Posts Tagged art

Celebrating Art Museums in Books

Did you know that today is National Go to an Art Museum Day—and more than 30,000 museums around the world are participating by holding special activities and offering discounts? No? Well then, it’s probably too late to call in sick or play hooky. But you can still celebrate vicariously by going to your library, bookstore, or favorite online site to pick up a great book about art museums. Here are a few suggestions:

 

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Okay, you had to know I’d include this classic novel if you’re a fan of this blog. In E.L. Konigsberg’s 1968 Newbery winner, Claudia Kincaid decides to run away with her little brother to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. After spending their days wandering around the museum and their nights hiding in odd exhibits, the two become involved in solving a museum mystery concerning an angel statue, thought to be carved by Michelangelo himself. After some sleuthing, they track down Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the woman who sold the statue to the museum. Will she help them solve the mystery? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

 

Framed by James Ponti

Florian is twelve years old and has just moved to Washington. He’s learning his way around using TOAST, which stands for the Theory of All Small Things. It’s a technique he invented to solve life’s little mysteries such as: where to sit on the first day of school or which Chinese restaurant has the best egg rolls. But when he attempts to teach the method to his new friend Margaret, they uncover a mystery at the National Gallery of Art that involves the theft of three paintings. Will Florian’s skills help the FBI solve the crime and help him escape from the clutches of a dangerous crime syndicate?

 

The Art of the Swap by Kristine Asselin and Jen Malone

Hannah Jordan lives in a museum…well, sort of. She is the daughter of the caretaker for mansion-turned-museum The Elms in Newport, Rhode Island. Hannah is captivated by stories of The Elms’s original occupants, especially Maggie Dunlap, the tween heiress who was the subject of a painting that went missing during a legendary art heist in 1905. When a mysterious mirror allows Hannah and Maggie to switch places in time, suddenly Hannah is racing to stop the heist from happening, while Maggie gets an introduction to iPhones, soccer, and freedoms like exploring without supervision. Not to mention the best invention of all: sweatpants (so long, corsets!). As the hours tick away toward the art heist, something’s not adding up. Can the girls work together against time—and across it—to set things right? Or will their temporary swap become a permanent trade?

 

Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne

Moxie Fleece knows the rules and follows them—that is, until the day she opens her front door to a mysterious stranger. Suddenly Moxie is involved in Boston’s biggest unsolved mystery: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist. Moxie has two weeks to find the art, otherwise she and the people she loves will be in big-time danger. Her tools? Her best friend, Ollie, a geocaching addict who loves to find stuff; her Alzheimer’s suffering grandfather, Grumps, who knows lots more than he lets on; and a geometry proof that she sets up to sort out the clues. It’s a race against the clock through downtown Boston as Moxie and Ollie break every rule she’s ever lived by to find the art and save her family.

 

The Metropolitans by Carol Goodman

The day Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, four thirteen-year-olds converge at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where an eccentric curator is seeking four brave souls to track down the hidden pages of the Kelmsbury Manuscript, an ancient book of Arthurian legends that lies scattered within the museum’s collection, and that holds the key to preventing a second attack on American soil. When Madge, Joe, Kiku, and Walt agree to help, they have no idea that the Kelmsbury is already working its magic on them. They begin to develop extraordinary powers and experience the feelings of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, and Lancelot: courage, friendship, love…and betrayal. Are they playing out a legend that’s already been lived, over and over, across the ages? Or can the Metropolitans forge their own story?

 

The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone

Almost everybody who has grown up in Chicago knows about the Thorne Rooms. Housed deep inside the Chicago Art Institute, they are a collection of sixty-eight exquisitely crafted miniature rooms. Each room is set in a different historic period, and every detail is perfect. Some might even say, the rooms are magic. But what if on a field trip, you discovered a key that allowed you to shrink so that you could sneak inside and explore the secrets of the rooms? What if you discovered that others had done so before you? And that someone had left something important behind? Eleven-year-olds Jack and Ruthie are about to find out!

 

Behind the Museum Door: Poems to Celebrate the Wonders of Museums by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illus. by Stacey Dressen-McQueen

Fourteen poems on the many dazzling collections featured in museums. The art, artifacts, and anthropological treasures found in museum collections are coupled with stunning poetry by acclaimed writers Lee Bennett Hopkins, Jane Yolen, Myra Cohn Livingston, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, and many more. The lively verse captures the wonder and amazement of the exhibition experience, from mummies to medieval relics, and from fine art to fossils.

 

 

Life and Art and Patterns and Mess

I read an article I read on the Publishers Weekly website called “Why Life and Writing are Inseparable” by Amie Barrodale, and I wanted to share some thoughts.

The thing that struck me first and drew me in was that the article opens with a discussion of writing, drops a rambling sentence of personal bombshells into the narrative, and then picks up the writing topic again without missing a beat. The result is jarringly familiar to anyone who has ever tried to combine life and writing, or life and illustrating, or life and any other creative endeavor. And especially so as I write this toward the end of a school year, which combines the chaos of life with the artistry of teaching.

Barrodale conveys the life/art balance through the structure of her story more effectively than if she’d used words alone, and at the same time establishes the importance of structure and subtext in her writing.

The article goes on to describe Barrodale’s early writing as having a focus on craft, until she found herself shifting to stories from her own life for the larger part of her career. We then find ourselves shifting from this brief focus on craft to a story from Barrodale’s life that takes up most of the remaining bulk of the piece.

And once again, in an entirely different way, I was struck by the author’s remarkable use of structure to support her theme. Much like concrete poetry, in which a poem about a fish might be shaped like a fish, Barrodale’s story about her life was actually shaped like her life—and can there be any better way to show the inseparability of life and creativity?

