What do the American Museum of Natural History, the Celesteville Museum of Art, and the Ploomajiggy Museum of Animal History all have in common? Children and animal visitors from literature. Fascinated by all things museums, LACMA’s Collection Information staff have recently researched children’s books with museums as settings—and found many children’s authors frequently using museum galleries as a backdrop to explore the theme of kids-gone-wild. Maisy, Theodosia Throckmorton, Little William Everett Crocodile, Norman the Doorman, Amelia Bedelia, and Holden Caulfield are just a few of the book characters involved in museum activities like hiding, sleeping, sleuthing, time-traveling, or simply breaking priceless artifacts.
As we reached out to colleagues for feedback in compiling a bibliography of museum-related fiction [note: pdf], most surprising was the number of museum professionals who had been inspired by children’s books. I thought my colleagues might be annoyed by my request to review our bibliography, but I couldn’t believe the response. We received one recommendation after another, some citing a child’s book as their reason for entering the museum field. The book most cited by museum colleagues? From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the story of two siblings who sleep overnight at the Met in a royal eighteenth-century bed.
For holiday gifts I recommend two popular current books whose authors were especially helpful to this project: The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley and Brian Selznick, the true account of the first model-maker of life-size dinosaurs, and The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, where the young protagonist establishes the Found Object Wind Chime Museum in the California desert.
Renee Montgomery, LACMA Assistant Director of Collections Information