000 sculptures. Each artwork includes details of the institution where it may be possible to see it. Alternatively, try the institutions’ websites, many of which display their collections online.

As Simon writes it may not always be possible to visit a museum in person and it would certainly prove a considerable challenge to visit all the world’s museums. Therefore being presented with the Wonders of the world’s museums, a book whose words have been written by Molly Oldfield, and whose illustrations are thanks to the skills of Harriet Taylor Seed and Peter Malone, we can explore at least 50 of their collected wonders.

A map, accompanying the contents page and pointing to the locations of these wonders firmly grounds us and helps us understand their spread -they come from every continent. If it were not for the further addition of object name and museum I admit I would have been hard pressed to know where, for example the law code of Hammurabi could be found (Paris, the Louvre). Dipping into the book is both intriguing and exciting. Not knowing many of the objects at all this book was ideal. Molly Oldfield encourages her reader to open the pages at random and discover – I did. For the nature lover she recommends the elephant egg bird. History buff? Try the Egyptians. Scientist? Look for the Apollo 11 command module which took the first astronauts to the moon. Look, learn, uncover. This book is a treasure map of a very small selection of the world’s many treasures. It opens doors to question and intrigue, providing historical fact, creating new knowledge, adding to old. It is a map whose routes I want to follow to uncover the treasure, learn from it and admire it. Simply fascinating.

Wonders of the world does have a similar title but its focus is on the marvels and monuments of the world and it takes its reader on an interactive tour - a museum within a book and the world brought to the reader. Isabel Otter and Margaux Carpenter (360 Degrees) provide the reader with flaps to lift, mini books to open up and pages of facts about the wonders of the world, ancient and modern.

Visit the pyramids and the Temple of Artemis, learning who built them and who used them. See the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China. Discover why the statue of Christ the Redeemer is a symbol for today and be certain to keep going to the very last pages to see the natural world in all its glory. Brief text alongside bold illustration make this an accessible book presenting the wonders of the world to a young audience and wetting their appetites for more…

It is important to remember that museums are not just about objects, they are about the people and culture connected to these objects too. They are meant to inspire, fascinate and encourage questioning too. Many objects in the museum have a special place in history, they are iconic for many reasons and they tell a story.

Two books from Wide Eyed could be the perfect post-museum reading: Music legends: 40 inspiring icons by Steve Guilleminot, illustrated by Jerome Masi and Greek gods and heroes by Sylvie Baussier, illustrated by Almasty. Learn from these titles about some of the icons of ancient and musical histories whose objects may have been in the museum. Discover how they were inspired and can in turn inspire. learn about their lives and their legacies and gain a context for the objects and information the museum provided.

An interesting angle for future studies perhaps?

For those too young yet to engage with the complexities of all these objects I have a suggestion. A hunt in a museum, one which may just result in finding not only the object of the hunt but a few exciting objects along the way.

Whilst there are only a few, limited objects to be touched in a museum, there are no restrictions with Lois looks for Bob at the museum. Gerry Turley’s gorgeous hardback with its flaps and fold out pages is designed to be held and handled. The words prompt young readers to lift the flaps but more importantly to explore – paintings and objects are featured in such a friendly and accessible way that by the end of the book – has Lois found Bob? – children will want to go to a ‘real-life’ museum to see more for themselves. Published by Nosy Crow this book is a delight and may just conclude with a few extra special delights too!

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