The story part of the article tells of Barrodale’s experiences carrying bowls around a Tibetan cave during a meditation retreat. She focuses on rules and norms, and how it felt to be in disagreement or conflict with other practitioners of the bowl-carrying arts.

via GIPHY

Like most readers of the article, I’ve never been on a meditation retreat to a Tibetan cave, so I have no personal stake in the theory or politics Barrodale is describing. Readers can approach this story without the baggage we’d bring to a similar story about writing, or illustrating, or whatever creative endeavor we’re most experienced with and passionate about.

Which seems to be entirely the point.

A story about bowl-carrying techniques among cave-dwelling meditation practitioners can serve as an effective metaphor for any artists fumbling in the dark with the traditions and strictures of their craft. So what seems at first to be a tangent away from writing actually becomes the meat of Barrodale’s thesis about writing. Yet again, she uses structure rather than words to support the idea that writing and life are inseparable.

I thought the resulting essay was by far the most carefully, deliberately, and effectively structured article I’d ever read. But as a counterpoint, an irate reader in the comments section berated the author, editor, and publisher alike for releasing what she saw as an entirely unstructured article that “reads like someone journaling.”

Althrough we read all the same words, we read two very different articles.

From my perspective, the comment writer missed the most important aspects of the piece, as if looking at a fish-shaped poem and seeing only a random jumble of words. And from her perspective, she might say that I imposed an imagined structure on the article where none was actually intended.

Where I saw a pattern, the comment writer saw a mess.

Thinking about how the same article can be read and interpreted so differently by different people revealed the final puzzle piece in my quest to understand the connection between life and art.

Life is messy, but human beings are wired to extract patterns of meaning and importance from that mess. As creators, we seed our work with those same patterns and hope for the best. When a pattern resonates with a reader’s messy life experience, it feels true and a powerful connection is made. But a reader who does not connect with that pattern, no matter how artfully arranged, will only see the mess.

We may think we’re building stories with characters and plot, lines and color, structure and theme, but on the most basic level it’s all just patterns and mess.

Just like life.

Picture Books and the Middle-Grade Reader

Think of picture books and often we envision a toddler on a parent’s lap, listening and pointing. Or a pack of preschoolers sitting criss-cross applesauce on a colorful rug, heads tipped up to see the pictures while their teacher reads aloud. Or maybe a first grader, sitting alone with a book, intently studying the words in a picture book, their eyes darting from picture to text and back again, making connections and feeling their confidence swell.

Oh, there’s usually no debate surrounding the place of picture books in the lives of the youngest readers and prereaders. But something often happens around second grade, somewhere around the time chapter books are mastered, and the role of the picture book is diminished, if not eliminated.

By the time readers reach the middle grades, picture books are often nonexistent or scoffed at. “You’re too old for that book,” I heard a parent tell a fifth or sixth grader at a bookstore. “You can read harder books than that.”

And, yes, I’m sure that young reader was perfectly capable of tackling longer texts, but picture books have so much to offer readers of all ages. Let’s take a look at some new picture books that middle-grade readers could not only enjoy, but that could spark a deeper level of learning and understanding.

pb older reader

Picture Book Biographies Picture book biographies are everywhere and can serve as an excellent visual and literary introduction to someone middle-graders may never encounter anywhere else..

pb william hoy story

The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Jez Tuya, Albert Whitman, 2016.

pb to the stars

To the Stars!: The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet and Kathryn D. Sullivan, Illustrated by Nicole Wong, Charlesbridge, 2016.

Picture Books to Address Social Issues  Civil and human rights issues such as homelessness, poverty, equal opportunities, or segregation can be difficult for the middle-grader to grasp, and yet these problems exist in their communities, families, and in the ever-present media. Often a picture book can open the door to discuss more complex topics at an appropriate level.

pb separate never equal

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Abrams, 2014.

pb marvelous cornelius

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, Illustrated by John Parra, Chronicle, 2015.

Picture Book Origin Stories Older readers love to ask deep questions: Like where did doughnuts come from? and Who invented the super-soaker, and Why? Origin stories can inspire young inventors to dig deeper into science and become problem-solvers themselves.

pb Hole Story of Donut

The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller, Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016.

pb whoosh

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, Illustrated by Don Tate, Charlesbridge, 2016.

Picture Books for Content Areas  Math class is probably the least likely place you’ll find middle-graders reading picture books, but there are some great reasons to put picture books into the hands of young mathematicians. And scientists. And paleontologists. And astrophysicists.

pb boy-who-loved-math

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham,  Roaring Brook, 2013.

pb blockhead

Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D’Agnese, Illustrated by John O’Brien, Henry Holt, 2010.

Picture Books to Address Environmental Issues Upper elementary and middle schoolers hear phrases such as “global warming” and “our carbon footprint,” but explaining just exactly what these mean can be challenging. It’s likely they are already a part of a “reduce, reuse, and recycle” initiative, at school or at home. Picture books can help them understand how they might do more.

pb One_Plastic_Bag_Cover_Miranda_Paul1

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, Millbrook, 2015.

Picture Books as Art Study The youngest readers look at the pictures in a picture book. Older readers can study them. They can understand how illustration contributes to the story-telling, how a picture book is a visual experience as well as a literary one. Older students can discuss how the artist’s choice of style, media, and color palette create mood and pace. This can be done with every picture book, any picture, all picture books, fiction or non. But, I’ll leave you with one that makes me smile, and I think any middle-grader would smile after reading it, too.

pb maybe something beautiful

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, Illustrated by Rafael López, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016.

Michelle Houts is the author of four books for middle-grade readers. Her first picture book, When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike (Ohio University Press, September 2016) is the biography of Emma Gatewood, the first women to walk the Appalachian Trail alone in one continuous hike.