Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Eric Carle Museum

My mom came to town last week for a few days of exploring, rest, and relaxation and it was such a treat to have her here! There's not a whole lot to see and do in this part of the state (since we're not exactly outdoorsy types), so in putting together our must-do list for her stay, we decided that a trip to the Eric Carle Museum was definitely in order. Neither of us had been to the museum before, and since my mother is a preschool teacher and fellow children's literature enthusiast, she was the perfect person to explore it with! 

The museum features three galleries, with two visiting artists that change throughout the year. I was so sad to hear that we had just missed the exhibit celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans (you can imagine why I'm drawn to the series...) but from the current exhibits I ended up leaving with a admiration for a previously unknown illustrator!

The first gallery features the works of Eric Carle (see above), who is best known for his popular children's book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. My mom's current preschool students are all in the 3-4 year age range, so Eric Carle's books are particularly relevant for that stage in their literary education! Her preschool also does a featured unit on Eric Carle each year, so she is very knowledgable about his work and about the unique way in which he creates his illustrations. I like Carle's style because it's full of color (perfect for a classroom), but I was more interested in his life story during our visit. I had no idea that Carle had personal experiences with WWII, and really enjoyed learning so many new things about him! One quick tidbit: a primary teacher of his pointed out his proclivity for art to his parents, and when Carle was pressured to pursue a more practical career, his mom remembered that remark and encouraged him to pursue art! What a great mom!

{image via}
The first of the current exhibitions is A Genteel Tradition: The Art of Alice Bolam Preston, an illustrator whose style completely captured me during our visit. You can read a little bit more about her here. I absolutely love the intricacy of her style. It reminds me of being younger and feeling completely captivated by fairy stories. She has a great talent for bringing woodland creatures to life. 

The second current exhibition is Tall Tales and Short Tales: The Art of Uri Shulevitz, another illustrator with whom I was unfamiliar before our visit to the museum. The image above was taken from the Caldecott-winning Fool of the World and the Flying Ship. I loved the vibrancy of his work and how he managed to make it both whimsical and grounded in reality. I wasn't quite as interested in the type of stories that he's known for, but I think his illustrations would make great framed art for classrooms, libraries, and children's bedrooms. 

The museum also boasts an art room, in which visitors of all ages are encouraged to sit down and create a work of art. The day of our visit, the project focused on black, white, and shades of gray (and a variety of materials) in anticipation of an upcoming event at the museum. My mom and I only had a few minutes to build our creations, but we loved the finished products, which you can see in the photo below. I can get caught up in trying to make something look perfect, so it was fun to just let go and create something silly.

Of course, the gift shop was probably my favorite part of the whole experience. It was bookworm heaven! They even had pencils with little tiny hungry caterpillars perched on top! I had to think long and hard about what to get, but I settled on a Madeline t-shirt for myself and a tote bag with an illustration and quote from Roald Dahl's Matilda, which will replace my old "library bag." Because yes, I require a tote bag when I make trips to the library. (Sometimes I require two bags-- but let's not judge me for that.) If you can't read it, the quote says, "'I'm wondering what to read next,' Matilda said." That's a dilemma that I face all the time. I also got a little gift for one of my besties-- but it has to stay a surprise!

I could have spent hours upon hours in the store, and I now have a go-to place when in need of a gift for a fellow preservice teacher friend! If you fall head-over-heels for literary-themed presents but are too far away to visit the museum, you can shop in their store online. But don't say I didn't warn you: you will want everything.

This is turning into a super long post, but the last thing I want to say is that for teachers and students in the area, the museum holds excellent professional development events. I am hoping to attend one in the next year while I am still in Amherst! You can see the upcoming events schedule here. I am currently in the last, chaotic stage of the semester (featuring finals and moving out of my apartment), but I'm hoping to make it to an event this weekend. They are hosting a panel of authors to talk about why they write middle grade books. Since the audience for those books (8-12 year olds) is relevant to my educational career, and because I am a fan of reading them myself, I am eager to hear what they have to say!

If you are in the Amherst area and are looking for something fun to do on a rainy afternoon, I would highly recommend visiting the museum! The admission price is low and the atmosphere is great for children. There is room to run around, props in the galleries for children to play with, and even a little library where you can relax, read, and do fun activities!

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