September 05, 2018

Anna at the Art Museum

Written by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert
Illustrated by Lil Crump
Annick Press
978-1-77321-043-8
36 pp.
Ages 4-7
September 2018

Little Anna's mother has taken the girl to an art museum where everything seems "old and boring." But when Anna goes exploring and tries to have a little fun, roaring at the Babylonian ceramic panel of a lion, the guard chastizes her to be quiet. When she plays peekaboo with a baby, she almost topples a decorative urn. Even a colourful modern sculpture that looks like an interactive toy is not to be touched. Again her mother has to have the talk with her about "No shouting. No running. No climbing. No touching."
From Anna at the Art Museum by Hazel Hutchins & Gail Herbert, illus. by Lil Crump
While art is emulated unknowingly by the patrons (this will be the fun part for young readers to find), Anna thinks about "If only the museum could be turned inside out. Or the world outside in." But after the attendant allows her to peek in a workroom where conservators work at restoring art, including one in which she sees a little girl just like her (Mary Cassatt's Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878), Anna's perspective on art changes.
From Anna at the Art Museum by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert, illus. by Lil Crump
Anna at the Art Museum is so charming and so real.  Any teacher or parent who has ever taken a young child to a museum or art gallery for the first time knows that, in order to grab a child's attention, a connection must be made. Without a connection, art is just stuff on the wall and on pedestals. It's the same for text and people and ... everything.  Problem is that, while Anna is trying to find her connection with the art, all the adults around her are telling her she's making the wrong connections because she's trying to do it through touch and play. Finally, when she is able to make a visual connection, the art in the museum and her world come together and become real.
From Anna at the Art Museum by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert, illus. by Lil Crump
Authors Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert have taken a big story of a little girl in an overwhelming art museum and brought it to the perspective of a child. We see and hear what Anna does, how she is experiencing the museum.  For that reason, Anna at the Art Museum will be a worthwhile addition to home, classroom and school libraries for reading prior to and after visits to places like museums and art galleries where, on the surface, children might be challenged to make connections easily.  But connections can be made and, if the plethora of artwork depicted by Nova Scotia artist Lil Crump is any indication, there's always something with which a person can connect. 
From Anna at the Art Museum by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert, illus. by Lil Crump
Still Lil Crump's illustrations go beyond the famous artwork she reproduces in cameos throughout the book. (The appendix About the Art describes each piece and its creator, as well as details about the medium and gallery where it is displayed.) Lil Crump gives Anna life and lots of it. She is bored and playful and inquisitive and surprised. She is a child and, thank heavens, she still has the spark to see beyond the surface.

In Anna at the Art Museum, Hazel Hutchins, Gail Herbert and Lil Crump have shown us that there is much life in art and art in life and that seeing it might just take a fortuitous connection.

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