I’m a hopeless romantic when it comes to museums. I love wandering and looking and wondering. I could spend days in the right museum. I think my fascination lies in the fact that museums are full of stories, real adventures and histories and endless possibility for invented tales of mystery.
I was not a museum-lover as a kid. In fact, show me the kid who really and truly loves a day at a museum with mom and dad, who would choose it above a visit to a theme park, a movie theatre or even a science centre. When we were in Paris last summer, I joked that we could find our way to the Louvre from anywhere just by following the sounds of screaming children.
And yet so many gorgeous and inspiring children’s books have been written about museums. Behind the Museum Door: Poems to Celebrate the Wonders of Museums is one of them. This collection offers poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, and there are some impressive names here: Jane Yolen, Myra Cohn Livingston, Kristine O’Connell George. Lots of the poems will urge children to think about the secrets from the past locked inside artifacts. Stacey Dressen-McQueen’s illustrations are striking – warm and full of fun and very much focused on children. They blend beautifully with each poem.
My favourite poem is The Moccasins by Kristine O’Connell George. I’ve always loved to imagine the person connected to an ancient artifact, and somehow, shoes are objects that beg you to think about the long-gone wearer. I just visited Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum this week, and they have a whole exhibit devoted to Native North American footwear that is breathtaking. Here’s a bit of The Moccasins:
A pair of tiny moccasins
standing in a neat straight line,
standing quietly behind glass.
On display, a child’s small shoes,
buffalo hide, beaten soft,
faded brown, a whisper of dust.
Once, one fell off when she ran,
she tucked them under her arm
when she waded in the stream.
She curled her toes up inside
when she crouched to see what was
inside a ground squirrel’s hole…
Wow. Now I have this idea to take my students to the shoe museum and get them to write a poem about a pair of shoes and the person they imagine might have worn them. I think Behind the Museum Door is one way to help kids connect more personally to the museum experience. More looking and wondering, less wailing.