An Art Museum For Book Lovers

People think of an art museum as… art, single standing pieces on their own right. Imagine masterful, award winning art combined with the best literature, in one museum. Exciting? You bet!  A hidden gem in Amherst, Massachusetts.


What is your favorite childhood book?  Madeline?  Perhaps it is  Make Way For Ducklings.  There are so many.  The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is dedicated to the art of children’s book illustrators.  I thought this was interesting, then I visited the museum.  Oh, my!

The exhibit way back then featured Ezra Jack Keats, author of The Snowy Day.   I am a preschool teacher and have read this wonderful book to my class hundreds of times.  Yet, I never expected to come face-to-face with his art.  I did.  To my great surprise it was made from cut-out linoleum.  I couldn’t walk away or let that go.  I was witnessing the real art of his award winning book.

Much like seeing the ocean for the first time, I was stunned.

I love and appreciate art, and I’m passionate about reading children’s books. There I was, staring at both.  Every visit to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art has been equally powerful.  Yesterday was no exception.  But first, let me back up and tell you about Eric Carle.

One of the staples in children’s books is Brown Bear, Brown Bear.  No, Eric Carle did not write this book; it was the first book he illustrated, his big break into the world of children’s book illustration.  At the time Eric Carle was the art director for an advertising agency in New York.  His life, before then, is the most powerful story of an artist.  Ever!

He was born in New York in 1929 and moved with his family to Stuttgart, Germany in 1936 to be with relatives.  1936 in Germany?  Not good.  His father was drafted into the German army, and Eric and his family fled to Stollen in the Black Forest.

His schooling is fragmented, but he continues to draw and paint and looks forward to an occasional class with his high school art teacher Fridolin Krauss.

Aware of Carle’s promise as a young artist, Herr Krauss invites him to his home one day.  He shows Carle a box of “forbidden art” by so-called degenerate artists like Picasso, Klee, Matisse, and Kandinsky. “Their strange beauty almost blinded me,” recalls Carle.  His teacher warns him not to tell anyone what he has seen.  “But, for his act of defiance,” says Carle, “Herr Krauss…opened my eyes to the beauty of German Expressionism and abstract art.”

Eric Carle saw modern art, “forbidden art” of the great masters, for the first time in his life.  His teacher risked his own life to show Carle the art.  The seed was planted.  Every time I look at a Kandinsky or a Picasso, I think of that moment.  Art can change the world.  It did for Eric Carle.

That first book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, is fifty years old.  It is a beloved classic throughout the world, having been translated into 31 different languages with 16 million copies sold.  Happy anniversary!  Here are world-wide covers of the book:


My preschoolers made a Brown Bear that we gave to the museum (which they displayed).


Fast forward to the museum.  They have displayed the original art of Robert McCloskey and Make Way For Ducklings, and the original art of Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline.  Up close, very close.  Every pencil line and brush stroke were visible.  I was inches away from the pictures I had only seen in picture books.  For a book lover, this is as good as it gets.


I recently saw the art of Hilary Knight’s Eloise, a beloved book from my childhood written by Kay Thompson.  As a child, every Sunday afternoon I would act out Eloise.  She was my first introduction to New York, and to bravery.  Eloise was brave.  She was a bit of a hero.


When real, award winning art is combined with the best literature, it is win-win, a grand slam.  Reading the picture books, time and time again, and seeing the pictures ‘live’ is grand, indeed.

There is more!  The best bookstore by far (coming from me- someone who knows good children’s literature) is right there in the museum.  A piece of heaven.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts is a treasure.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in art, Early Education, Imagination, picture books, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

86 Responses to An Art Museum For Book Lovers

  1. GP Cox says:

    This should help inspire even more children to read, don’t you think?

  2. Sue Vincent says:

    I can still recall with great clarity the pictures from so many of my childhood books. Names lie Ronald Searle, Pauline Baines, Tenniel…and Seuss, of course! Art plays such a big part in capturing the imagination.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes it does! Now, imagine how thrilling it
      would be to see the real illustrations of those beloved books. It rekindles the imagination. Such pleasure. Many thanks, Sue.

