nonfiction nuggets…a room full of curiosities

The Musuem Book: A Guide to Strange and Wonderful Collections, by Jan Mark, illustrated by Richard Holland

One of my sunny, early memories is of a grand summer road trip to Washington, D.C. with my family and cousins.  Two cars.  Four parents.  Nine children.  One chihuahua.  1966.  What an adventure.  One of my distinct memories of that trip is seeing the Inaugural Ballgowns on display at the Smithsonian.   So exciting!

Museums are incredible places, gifts to us from collectors and artisans both current and long, long gone.  Over the years, in our travels, we have loved taking our children to such giants as The British Museum, the Louvre, the Rijksmuseum, as well as smaller museums filled with fascinating local history, such as the tiny Cook County Museum in Grand Marais, Minnesota.  Whether it’s a painting by Van Gogh,  an old Victrola, or an entire lighthouse that’s been preserved for us, museums and their artifacts stir our curiosities and imaginations.  They make us want to know more.

The Museum Book was written by a woman who obviously loves museums.  In a breezy, conversational style, she takes us by the hand and talks with us about where the word and idea for a museum came from, and how that concept grew and changed through the eras.   We drop back to Ancient Greece and wander through Europe in the Middle Ages.  We learn about the seeds that blossomed into the British Museum, and about entire cities that are like huge museums in themselves.  We learn about the various kinds of museums, and the kinds of rooms within a museum, and the kinds of collections in those rooms.  These topics are presented in a loose, wandering sort of fashion, vividly, with plenty of quirk and remark to engage young readers.

Richard Holland has illustrated the book in fantastic, eye-catching,  mixed media.  Specimens from a German Wunderkammer,  the distinctive spiraling Guggenheim, botanical collections and Egyptian mummies are lavishly sprinkled about his colorful, well-designed pages.

This is a somewhat lengthy book.  It’s not geared for the kindergarten set, but instead is suitable for mid-elementary and up.  I’m guessing most adults would learn a good deal from it as well, and reading it together with young children will likely prompt some interesting discussions, based on some of Mark’s reflections .  I found it fascinating.

Here’s the Amazon link:  The Museum Book