Library and Museum Books

One distinct setting that appears with some regularity in Children’s literature are libraries and museums. Over the last fifteen years there has been an explosion of picture books whose action takes place in these places, and which have a variety of different purposes. Pat Mora’s and Raul Colón’s Tomás and the Library Lady (1997) provides a brief history of Tomás Rivera, the distinguished novelist and educator for whom the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award was named, and demonstrates the important role that the public library played in his life. The award, established in 1995, honors authors, illustrators and publishers whose books authentically reflect the lives of Mexican American children and young adults in the United States.

Similarly, Michiganders Sarah Stewart’s and David Small’s The Library (1995) chronicles in verse the book-collecting habits of Elizabeth Brown (who was based on the real Mary Elizabeth Brown, Stewart’s and Small’s friend) that resulted in the fictional Brown donating her massive collection to the town as a lending library. Similarly, in Library Lion (2006) Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes create a delightful story and simple moral tale of the lion who comes into the library to listen to stories, helps out, and eventually becomes indispensible. In contrast, B is for Bookworm: A Library Alphabet (2005), by Anita C. Prieto and Renée Graef, presents an informative ABC book with a library focus, providing illustrations, rhymes for each letters, and definitions and facts on each page’s sidebars.

Similarly, a number of books with museums as settings have also appeared in the last decade. Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman’s and Robin Preiss Glasser’s wordless picture book, You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum (1998), chronicles the adventures of a balloon that escapes its tethering outside the museum where it is left by its young owner when she goes in to see the displays, and travels around New York City being chased by an increasing crowd of people. The balloon’s escapades are mirrored in the artwork that the young balloon-owner and her mother are viewing in the museum. Dick Bruna’s Nijnje in Het Museum (1998), written in rhyming couplets, also depicts a child’s museum visit, but with a twist: Nijnje (which translates to Miffy in English) is a small rabbit, and the story centers on her visit to a museum with her family.

With Babar’s Museum of Art (2003), Laurent de Brunhoff takes fantasy a step further. Continuing the Babar series begun by his father, Jean de Brunhoff, the book recounts the creation of a museum strongly reminiscent of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris that contains numerous famous paintings re-envisioned with pachyderm rather than human subjects. De Brunhoff includes paintings based on such classics as Mary Cassatt’s Mother and Child, Edvard Munch’s The Scream, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait, among others. At the back of the book the sources for each of the paintings appears, which helps readers become reacquainted with the paintings’ originals.

In contrast, Michigan author Jon Scieszka and Californian Lane Smith present a story set in a museum with a delightful linguistic, rather than visual, twist: Seen Art? (2005) focuses on a play on words resulting from the narrator trying to find his friend, Art, whom he has agreed to meet at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The linguistic confusion from his repeated query, “Have you seen Art?” results in the narrator taking a brief tour of the museum and discovering that nearly everyone has a different idea about the true identity and meaning of art.

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