  3. Dan Antion says:

    Seems like a very cool place to visit 🙂

  4. Darlene says:

    This would be awesome to see.

  5. I really enjoyed this post. I have many of these books. As a speech therapist, I read them and use them in therapy. Brown Bear is a favorite! I love to read and sign it to my students. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  6. Reblogged this on Wind Eggs and commented:
    Picture books taught me how to read, especially Babar the Elephant and any book on astronomy. I loved looking at pictures of planets and how artists (then) imagined they looked on the surface, My mom would read to me and I would try to learn the words so I could read the books while looking at the pictures.

    Many books I remember by the images more than words, and some thinkers, such as Rudolf Arnheim believe we think in images (which is why modern neurophilosophers such as George Lakoff spend so much time exploring metaphors embedded in language and thinking). I remember those pictures more than the words, and I can often picture stories in my head even though the books are out of print and I can’t remember the titles.

    One teacher shares her experiences bringing her students to explore a museum that celebrates the art that accompanies words.

    • Jennie says:

      Phillip, you say this beautifully. Yes, those pictures and images were the root of your imagination as a child. Thank you you for reading, enjoying, and reblogging.

  7. joyroses13 says:

    Love Brown Bear, Brown Bear! This museum sounds so cool!
    I love children’s books as well! So many great ones out there! Do you like Pout Pout Fish? 🙂

  8. Tina Frisco says:

    I love the brown bear your preschoolers made, Jennie. Such talent! My friends had a bookstore for 35+ years with a fantastic children’s book section. I did the book returns for them, and when boxing up children’s books for return, many of them made it to my house instead. Lovely post 🙂 ♥

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Tina. I love your story about all those books ending up at your house. Our Brown Bear mural was such a joy for the children. So glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

  9. Norah says:

    Jennie, I would love to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. It sounds amazing. And you are right. Picture Books are a great way to introduce children to the world of art and literature at the same time. Picture books are a feast for the eyes, the ears, and the mind; portals into other ideas and worlds. Their value can never be overstated. I don’t know where I would spend more time – in the galleries or the shop! I love “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” by Bill Martin Jr – one of my favourite educators. How fabulous for the gallery to post one of your children’s artworks. Carle’s technique is definitely something children can appreciate and learn from. I saw a display of Mo Willem’s original artworks when I was in New York last year – awesome! Thanks for sharing your museum adventures.

    • Jennie says:

      You would be in heaven! And yes, choosing where to spend time is difficult. I was stunned by Eric Carlie’s WWII experience looking at “forbidden art”. That could be a movie!! Mo Willams is a frequent museum guest. Soooo many authors live in that neck of the woods. Glad you enjoyed the post. Hopefully you will get there one day. I’ll join you! 😀

  10. beetleypete says:

    What a great idea for a museum! I loved the picture books of my youth (1950s) but never thought about the names of the artists who brought such images to life, to be honest. This sounds like a wonderful trip for children and adults alike.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      It is a wonderful trip. I think most people don’t know the names of illustrators. I have been surprised to see art that I know well from a children’s book, but didn’t connect the two. Best to you!

  11. What a child’s adventure even for ME! 😀 😛

  12. What a wonderful museum! Wish I could visit it! It must have been so awesome to see the original artwork from the books you love, Jennie. My favourite children’s book was “The very hungry caterpillar”! 😄 Good illustrations draw children in like honey bears 😉 Love that Brown bear you’ve created with your class!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Sarah! You would be in heaven. Of course the original artwork of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is right there 🙂. Hope you get there one day. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  13. frenchc1955 says:

    This is a place I will definitely have to visit!

  14. Great post! I loved all the art there and like you say, the bookstore is one of the best! I wonder if you’ve seen the new Ezra Jack Kats picture book biography: A Poem for Peter.

  15. I love your posts! Another great one for me to read, thanks!

  16. srbottch says:

    Wonderful! Just plain wonderful! 😉

  17. Dina says:

    That’s a perfect, what a great idea for a museum! 🙂 A must visit for all book lovers. ❤

  18. Thank you, Jennie, for your wonderful post. It brought back so many special memories from my summer visit! It was absolutely amazing to be able to see Robert McCloskey’s illustrations, to study them and to become more familiar with his life story. I will never read his books again without thinking of this experience. I’m not sure when I can return to the museum, but it will certainly be a special day when I do!

    • Jennie says:

      Susan, I remember your wonderful post about the EC Museum like it was yesterday. I know exactly how you feel. When I began writing this post I had intended to write about my visit this week, but there was just so much more I needed to say. Thank you for reading and enjoying! 🙂

  19. How fun, Jennie. So many children’s book illustrations are classics and as recognizable as Rembrandt’s! I can recite Eric Carle’s Brown Bear and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by heart. 🙂

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  21. davidprosser says:

    How lucky the children are to have a teacher so devoted in encouraging them to read like this. A lifetime’s pleasure awaits them.
    xxx Hugs Galore xxx

  22. Tess DeGroot says:

    I’ll have to check out that museum on my next journey to that region! Thanks for sharing it.

  23. L. Marie says:

    I would love to visit that museum!
    I grew up with Dr Seuss books and those by P.D. Eastman–particularly Are You My Mother.

  24. Love every thing in this post! And I don’t live too far from the museum!

  25. This museum seems definitely worth visiting! I’ll have to check it out the next time I’m in Amherst.

  26. ren says:

    I can see how you could get lost in that museum. What an awesome idea!
    Where I am currently living, there is a 16 month old who LOVES Brown Bear, Brown Bear. (among several other favorites)
    Thank you for enlightening me with this post. I will be sure to tell the child about Brown Bear’s artist. She will love knowing about it….so will her mother

  27. Reblogged this on Totally Inspired Mind and commented:
    Take a tour with my friend Jennie to this wonderful museum for Book Lovers! Paulette Motzko.

  28. How lovely to see Eloise again! I’d forgotten about her…children’s illustrators are so often the very best.

  29. Oh God, Jennie. Wow. That story of Eric Carle is so inspiring. Moved me to know that the person who risked his life to show Eric art ended up contributing a seed to a children’s book that touched so many. Thank you, dear Jennie, for sharing this story and museum!
    Blessings Debbie

    • Jennie says:

      I’m so glad you liked it, Debbie. Like you, I was struck by Carle seeing ‘forbidden art’ from his teacher, and that being his seed of his own art. What a story! The museum is amazing and inspiring.

  30. Awesome! I envy you this experience. And as for Carle, I still remember learning about Kandinsky. It gave me a feeling of connection to learn that we both esteem this great artist. 🙂

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Cathleen! The Kandinsky connection to Carle, plus the award winning children’s book on his life, The Noisy Paintbox, has cemented me as a lover of his art. I understand him. And, that makes a difference when I teach and introduce art to preschoolers. This week we are deep into art at school. I have a photo of a child painting a Kandinsky. Amazing. The blog post will post this weekend. So glad we both have that same esteem for a great artist.

      • How do you feel about Berthe Morrisot and Mary Cassat? (Two of my faves.) 🙂

      • Jennie says:

        Love Mary Cassat. In the children’s bathroom at school we have a poster of her piece bathing a child. I’m all for art in the bathroom with a captive audience! Do not know Berthe Morrisot. I will have to check that out!

  31. gotmeghan says:

    How cute!!! Very interesting to bring this into a museum exhibit! 🙂

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  35. willedare says:

    Thanks for sharing the link to this very compelling blog post, Jennie! BTW: My siblings and I particularly delighted in the Eloise books when we discovered them as children.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Will. I still cannot get over that story, Eric Carle’s art teacher showing him the art of five modern artists, and risking his life by doing so. It changed Carle’s life. When I have children paint for our annual art show every spring, I always include these five artists. One day I want to see a Kandinsky, and see Large Blue Horses by Franz Marc. I’m sure if you Google Eric Carle’s life in Nazi Germany you would learn even more. I grew up with Eloise, too!!

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